Volcanoes National Park is the Rwanda Gorilla Safaris Destination. This 160km² national park protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains, range of six extinct and three active volcanoes which straddles the borders with Uganda and the DRC. The Volcanoes Park is part of a contiguous 433km² Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virungas National Park and Mgahinga National Park, which protects the DRC and Ugandan sectors of the Virungas respectively. The three national parks are managed separately today ( that is if the word “managed can be applied to any park in the DRC at the time of writing). Prior to 1960, however, the Volcanoes and Virungas Parks together formed the Albert National Park.
Under Belgian colonization, the Albert National Park was established by the decree of 21 April 1925 in the triangle (considered a gorilla sanctuary ) formed by the Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes. At the time of its creation it was the first national park in Africa to be known as such. The institute dup arc national Albert was created by decree on 9 July 1929. A further decree on 12 November 1935 determined the final boundaries of the Albert National Park, then covering 809,000ha. About 8% of the park lay in what is now Rwanda and today constitutes the Volcanoes National Park, while the rest was in the Congo. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the (the mountain gorillas were already well known international) despite the pressing problem of overpopulation.
Ranging in altitude from 2400km to 4,507 the Volcanoes National Park is dominated by the setting of volcanoes after which it is named. This chain of steep, all free standing mountains linked by fertile saddles which were formed by solidified lava flows , is one of the most stirring and memorable sights in East Africa . The tallest mountain in the chain, and the most westerly part of the national park, is Karisimbi on the border with the DRC. Moving eastward, the other main peaks within the national park are Visoke on the DRC border; Sabinyo at the juncture of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, and Gahinga and Muhabura on the Uganda border.
The Volcanoes National Park is best known to the outside world as the place where for almost 20yrs the American primatologist Dian Fossey under took her pioneering studies of mountain gorilla behaviour. It is largely thanks to Fossey’s single-mindedness that poaching was curtailed while there were still some gorillas to save. For her dedication , Fossey would pay the ultimate price still some gorillas still unsolved – murder at the Karisoke Research Centre in December 1985 is generally thought to have been the work of one of the many poachers with whom she crossed swords in her efforts to save her gorillas.
Three years after her death, Fossey’s life work was exposed to a mass audience with the release of Gorilla in the mist, a cinematic account of her life filmed on location in the Volcanoes Park. Gorilla in the Mist drew global attention to the plight of the mountain gorilla and generated unprecedented interest in the gorilla tourism program that had been established in the park some ten years earlier. In 1990, the
Volcanoes Park was the best organized and most popular gorilla sanctuary in Africa and gorilla tourism was probably Rwanda’s leading earner of tourist revenue.
The wheels came off in February 1992, when the park headquarters were attached, two park employees were killed, and the research centre established by Dian Fossey had to be evacuated. The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide. In late 1995, it once again reopened to tourism, only to close again a few months later. Gorilla tracking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, since when the number of tourists visiting the Virungas has increased rapidly. More details of gorillas and gorilla tracking follow later in this section.
Gorillas and golden monkeys aside, primates are poorly represented by comparison with other forests in Rwanda and Western Uganda. Little information is available regarding the current status of other large mammals, but 70-plus species have been recorded in Uganda’s neighbouring Mgahinga National Park, most of which probably only occur in the larger Rwanda section of the Virungas. Elephant and buffalo are still quite common; judging by the amount of spoor encountered on forest trails, but is very timid and infrequently observed. Also present are giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyena, and several varieties of small predator. Recent extinctions, probably as a result of deforestation, include the massive yellow-backed duiker and leopard.
A bird checklist
for volcanoes National Park compiled in 1980 totaled 180 species. About 15 previously recorded species were noted during a 2004 biodiversity survey, but it is possible that several other forest specialists have vanished since 1980. A local specialty is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s rush warbler, while at least 16 Albertine Rift endemic are present, including handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double –collared Sunbird, Rwenzori batis, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s ground robin.
Rwanda Gorilla Safaris
By choosing a Rwanda safari with any tour company in Rwanda, you will definitely be advised to visit volcanoes national park. Gorilla tracking remains the most popular activity here, with a total of up to 40 permits issued daily, ten for each of the five habituated troops. But Volcanoes National Park is not just about mountain gorillas. Tourists who previously came for just one night can now stay for four or five and still not run out of things to do. Trekking, walking and climbing are now well organized, from a two-day ascent of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of crater later, but the most exciting innovation is that tourists can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.