NASA satellites catch vast deforestation inside Virunga National Park

Jeremy Hance
October 03, 2012

Two satellite images by NASA, one from February 13, 1999 and the other from September 1, 2008 (see below), show that Virunga National Park is under assault from deforestation. Located in the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the park has been assailed by entrenched conflict between rebels and government forces, as well as slash-and-burn farming, the charcoal trade, and a booming human population.

The oldest national park on the continent, Virunga National Park is most famous for supporting around half of the world's Critically Endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). In addition the park is also home to the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), considered Endangered; okapi (Okapia johnstoni), Near Threatened; eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), Endangered; and both savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).

According to a press release by NASA, the "rate of forest loss shown in these two images is the highest among all national parks in the [DRC]." Nearly 60 percent of the DRC is under forest cover with about 45 percent of the country still covered by old-growth forests. The DRC currently contains more tropical forest than any other nation in Africa. However, ongoing conflict lingering from the Second Congo War and widespread poverty have put many forests under threat.

Deforestation isn't the only issue facing the beleaguered Virunga. A UK-based oil company, SOCO International, has announced plans to perform exploratory drilling inside the park for oil. The plan has been opposed by the UN, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and most recently the British government. Still, the government of DRC has suggested it will allow the company access to the park.

Virunga National Park and surrounding areas in 1999. Click to enlarge.

Virunga National Park and surrounding areas in 2008. Click to enlarge.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 03, 2012).

NASA satellites catch vast deforestation inside Virunga National Park.