State of Conservation
Virunga National Park
(Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Factors affecting the property in 2021*
- Civil unrest
- Illegal activities
- Land conversion
- Livestock farming / grazing of domesticated animals
- Oil and gas
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Armed conflict, lack of security and political instability
- Attribution of a petroleum exploration permit inside the property
- Poaching by the army (issue resolved) and armed groups
- Extension of illegal fishing areas
- Deforestation, charcoal production and cattle grazing
Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
- Increased poaching of wildlife
- Incapability of staff to patrol the 650 km long boundary of the Park
- Massive influx of 1 million refugees occupying adjacent parts of the Park
- Widespread depletion of forests in the lowlands
Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger
Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338
Corrective Measures for the property
Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds until 2021
Total amount granted: USD 1,802,300 from the United Nations Foundation and the Governments of Italy, Belgium and Spain as well as the Rapid Response Facility (RRF), USD 40,000 from the Rapid Response Facility (RRF)
International Assistance: requests for the property until 2021
Requests approved: 10
Total amount approved : 253,560 USD
|2005||Preparation of transboundary nomination for the Virunga ... (Approved)||15,000 USD|
|2000||Emergency assistance to World Natural Heritage of the ... (Approved)||26,400 USD|
|1999||Support to Resident Staff of Garamba, Virunga, Kahuzi ... (Approved)||35,000 USD|
|1994||Financial contribution for the protection of ... (Approved)||25,000 USD|
|1993||Financial contribution for the purchase of equipment ... (Approved)||20,000 USD|
|1992||Review of the state of conservation of World Heritage ... (Approved)||3,750 USD|
|1991||Purchase of a motor boat and of spare parts for motor ... (Approved)||40,000 USD|
|1990||Training of 2 specialists each from Salonga and Virunga ... (Approved)||4,750 USD|
|1988||Equipment to improve protective measures in Virunga ... (Approved)||40,000 USD|
|1980||Assistance for Virunga National Park (equipment and ... (Approved)||43,660 USD|
Missions to the property until 2021**
April 1996 - March 2006 - December 2010: World Heritage Centre Reactive Monitoring mission; August 2007: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reinforced Monitoring mission; March 2014: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN/Ramsar Reactive Monitoring mission; April 2018: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021
On 26 March 2020, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation and a further report on 1 April 2021, both of which are available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents, containing the following information:
- The property reopened to tourism in February 2019 after an eight-month closure;
- Cooperation between the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), and local and provincial authorities continues;
- Guard numbers remain constant (748). Anti-poaching patrols increased by over 30% from 2018, covering 42% of the property and 87% for air patrols. 550 security operations allowed the park to regain control over several areas of the property in the northern sector. The number of militia operating in the property declined from 2,500 to 1,000-1,200;
- The Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation (GVTC) transboundary cooperation with Uganda and Rwanda allowed five joint patrols and the implementation of a joint wildlife census of large mammals in 2018 (excluding gorillas/chimpanzees) with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Reduced elephant poaching is reported (three carcases in 2019; six in 2018); the hippopotamus population remains low but has remained stable over the last decade (1,496 individuals; 1,542 in 2018);
- No gorillas have been poached since 2016. Despite poaching and threats to the habitat, flagship species (gorillas, elephants, hippopotamus, buffaloes) continue to increase gradually or remain stable. A new count of large mammals is planned for June 2020 using camera traps;
- A fishing brigade created on Lake Edward allowed the increased seizure of illegal catch and fishing gear by eco-guards. Fish catch is reported as stable, which the State Party concludes means illegal fishing is relatively controlled. No catch data are provided;
- Illegal encroachment for agriculture and charcoal covers 18.5% of the property (19.4% in 2018); 912 bags of charcoal were seized and 254 kilns destroyed. Boundary demarcation (16km) through electric fence construction to secure the Ishasha ecological corridor continues;
- No further decision has been taken to re-start oil exploration activities since the installations of the oil company SOCO were abandoned;
- The Virunga Alliance continues development programmes, including the supply of power to the city of Goma. A third hydroelectric power station was constructed as an alternative to charcoal use;
- The biological indicators of the desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) requested by the 2018 Reactive Monitoring mission are being harmonized with the 2020-25 Development and Management Plan (PAG) for the property, currently being finalized. The DSOCR and PAG will be transmitted to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN once validated;
Since submission of the report, the security situation in the region has again degraded with several attacks in the property and its vicinity. On 24 April 2020, 17 people (13 rangers/staff and four civilians) were killed in a militia attack (https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2108). On 24 June 2020, five guards were injured in another attack (http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2128). On 28 July 2020, seven soldiers were killed (https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2138/). On 10 January 2021, six guards were killed and one seriously injured in the line of duty (http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2235). UNESCO has officially condemned all these deadly attacks (https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2235/). In response to this new security crisis, emergency funding was provided through the Rapid Response Facility. Furthermore, gorilla tourism was suspended following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 2021
It is encouraging that it has been possible to re-establish control over certain areas and achieve a further decrease in the number of militia operating in the property. The continued efforts to increase patrols and aerial surveillance and to strengthen the capacity of anti-poaching units are welcomed.
However, ongoing security issues continue to present challenges for the management of the property and the conservation of its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), with a continued presence of more than 1,000 armed elements operating in the property and several attacks on guards. It is recommended that the Committee addresses its sincere condolences to the families of the guards and requests the State Party to continue its efforts to ensure full security in the property.
The transboundary cooperation and conservation efforts with Uganda and Rwanda through the GVTC are positive. It is encouraging that no gorilla poaching has occurred since 2016 and that the mountain gorilla population continues to grow in the property and the overall Virunga transboundary landscape. While the reported stabilization of flagship species and the apparent gradual decline in elephant poaching are noted, poaching remains a serious challenge and it will take time for populations to recover. Hippopotamus numbers remain low compared to 1970s levels (approximatively 30,000) and the elephant population remains at a critical level. In spite of the significant increase in gorillas, the endangered species remains fragile and extremely vulnerable to new threats, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. The State Party should be commended for its continued conservation efforts in spite of the challenging security situation, urged to continue strengthening measures to ensure the full recovery of all flagship species, and requested to transmit the results of new inventories, the DSOCR and PAG to the World Heritage Centre.
Apart from poaching, issues of encroachment and deforestation for charcoal production continue to severely impact the integrity of the property, in spite of the efforts to address these threats. While some progress has been made to regain control of encroached areas, it is concerning that 18,5% of the property remains impacted by encroachment. It is clear that this problem cannot be solved through law enforcement alone and decisive actions are needed from the local, provincial and national political authorities to effectively address this issue.
Sustainable development efforts under the Virunga Alliance programme, specifically regarding tourism, hydropower, entrepreneurship and power delivery to local communities, are welcomed. Noting the construction of a third small scale hydroelectric power plant in 2019, it is recommended that the State Party provide an overview of all hydropower projects relating to the property, to ensure that the potential cumulative impacts of developments on the OUV of the property are fully considered, and to inform the World Heritage Centre of any new proposals prior to activities being undertaken.
Recalling previous deep concerns over potential petroleum exploitation and exploration threats to the property, it is encouraging that so far, no oil exploration activities have been undertaken since the removal of SOCO's facilities from the property more than four years ago. However, it is important to note that oil activities remain a potential threat to the property as long as the current licences have not been revoked, and the Committee should reiterate its request to cancel the petroleum concessions granted inside the property.
While efforts to implement the corrective measures are encouraging, the OUV of the property clearly remains under severe threat and it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to continue implementing these with support from its partners.
It is also recommended that the Committee retain the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger and to continue the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism.
Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2021
Draft Decision: 44 COM 7A.45
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7A,
- Recalling Decision 43 COM 7A.11, adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
- Deplores the further loss of life of protected area staff killed in the line of duty and local communities, and addresses its most sincere condolences to their families and to all the staff of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN);
- Expresses its deep concern regarding ongoing insecurity due to the continued presence of more than 1,000 armed elements operating in the property, rendering management operations extremely hazardous and leading to the persistence of illegal activities while endangering the life of the surveillance staff of the Park and local communities, but commends the protected area authority for its continued conservation efforts in spite of the challenging security situation;
- Welcomes the transboundary conservation efforts with Uganda and Rwanda through the Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation (GVTC) and conservation efforts resulting in a significant increase in the population of mountain gorilla population in the property and the Greater Virunga Landscape;
- Notes with concern that flagship species remain threatened and poaching continues, and requests the State Party to continue its effort to curb poaching and to submit the results of flagship species inventories, as well as the biological indicators for the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger (DSOCR) to be finalized in cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN;
- Again expresses its utmost concern about the extent of encroachment on the property which, combined with the continued illegal exploitation of its natural resources, severely affects the integrity of the property, and urges the State Party to ensure that local, provincial and national authorities cooperate with the Park management to halt encroachment and take measures to recover the invaded areas;
- While noting that currently no oil exploration activities are on-going in the property, regretsthat the State Party has not confirmed its commitment not to authorize new petroleum exploration and exploitation within the boundaries of the property, as was established at the time of inscription on the World Heritage List in 1979, and reiterates its request to the State Party to cancel the petroleum concessions granted inside the property;
- Recalls again its positionaccording to which all mining, petroleum and gas exploration and exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, a policy supported by the commitments undertaken by the leaders of the industry not to engage in such activities in World Heritage properties;
- Also requests the State Party to continue its efforts to implement all corrective measures as updated by the 2018 Reactive Monitoring mission and to continue the implementation of the sustainable development activities established in the framework of the Virunga Alliance;
- Further requests the State Party to provide an overview of all existing and planned hydropower projects around the property, to ensure that potential impacts of developments including cumulative impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property are fully considered, and to inform the World Heritage Centre of any new developments in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, prior to any activities being undertaken;
- Requests furthermore the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session in 2022;
- Decides to continue the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism;
- Also decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Initialy proposed for examination in 2020
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).