Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National park is bounded by Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno, and these were primarily intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. Volcanoes National park was the very first National Park to be created in Africa. The park became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas, arriving in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke where she spent most of her time in the park. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. Fossey’s life later was portrayed on the big screen in the film Gorillas in the Mist, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.

The Volcanoes National Park became a battlefield during the Rwandan Civil War, with the park headquarters being attacked in 1992. The research Centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities (including visiting the gorillas) were stopped. They did not resume again until 1999 when the area was deemed to be safe and under control. There have been occasional infiltrations by Rwandan rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in subsequent years, but these are always stopped quickly by the Rwandan army and there is thought to be no threat to tourism in the park.

Vegetation in Volcanoes National Park varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within the park, with the lower montane forest between 2400 and 2500 m, mostly for agriculture, 2500 to 3200 m bamboo forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area, 2600 to 3600 m, mainly on the more humid slopes in the south and west, is Hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests of Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation above 3500 m is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also occur, but their total area is relatively small.

Volcanoes National park is best known for the mountain gorillas and the famous tourist activity is Gorilla and Golden Monkey Trekking. Other mammals include black-fronted duiker buffaloes, spotted hyenas and bushbucks. There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare, also 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.