Nyiragongo Volcano Erupting Near Gorilla Park

Nyiragongo Volcano Erupting Near Gorilla Park

The Nyiragongo volcano, just north of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is erupting. The volcano is spewing a steady flow of lava, over a mile wide, into Rwanda, and has devastated the eastern town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which lies directly at the foot of the exploding volcano. Some 50 people are reported to be dead and some 300,000 people have fled into the neighboring town of Gisenyi in Rwanda. But extreme heat and gaseous sulfur are making conditions intolerable even in Gisenyi, forcing the fleeing masses to move towards Ruhengeri and Kigali, in Rwanda, or to Bwindi in Uganda. Experts are continuing to assess the current damage and that to come.

Goma is one of the bases for the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) - a joint initiative of AWF, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wildlife Fund. According to Dr. Annette Lanjouw, head of the IGCP, "the lava flow from the erupting volcano has cut the road between Goma north to Rumangabo, at the Kibati Patrol post which cuts road access to the Southern sector of the Virunga National Park, where the gorillas range." The IGCP office has not yet been hit by the lava, but is directly in the likely path of the lava flow. Dr. Lanjouw further reports that it is unlikely that the forest that the gorillas inhabit will be affected greatly, as it is uphill from the Nyiragongo Volcano. However, chimpanzees and other wildlife in the forest around the Nyiragongo will probably be devastated. It is likely this eruption will affect every level of the mountain's ecosystem. The problem becomes the physical destruction of habitat, and of course the sulphur gases over the area.

The Nyiragongo volcano is one of eight on the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, a region dense with tropical forests and home to rare mountain gorillas. Only two of the volcanoes are active: Nyamuragira, which erupted early last year causing no casualties, and Nyiragongo. The last major eruption from Nyiragongo occurred on January 10, 1977 having rapid lava speeds of up to 60 km per hour and covered a span of 20 sq. km.