||The Story of the Virungas
Located at the crest of the mountainous backbone of Africa, at the very center of the continent, the Virunga Mountains are the embodiment of western fantasies about "Darkest Africa." The Virungas are in the heart of the legendary land of King Solomon's mines, the long-sought source of the Nile, and the rumored lair of giant alligators, man-eating plants, and the cousins of King Kong. Blanketed by mists and bordered alternately by dense jungles filled with rampaging beasts and trackless deserts awash in blowing sand, the region around the Virungas was literally the last place in Africa visited by acquisitive Europeans. Although skirted by explorers in the 1850s, the Virungas were not actually seen by white men until the 1890s, only about a century ago. Above left: Looking along the Virunga mountain chain toward Mount Muhavura (or Muhabara: the "Jagged Teeth"). Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Of course, the real land of the Virungas is much less exotic. The mountains themselves are indeed spectacular, but the mild climate on the high plateau around the mountains long ago attracted extensive native African occupation and development. The dense forests on the mountains' sides are home to some unusual plants and animals, but the best known--the mountain gorillas--are placid giants munching mostly on forest vegetation and not on wayward travelers!
The land of the Virungas is beautiful and rich, desirable to both beast and man. Many have tried to possess it. Consequently, its story is long and sometimes turbulent. Right: A mountain gorilla standing in the rainforest of the Virunga volcanoes. Photo: Courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
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