History of Volcanoes National Park
Also known as Parc Nationale des Volcanos in French, the Volcanoes National Park is located in the north west of Rwanda protecting the Rwandan side of the Virunga massif thus bordering with Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Congo’ Virunga National Park.
Volcanoes National Park is the only home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and it shares five (5) of the eight Volcanoes that form the chain of the Virunga massif. The Volcanic mountains which are shared by this park include; the Gahinga, Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Karisimbi and Bisoke.
Established in 1925, Volcanoes National Park was the first park to be gazetted in Africa comprising of the land mass of Mounts Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno with the intention of offering protection to mountain gorillas from the issues like poaching. The boundaries of the park were increased in the year 1929 to incorporate more areas of Rwanda and Congo and the name was changed to Albert National Park covering a geographical spread of 8090 km² administered by the Belgian Colonial government who were the colonial masters of Rwanda and Congo by then. After the independence of Rwanda and Congo, the Albert Park was spilt into two following the boundary. However, the Rwanda side was further reduced to provide land for pyrethrum growing in the year 1969.
Volcanoes National park in the subsequent years provided a ground for the famed Dian Fossey, an American Primatologist who dedicated her life for the conservation of mountain gorillas by carrying out substantive research about them. Arriving in the year 1967, Dian Fossey set up a research station in the middle of Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke and named it Karisoke Research Station getting the name from the two mountains. The site still stands up today and her favourite Silverback Digit is buried at the site and even her herself following his unclear death in the year 1985. A range of documentaries and movies have been recorded demonstrating her significant role towards the mountain gorilla conservation in the Virunga Massif. The famous one has been gorillas in the mist.
Being on a mountain landscapes the park features a range of vegetation ranges that vary according to altitude changes. The lower slopes of the park (2400 – 2500) are covered by the lower montane forest which was removed by farming, seconded by the Neoboutonia forest (2500 – 3200 m), Bamboo forest stretching to over 30% of the protected area. The park has one of the largest forests Hagenia-Hypericum thriving at 2600 – 3600m while from 3500-4200m the forest is majorly marked by Lobelia lanurensis, Lobelia wollastonii, and Senecio erici-rosenii. The 4300 – 4500 altitudinal range is denoted by Secondary thicket, swamps, meadows, marshes and small lakes exist in a limited range.
The Volcanoes National Park is majorly known for its counts of critically endangered mountain gorillas and the critically endangered golden monkey species. It also contains black-fronted duiker, spotted hyena, buffalo and bushbuck. Volcanoes National Park has 178 species of birds of which 13 species and 16 sub species are limited in range to the Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains.