Volcanoes National Park springs in the southern part of the Volcanoes range which comprises of the Rwanda northern border with fellow East African countries of Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Presently, the Volcanoes National Park covers a surface of 12,760 ha and it is believed to be the oldest National park on the African Continent harboring endangered mountain gorilla species which makes Rwanda another country other than Uganda where Mt Gorillas are safely visited by tourists who are interested in them.
It’s believed that many years past, the Volcanoes National Park was very wide with 30,000ha, but constant encroachment and land reclamation reduced it to half of what it was in around 1924 when it was established. Volcano National park also is known as Parc National des Vulcans was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area restricted by Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno, as a move to conserve endangered the gorillas from poachers.
Successively, in the year 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Congo, to create Albert National Park, an enormous area of 8090 km2, run by the Belgian colonialist. During the early 1960s, the park was divided as Rwanda and Congo gained their independence and by the end of that decade, the park was almost half of its original size.
Because of insecurity, the American researcher Dian Fossey who was researching endangered mountain gorillas in DR.Congo forests had to shift her base to places of Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes which was later on known as Karisoke research center. The researcher took a lead in the conservation efforts against the protection of mountain gorillas and championed the efforts to solicit resources aimed at stopping illegal poaching in these particular areas.
Despite the good deeds she was killed in a cold blood and buried near to the grave of her favorite gorilla known as Digit in the year 1985. These tombs are available and you can visit them whenever you go for Volcanoes National park safaris in Rwanda.
The volcano national park continued to suffer at the mercies of poachers though conservation efforts were also underway. In the early 1990s, the volcano national park became a battlefield for Rwanda’s civil war which paralyzed tourism activities until 1999. To enhance the conservation efforts and promote the gorilla safaris in Volcanoes National Park, in the year 2005. The Rwanda Government through Rwanda development Board announced the ceremony of naming gorilla babies which was dubbed “KwitaIzina” meaning name-calling which has resulted in an increase in the gorilla population in Volcanoes National Park.
In addition to mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringeiberingei), Volcanoes national park is home to golden monkeys (CercopithecusmitisKandti), Spotted Hyena (Crocutacrocuta), buffaloes (SyncerusCaffer), elephants, black-fronted duiker (Cephalophusniger), and bushbuck (Tragelaphusscriptus).
More about Virunga Volcano National in Rwanda is that it features an altitudinal layering of vegetation, from the bamboo forest which is between 2300 – 2600 meters to the afro-alpine vegetation alike that of the tundra from 4200 m up to the summit of Karisimbi (4507m). The park is the preservation of mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorillaberinge), a major tourist attraction in Rwanda and endemic to the volcanoes range and the National Park of Bwindi in Uganda. The special ecology of high altitude, high rainfall, and cool temperatures have resulted in diversified biodiversity of Volcano National Park.
The Volcanoes National Park is home to over 245 species of plants, including 17 dominant ones of which 13 are internationally protected orchidaceous, over 115 species of mammals, over 200 species of birds, 27 species of reptiles and amphibians and over 33 species of invertebrates. Some of these species are endemic and others are internationally protected.
Among the plant species protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) include; HilichrysumGuilelmi, PolystachyaKermessia, CalanthesSylvatica, ChamaengisSarcophyhlla, CyrtorchisArcuata, HabeanariaPraestans, and Virectoria. Some of the animal species of this forest that are protected by CITES are Gorilla gorillaBerengei, RanaAngolensis, ChameleoRudis, LeptosiaphosGraueri among others.
In conclusion as of today, the mountain gorillas are the prime attraction in volcanoes national park with gorilla trekking happening all year round. Because of the high altitude, it is generally cold, especially early morning and the evenings, travelers to Volcano National Park in Rwanda are tipped to carry a light sweater for such times. The park is located only two hours from Kigali in the north of Rwanda.