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Nyamulagira Volcano Eruption Threatens Wildlife in Virunga Heartland

  • Tuesday, May 18, 2004

According to reports from the Volcanic Observatory of Goma, the Nyamulagira Volcano in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) erupted on May 8, 2004. Continuous lava and ash from the central crater of the volcano are likely to destroy wildlife habitats and impact human and wildlife health in parts of AWF's Virunga Heartland near the eruption site.

Nyamulagira is located north of Lake Kivu in Virunga National Park, home to endangered mountain gorillas. Although the eruption is not expected to directly threaten the health and habitat of the mountain gorillas, destruction of human settlements and agricultural areas will increase pressure on the gorillas' forest homes as local people turn to the park for food, water, and shelter materials. Ash and acid (sulphur dioxide and fluoride) emitted from the volcano threaten to contaminate local drinking water sources and regional food crops. In addition, lava flow is likely to destroy habitat occupied by chimpanzees and other wildlife prevalent on this volcano's lower slopes.

"Natural disasters such as the Nyamulagira eruption can be devastating to local populations of humans and wildlife, as well as impact the integrity of the park," said Dr. Patrick Bergin, President of the African Wildlife Foundation. "We will continue to work with our partner in the region, the International Gorilla Conservation Program, to provide support to local authorities and park staff in dealing with this crisis."

Mount Nyamulagira is one of eight volcanoes found on the borders of Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda. Dense with tropical montane forests, six of the volcanoes are home to the remaining population of highly endangered mountain gorillas. Fortunately, Nyamulagira is not one of them. Nyamulagira is a shield volcano, gently sloping in the shape of a flattened dome and built almost exclusively of lava flows. Since 1882, it has erupted more than 40 times. Most of the eruptions produce lava flows from fissures on the flanks of the volcano. Only the 1912-1913 eruption caused fatalities. The last eruption of Nyamulagira was on July 26, 2002 and did not cause casualties but destroyed dense tropical forest that is home to rich and varied wildlife.

Nearby Mount Nyiragongo, located 9 miles (14 km) northwest of Nyamulagira, erupted on January 17, 2002, causing up to 350,000 people to flee the border town of Goma.

The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) is a joint initiative of AWF, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature. To find out more about IGCP, please visit www.mountaingorillas.org.

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