Mountain gorillas live only in Virunga massifs across the border areas of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC and in the Bwindi impenetrable Forest in Uganda. As of today, they are the only great apes whose population is growing standing at 880 individuals. Thanks to conservation efforts.
For that reason gorillas are prime tourist attractions, It’s no surprise that many travel to Africa for gorilla trekking safaris particularly Bwindi impenetrable forest national park connecting to volcanoes national Rwanda and virunga national park in DRC.
The most critical achievement of the 21st century on record is the conservation of mountain gorillas that were poached to the brink of extinction over the last 50 years, their numbers were below 500 individuals in the Virungas from the 1960’s to 1980’s.
Conservationists intend for this to be the most extreme conservation in the history of African ape conservation. In order to put these new conservation strategies for the survival of mountain gorillas into proper context, we must first briefly examine the major historical events that nearly led to extinction of mountain gorillas.
History of the Park
The Volcanoes national park is the smallest but the most famous of the three Rwanda’s national parks (the other two being Nyungwe forest national park in the South and Akagera National Park in the East of the country.)
Later, the park suffered several major excisions that reduced significantly the area of natural forests. In 1969 once again, some 40% of the area of the park were cut to make place for the ambitious pyrethrum growing project.
Ten years later, when another project aimed at making forest land available for cattle ranching was about to be launched, conservation organizations managed to convince donor agencies and the Rwandan authorities to save the forest and develop gorilla tourism instead, watching wild mountain gorillas in their natural protected environment rapidly became successful and soon made Volcanoes National Park world famous. Today, Volcanoes National Park is generally considered as one of the best protected conservation areas in the whole of Africa, the authorities and the international conservation community are fully committed to its protection.
Three years after her death, Fossey’s life work was exposed to a mass audience with the release of Gorilla in the mist, a cinematic account of her life filmed on location in the Volcanoes Park. Gorilla in the Mist drew global attention to the plight of the mountain gorilla and generated unprecedented interest in the gorilla tourism programme that had been established in the park some ten years earlier.
In 1990, the Volcanoes Park was the best organized and most popular gorilla sanctuary in Africa and gorilla tourism was probably Rwanda’s leading earner of tourist revenue.
The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide. Later in 1995, it once again reopened to tourism, only to close again a few months later. Gorilla tracking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, since when the number of tourists visiting the Virungas had increased rapidly. More details of gorillas and gorilla-tracking follow later in this section.
Plans are currently being developed to extend the national park boundary. In preparation for this, people living around the current edge of the national park are being fairly resettled, in order to make a belt of land available for re-afforestation.
The Volcanoes National Park has a historic connection with gorilla conservation that is supported by the several international organizations like Gorilla Doctor, International Gorilla Conservation among others. It was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey which started in the late 1960s and is evocatively portrayed in the book and film “Gorillas in the Mist”.
The most famous destination in Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park has become synonymous with mountain gorilla tracking safaris and no visit to the country would be complete without visiting these majestic primates.
Volcanoes National Park Today
Tourism in Volcanoes National Park is well established. For the most part, the gorilla tracking experiences and hotels operate smoothly and the people are friendly, appreciating the value of visitors to their economy and their area. Indeed, some of the lodges actively work with the local communities on projects for job creation and education, offering interesting visits to local villages.
There are several options for accommodation near Volcanoes National Park, and quite a range of choices – from simple and basic, to more up market. Those in Ruhengeri and Kinigi generally fall into the lower budget categories while the more expensive lodges can be found on the outskirts of the park or scattered further afield making it the best gorilla tracking place to be.There is no other wildlife experience quite like an encounter with mountain gorillas.
That precious hour spent in their company – watching the group playing, sulking, teasing each other, eating, or dozing just like we do – is extraordinary. And the gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are among the best in Africa. Rwanda is now home to twelve habituated groups of mountain gorillas that are scattered all over Volcanoes National Park.
You will leave early in the morning for your briefing at the Park Head Quarters and then in parties of eight will be taken to your allocated group with a guide and trackers. Gorilla trekking can be arduous – some of the groups wander high up the mountainsides – but it is always utterly rewarding.
Encounters can never be guaranteed, but any time spent with them will never be forgotten.