Looking to an authentic gorilla watching tour? Look no further than the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. This bamboo forest park was first made a protected conservation area in 1925 to protect mountain gorillas that were roaming within the Virunga Region. During this time the park was a small area made up of Karisimbi, Mikeno and Bisoke.
In 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park, a huge area of 8090 km2, run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies. In 1958, 700 hectares of the park were cleared for a human settlement though later some of this land has been added to the park.
The Volcanoes National Park is one of the few places where tourists can have the thrilling experience of meeting the mountain gorillas in the wild. These great apes are only found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The park later became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. When she arrived in 1967, she set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke (also known as Bisoke). She then spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. Unfortunately, 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. On your gorilla visit, you can pay tribute to this wonderful lady by taking a hike to the Dian Fossey Research Center at Karisoke.
Facts About the Park
The vegetation in the park varies due to the different altitude zones around the park. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, which covers about 30% of the park area. From 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. The vegetation from 3500 to 4200 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.
Things to See and Do in Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park is commonly known for the mountain gorillas, great apes that live in groups within the bamboo forests. There are 12 habituated gorilla families that can be visited by tourists who are interested in a gorilla safari in Rwanda. Every family can be visited by a maximum of only 8 tourists.
Visiting the great apes in small groups is one of the ecotourism measures that have been taken to protect not only the mountain gorillas but also the habitat in which they live. A gorilla permit costs only USD1500 per permit and can be booked through either a local tour operator or the Rwanda Development Board. The price may seem to be high but this is aimed at generating enough funds that can be used to protect the mountain gorillas.
This is another star attraction of the park. The Golden monkey is an old world species of monkeys that is endemic to the Virunga Mountains of Central Africa. You can see these primates in their natural habitat in the Volcanoes National Park. The golden monkey can travel in various group sizes, and have been seen in small groups of three up to large groups of 62 monkeys. The groups that are found at higher elevations tend to be smaller. The golden monkey will often return to one of several different sleeping areas after a day of feeding.
You can book a golden monkey tracking tour with one of the local tour operators operating in the Virunga Region. A golden monkey tracking permit cost USD90 per person and can be booked at the Rwanda Development Board.
Other mammals include: black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena and bushbuck. The bushbuck population is estimated to be between 1760–7040 animals. There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. During a gorilla safari, you may encounter some of these animals and that is why you will be led by a ranger with a gun to shoot in the air incase there is need to scare away some of these animals.
There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Rwenzori regions. Would you like to go birding in Rwanda? Why not go on an amazing safari in the Virunga Mountains and encounter some of the unique birds that live in the region including some endemics.