Creation of the first National Park in Africa, National Park Albert
History of the Park
The Europeans discovered the region of Lake Kivu in the beginning of 1860 through topographic exploration missions. These missions had as political goal to increase the colonial territories. However they however also increased the scientific knowledge on the flora and fauna of the region. At the same time animal hunting was practiced in the region to provide food for the members of the missions, the military, for people working on the farms, in the mines and in road construction. Also trophy hunting started around those years.
In 1902, a German expedition headed by Robert von Beringe, captain in the imperial army of German Eastern-Africa, brought a gorilla specimen (Gorilla gorilla) with them to the Museum of Berlin. Later this specimen would be described as a new sub-species, Gorilla gorilla beringei. This scientific discovery would attract many interested researchers until the 1920ies. Demands for hunting licenses for gorillas were submitted, in ever increasing numbers, by foreign museums and scientific institutes to the Belgian Ministry of Colonies.
Prince William of Sweden organised in 1920 a scientific expedition to the region, which would bring a better understanding of the lives of the gorillas. He introduces his desire to create a protected area in Kivu to conserve its soils, fauna and flora, to the Belgian authorities. In the same year, another expedition was send to Kivu by the American Museum of Natural History of New York, directed by the naturalist and taxidermist Carl Akeley. The main goal of the expedition was to capture a group of gorilla for the faunal hall for public education and scientific research. After its return the mission concluded that there was a low presence of gorillas in the region and a risk of extinction of this sub-species. In reply the pressure put on them by the publications and the conferences, the Ministry of Colonies took measures to protect the fauna of the region. Also because there were more and more demands for hunting licenses by scientific institutes and private hunters.
Two hunting reserves were therefore created in the Kivu District:
• The first the Albert Reserve (24 February 1923) according to the suggestions fromWilliam of Sweden, between the river Rutshuru and the south of the lake Edouard.
• The second, at the North-East of Lake Kivu between the mountain Sabinyo and the catholic mission of Tongres Sainte Marie (the actual Rugari).
The preoccupations about the future of the endangered faunal and floral species of the Congo got a lot of attention from certain scientific and political communities. The king Albert, well known for his passion for the protection and conservation of nature, got also involved. The King, against the hesitations from the Ministry of Colonies, enables the concretization of Akeley's project of establishing a gorilla reserve. However he doesn't limit it to only the gorillas, he enlarges it to all the fauna and flora that make up the natural beauty of the Rwindi region, and also introduces the term « national » in the denomination of the new protected area. The faunal and floral reserve named "National Park Albert" was established by the decree of 21 April 1925.
This Park, the actual National Park Virunga, was situated on the equator in the East of the Congo, and stretched itself along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. This first African park had a surface of 20.000 hectares. Hunting of gorillas and other species was completely forbidden, except in the case of self defense. The delimitation of the park was done in an imprecise and rough way, without actual knowledge about its physical, human or economic geography. Its temporary borders were acknowledged by the general governor of the colonies by his decree of the 10 of July 1925.
In 1928, the Minister of the Colonies, Mister Marcel Houtart, financed 2 missions to establish the borders of the PNA and improve the topographic, botanical and zoological knowledge. These American scientific missions were headed one by the ornithologist James Chapin and the other by Carl Akeley.
The results of these terrain studies lead to the decree of the 9th of July 1929, which establish the autonomous institution « National Park Albert ». Among others this decree extended the surface of the Park to 190.000 ha.
The Park consisted herewith 4 sectors:
• Central (Core of extinguished volcans and Sabinyo)
• Occidental (zone of active volcanoes, Nyamuragira and Njyiragongo till the norhest point of Lake Kivu)
• Oriental (zone of volcanoes Gahinga and Muhabura, situated in Rwanda and in the South of the Ugandan border)
• Septentrional (corresponded to the ancient reserve South of Edward) to which the annexed territories were added, stretching itself around the central and oriental sectors, and another extending to the septentrional sector, with the same surface but densily populted and exploited by the river communities.
Nine years after the creation of the Park, its management was given to the authority of the « Institut des Parcs Nationaux du Congo Belge » (IPNCB) which was created by decree the 26th of Novembre 1934. The management would be organised around three axes :
1. The protection of the faune and the flore.
2. Developpement of scientific research.
3. The promotion of controlled tourism in well defined zones, seen as a way to a source of financing de scientific research.
Another decree, approved at the same date, reduced the borders of the PNA, while giving back certain zones of the reserve, conform the situation before 1929. This was done in order to avoid land conflicts between the PNA and the local population and to exercise a total protection of the remaining integral reserve in the populated areas. National Park Albert was made up from that moment a single unit that was united from the septentrional to the occidental zone and made up a surface of 390.000 ha. The following year, the decree of the 12th of November 1935 introduced a new delimitation and increased the surface of the Park to 470.000 by including to the north all Belgian waters of Lake Edward.
From 1925 to 1934, Conservator René Hemeleers, agent of the Colony, was responsible for the surveillance of the reserves and Ramus Hoier responsible for the administrative tasks. Starting 1934, the management was given to only on person, the conservator Henri Hackers. He was employed directly by the Institute of the National Parks of Belgian Congo (IPNCB) and no longer worked for the Colony.