Rwanda's most famous national park where Dian Fossey had her research base for many years. Home to the world famed mountain gorillas.
The Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is the most famous area in Rwanda, world re known for being the home of approximately half of the worlds remaining mountain gorillas. Tracking the mountain gorilla is, according to us, one of the absolute highlights of a journey anywhere in Africa! The thrill and excitement when meeting these gentle giants cannot be explained - it simply has to be experienced.
Volcanoes National Park is part of the Virunga Mountains, which is a range of six extinct and three active volcanoes situated in Rwanda, Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The park is approximately 13,000 hectares and was formed 1929 during the Belgian colonial times, it was then named Albert National Park and extended into DRC. Upon independence Rwanda confirmed that the area would remain a national park in spite of the pressing question of need for increased agricultural land.
The volcanoes in the park range in altitude from 2,400 to 4,507 meters above sea level, the highest one being Karisimbi (4,507). The vegetation consists of bamboo forest, hagenia woodland, Afro-Alpine moorland, grassland and marshy areas. The park is probably best known for being the place where Dian Fossey, the American primatologist worked for almost 20 years. It is largely because of her tireless work that the gorillas were saved from extinction while there still were enough to be saved. She was murdered at her Karisoke Research Center in 1985, although the murder is still un resolved it was probably the work of poachers whom she was constantly crossing swords with during her efforts to save the gorillas from extinction.
In the early 1990;s the gorilla tourism was probably Rwanda’s main foreign exchange earner. This came to an abrupt end in 1994 during the genocide. Gorilla trekking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in 1999. Volcanoes National Park is today not only a place for trekking the gorillas. Visitors can come and stay for several days doing various treks and walks such as visiting the ruins of the Karisoke Research station where Dian Fossey is buried as well as visiting a troupe of the recently habituated Golden Monkey – another of Rwanda’s world unique attractions. Walks range in difficulty from ascending the Karisimbi volcano to various walks and hikes in the forest and nearby lakes.
Animals found in the area include silver monkey, blue monkey, elephant, buffalo, forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, spotted hyena, and black-fronted duiker. Approximately 180 bird species was recorded in 1980, some should with a bit of luck be spotted during various walks and treks.
This magnificent national park covers an area of almost 1000 square kilometers in the mountainous southern parts of Rwanda. With a bit of luck you can here spot chimpanzees as well as a number of other primates and birds and spend days hiking on forest trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty.
This mountainous national park is the biggest single area of montane forest in East and Central Africa. It hosts an amazing diversity of both mammals, birds and plants – 86 mammal species, 120 butterfly species, 280 birds and close to 200 orchids. Nuyngwe has been protected as a forest reserve since 1933.
The main attraction during a visit to Nyungwe are the primates and in specific the chimpanzees. 13 primates are found here including the common chimpanzee and eight types of monkey and the Ruwenzori colobus. Leopard are still present although not many and there are a number of smaller predators living in the forest such as golden cat, wild cat, serval, side striped jackal and a few types of mongoose. The forest consists of more than 200 tree species including some magnificent tracts of African mahogany, Mulanje Cedar, newtonia and albizia. There are also large areas of bamboo forest at higher altitudes.
The forestry department and Rwanda tourism board maintains a number of very well kept and interesting trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty which is a delightful and pleasant activity. These activities do although require a reasonably good level of physical fitness.
In the drier parts of eastern Rwanda lies Akagera National Park, which is very good “classic” safari country. A large variety of game can be seen here in the open grasslands dotted with marshes, lakes and rivers. Zebra, gazelle, hippo, warthog, buffalo and an amazing variety of bird life are just a few of the attractions here. The park has one high quality lodge – Akagera Game Lodge - catering only for a limited number of visitors making a visit to Akagera National Park a peaceful and serene experience.
Sunbathing on Lake Kivu’s white-sanded beach is the ideal way to unwind after exploring Rwanda’s many attractions. This sweet water inland sea offers great swimming as well as other activities in the area. There is a magnificent hotel right on the beach, “The Kivu Sun”, which is highly recommended and the obvious choice when spending a few days by Lake Kivu.
Encountering these gentle giants is a highlight in any African journey! Captain Robert van Beringe was in 1902 the first western person to “discover” a mountain gorilla and write about them to a wider audience, it was up to this year totally unknown to western scientists although the lowland gorilla had been known earlier. The mountain gorilla was thought to be a new species of gorilla and thus named “Gorilla berengei” in honor of the captain. It was later regarded to be a subspecies and renamed “Gorilla gorilla berengei”.
The first major study of the mountain gorilla was done by George Schaller in the 1950;s. The world re known Dian Fossey is the most famous scientist to study and publicize the behavior and life of the mountain gorilla. The mountain gorilla is bigger and heavier than their lowland relatives and can weigh up to 200 kilos although one silverback gorilla alive today is estimated to weigh 220 kilos. They are also distinguished by adaptions to the fact that they live in high altitude areas – among others a longer and bulkier coat of fur.
Like all gorillas, the mountain gorillas are highly sociable creatures living in groups of between 5 and 50 individuals. A group typically consists of a silverback male, his three or four “wives and several young animals of various ages. A silverback male gets his silver colored back at approximately 13-15 years of age and he can continue to lead his group well into his forties. It is the silverback that holds the group together and when he dies the group normally disintegrates. They can live up to the age of 5o years.
There are only approximately 600 mountain gorillas left in the world, approximately half of these live in the Volcanoes National Park. By 1980 the number was down to approximately 250 but active conservation efforts saw the number double and are today slowly increasing in numbers. The mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarians and are known to eat approximately 60 different plants. They will although also eat ants and other insects, which are important protein supplements in their diet. They will spend most of the day on the ground but move up into the trees at night where each individual will build himself or herself a night nest.
A group of gorillas seldom move more than 1 km per day except after a stressful incident of some kind when they can move several km in a day – particularly after a violent encounter with another gorilla group.
The chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than any living creature! The chimpanzee is the most common of the great apes numbering about 180,000 found in 20 African countries. In Rwanda 500-1000 individuals live in the Nyungwe forest.
Chimps live in troops of anything between 10 and 120 animals led by a dominant male. Mother – child bonds are very strong and are known to have survived up to 40 years. A troop of chimps has a well-defined territory, which at times is violently defended against other troops. Chimpanzees are omnivores. They feed mainly on fruits but can also eat seeds, leaves and various small mammals like small antelopes, bush pigs and even other monkeys. They can reach an age of up to 55 years and weigh up to 55 kilos. They are unique in the respect that they use tools, such as sticks to find ants and clubs and hammers to open nuts.
This endangered primate species is another of the world-class attractions in Volcanoes National Park. There is a newly habituated group of about 40 individuals in the Volcanoes national park that can be visited. It is a little known species, which is listed as endangered. It is only during the very last few years that researchers are starting to put together a detailed picture of their lifestyle and routines. The first Golden Monkey troupe was only habituated in 2002.
The Golden Monkey has a bright golden body, cheeks and tail and black limbs, tail end and crown. It was previously found also in Nyungwe forest in southern Rwanda but the only viable population is now found in Volcanoes National Park. To view the Golden Monkey is an entirely different experience compared to visiting the gorillas where the visitor can come up close and view them at close range. The Golden Monkeys live mainly in the bamboo thickets and are smaller and harder to spot