Volcanoes National Park (French: Parc National des Volcans) lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), which are covered in rainforest and bamboo. The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey.
The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno, intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. It was the very first National Park to be created in Africa. Subsequently, 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.
After the Congo gained independence in 1960, the park was split into two, and upon Rwandan independence in 1962 the new government agreed to maintain the park as a conservation and tourist area, despite the fact that the new republic was already suffering from overpopulation problems. The park was halved in area in 1969.
The park later became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. From then on she 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. 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.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within 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, covering 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. This is one of the largest forests in POOPEYHagenia abyssinica. 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, but their total area is relatively small.
The park is best known for the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Other mammals include: golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare.There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.
Tourism in the park
The Rwanda tourist board, ORTPN, runs several activities for tourists, including:
Gorilla visits - as of November 2010, there are eight habituated groups open to tourists, allowing for a total of 64 permits per day. Tourists spend an hour with the gorillas.
Golden monkey visits.
Climbing of Karisimbi volcano - this is a two day trek with overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800 m.
Climbing of Bisoke volcano - one day.
Tour of the lakes and caves.
Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey.
The majority of revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving the wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and (around 10%) to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park.
Area: 130 km²
Altitude: 2,400 m – 4,507 m
Annual rainfall: 1,975 mm (the high at 3030 m, with a marked decrease to the west)
Mean annual temperature: 9.6 °C.
Kwita Izina The Baby Gorilla Naming Ceremony which takes place every year during the month of June in Rwanda.
In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat," wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, "are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest - the Virungas". Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range - home of the rare mountain gorilla - and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
Prices to obtain permit for Volcanoes National Park to view Mountain Gorillas (April 2011):
Foreign Visitor $500
Foreign Resident $250
Rwandan Citizen 20,000 Rwandan Francs= roughly $33-$35
East African Community Citizen $200
East African Community Foreign Resident $300
Rwandan Student 2,000 Rwandese Francs = roughly $3.5-$4
East African Community Student = $150
Foreign Resident Student in Rwanda = $150