Virunga National Park is home to some of Africa's most iconic species, such as the elephant, hippopotamus, lion, leopard, hyena, buffalo, but it's the park's rarest inhabitants that make the park so unique.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is the largest of all the gorillas and is the most endangered. The world’s remaining 800 mountain gorillas live in three different countries in central Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Although this makes their range seem large, the mountain gorillas actually inhabit a small geographic area where the borders of these three countries meet. Over half of the world’s mountain gorillas can be found living on the flanks of the Virunga volcanoes and the remaining population lives in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, some 75 km to the north. Unlike their lowland counterparts, the mountain gorillas have long hair, which helps them handle the temperature extremes found at higher altitudes. Mountain gorillas live in large family units led by a single dominant adult male, known as the “Silverback” — a name derived from the silver-gray hair that develops on the male gorilla's back he reaches maturity
The western lowland gorilla is the smallest sub-species of gorilla. A male standing erect can be 5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) tall and weigh 300–600 pounds (140–270 kg). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the average male is 168 kg (370 lb) and stands upright at 163 cm (64 in). Females stand 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and weigh half as much as males.
The eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), also known as the Grauer's gorilla, is a sub-specie of eastern gorilla. The Grauer's gorilla is endemic to the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Important populations of this gorilla live within Kahuzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks and the adjacent forests of the Tayna Gorilla Reserve, the Usala forest, and on the Itombwe Massif. These gorillas have black hair like the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), but their hair is shorter. The male's coat, like that of other gorillas, turns silver (hence the name "silverback") as the animal matures. There are many more western lowland gorillas than the eastern variety, of which there are likely less than 5,000 left in the wild
The okapi /oʊˈkɑːpiː/, Okapia johnstoni, is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in central Africa. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of zebras, it is most closely related to the giraffe.
Popular press reports that covered explorer Henry Morton Stanley's journeys in 1887 brought the animal to the world's attention and fueled speculation about its origin. The preserved remains of a carcass that were sent to London by the English adventurer and colonial administrator Harry Johnston later became a media event in 1901. Today, about 10,000–20,000 remain in the wild and as of 2011, 42 different institutions display them worldwide.
The African forest elephant is a forest-dwelling elephant of the Congo Basin. Traditionally considered to be either a synonym or a sub-species of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), it is now widely accepted as a distinct species (Loxodonta cyclotis). This would make it the smallest of the three extant species of elephant, but also the third-largest living terrestrial animal.
Differences include the African forest elephant's long, narrow mandible (the African bush elephant's is short and wide), its rounded ears (an African bush elephant's ears are more pointed), straighter and downward tusks, considerably smaller size, and its number of toenails. The male African forest elephant rarely exceeds 2.5 m (8 ft) in height, while the African bush elephant is usually over 3 m (just under 10 ft) and sometimes almost 4 m (13 ft) tall. Weight is reportedly around 2.7 tonnes (5,950 lb), with the largest specimens attaining 6 tonnes (13,230 lb). With regard to the number of toenails, the African bush elephant normally has four toenails on the forefoot and three on the hindfoot; the African forest elephant normally has five toenails on the forefoot and four on the hindfoot (like the Asian elephant), but hybrids between the two species occur.