Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is in the north is home to the Mountain Gorilla. This stunning backdrop is host to over half the world’s wild mountain gorillas. The exhilarating climb to the gorilla’s natural habitat of shady bamboo foresters fantastic views in all directions and explores the rich ecosystems of blending evergreen and bamboo forests, open grass-lands, swamps and health. Hiking in Virunga takes one through an ecosystem composed of four major vegetation zones: bamboo, Hagenia and Hypericum forest, sub-alpine and Afro-alpine. There is nothing more joyful than encountering a fully grown silverback gorilla, up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable, playful and tolerant of human visitors.
The Virunga Conservation Area, on the upper slopes of the dramatic Virunga volcanoes, comprises three contiguous national parks – Mgahinga National Park in Uganda , Volcanoes National Park – Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in Rwanda, and Parc des Virungas, commonly called Djomba, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “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 above sea level, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda), situated in the far northwest of Rwanda 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.
– Mountain gorillas, Gorilla Beringei specie,
Mountain gorillas make these afro-montane forests their home. In Volcanoes National Park on the Rwandan side, where Dian Fossey worked, there are 08 habituated gorilla families.
– The Golden Monkey: Golden Monkeys are among the most endangered primates in Africa and is believed the only viable population of these monkeys is in the Virunga Volcanoes. The golden monkey is a distinct species of guenon – Cercopithecus Kandti and is endemic to the Albertine Rift. Two groups each with over 100 individuals are being habituated for visitors in the Virungas. The Kabatwa group, found in the east of the park, on the flanks of the Sabinyo volcano and the Musongo group higher up on the flanks of the Karisimbi volcano at an altitude of about 2800-3000 metres.
– Bird species: About 200 bird species have been recorded in the park, with 13 species endemic to the Albertine Rift, including the Rwenzori turaco.
– Buffaloes and elephants:Populations of buffaloes and elephants can be found in the forested hills of the park.
Activities in Volcanoes National Park:
– Hike two of the Virunga volcanoes, accessible from the Rwandan side, through the cultivated foothills: Karisimbi (4.507m) and Bisoke (3.711m). The climb to the peak of Karisimbi requires two days, with clients sleeping in a tent on the mountain. It does not require technical skills, but clients have to be fit and healthy as the walk is quite arduous and conditions can be wet, cold and muddy. Bisoke is a day’s walk and although less steep than Karisimbi still requires walkers to be fit. The paths go through afro-montane forest, bamboo, and woodland. Higher up there is Afro-alpine moorland, grassland and marsh, giant lobelia and senecio.
– Visits to “Old Karisoke” Dian Fossey Research Centre are available as one of the activities in the Virungas. Old Karisoke is located in a beautiful meadow between the Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes with the Mikeno volcano in the distance. Remains of the old buildings can be seen as well as graves of some of the research gorillas that have died over the last 30 years, including the famous Digit which was killed by poachers, as well as that of Fossey herself. (see info on Old Karisoke below)
– Dian Fossey graveyard is located on Bisoke volcano, where she spent most of her time on gorillas’ research. The walk takes about 6-8 hours in all and is a fascinating way to explore the park and get a glimpse of the remains of this historic place. Prior booking is required and should be done when booking a safari.
The remains of Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Centre – “Old Karisoke”
Dian Fossey set up a research centre in the Virungas in the early sixties and began the well documented habituation of the gorillas there. She became well known internationally through the film “Gorillas in the Mist”. Although Fossey was killed in 1985, the Centre continued to operate in the forest with other researchers until 1992. During the ensuing civil war in Rwanda it was destroyed and although rebuilt in 1993, it was destroyed again. Since then it has not been rebuilt. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International now runs its research on the gorillas in the forest from the Karisoke Centre in Ruhengeri town.