Misty mountains rise from the equator, creating this ecoregion of incredible environmental and species diversity. This ecoregion occurs mostly above 9,800 feet (3,000 m) atop the Ruwenzori and Virunga mountains. Habitat types include lakes at various altitudes, marshy deltas and peat bogs, open montane grasslands, areas of scrub, patches of high elevation forest, glaciers, and even snow fields. Home to the vulnerable mountain gorilla, the Ruwenzori-Virunga Montane Moorlands contain two World Heritage Sites--areas set aside for protection by international treaties.
The Ruwenzori Mountains give rise to tall jagged peaks, the highest of which is the 16,795-foot (5,119 m) Margherita Peak. These famed "Mountains of the Moon" receive up to 350 days of rain per year, producing thick mists that drift through the moss-laden trees. The Ruwenzori Mountains also include several glaciers. This ecoregion also houses the Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes rising steeply into the clouds. These mountains are home to the endangered Virunga mountain gorillas.
While trekking through this ecoregion, you’ll move through several types of vegetation. In the low elevations of the Virungas, forests of bamboo provide cover for mountain gorillas. Moving up the mountain slopes, you will find yourself dwarfed by giant heather plants covered in lichens and mosses. As you climb close to the snowline, you’ll reach montane grasslands full of giant senecio and lobelia plants, as well as abundant swamps. These unusual moorlands are quite rare in the world--found only in east and central Africa, New Guinea, and the northern Andes (where they are called páramo).
Cause for Concern
Very few people live in these mountains, but population densities are increasing, causing problems for both plants and animals. Local human populations hunt the mountain gorillas for meat and cut down the forests for fuelwood and building materials. Agricultural development in higher elevations is leaving small "islands" of forest habitat. Unstable political conditions have limited tourism, but the possibility of mass development in the Ruwenzori area is a threat as increasing numbers of people come from all over the world to see the mountain gorillas. Much of this ecoregion lies in protected areas, but its mountainous habitats straddle political borders between feuding countries, making management difficult.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001