January 5, 2010

DRC National Park In Path Of Erupting Volcano

The Virunga National Park, home to 200 of the world's 720 mountain gorillas, is in the path of molten hot lava spewing from a volcano that has erupted in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The park is also home to elephants, hippos and buffalo, along with a range of reptiles and birds.

It's said lava from Mount Nyamuragira began picking up speed when it hit the steep ground near the national park.

The volcano is 22 kilometers from the provincial capital Goma, which it last threatened in 2006. Goma is home to thousands of refugees from nearby Rwanda.

Vulcanological Observatory director Karume Katcho says, "We are not envisaging evacuations because the lava is not flowing towards homes."

As for the animals, wildlife experts say the critically endangered mountain gorillas are safe as they live further east, but about 40 endangered chimpanzees and other animals living in the area are directly threatened. The hot ash and volcanic fibers can pierce their stomachs and intestines, leaving the animals defenseless.

The BBC reports that Mount Nyamuragira, which is 3,058m (10,033ft) high, is one of the most active volcanoes in Africa. It has erupted more than 35 times since 1882, the most recent being in 2006.

Nyamuragira is a twin to Mount Nyiragongo, which lies about 12 kilometers southeast.

The BBC warned in a video that if another nearby volcano erupted, it could be fatal to both the mountain gorillas and the inhabitants of Goma.

Image Courtesy IKONOS/Space Imaging