Within its modest acreage, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park packs five of the eight volcanoes that make up the majestic Virunga Mountains, a haven for the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Families of this great ape are scattered across the transboundary mountain range between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda — but more than half are found in Volcanoes.
Not only is Volcanoes National Park the only protected area in Rwanda that is home to the mountain gorilla but other rare wildlife species like the golden monkey live among its mix of bamboo and montane forests, and rich biodiversity flourishes around the small swamps and lakes dotting the landscape.
Established in 1925 as Albert National Park — this Rwandan gem was a part of Africa’s first official protected area spanning what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over 8,000 sq. kilometers, Albert was created especially for the protection of mountain gorillas. While Rwanda maintained its portion after independence from colonial rule, over the next four decades the loss of the great ape’s habitat to growing human populations and large-scale agriculture became more and more common.
Poaching was also rife and the civil conflict that plagued Rwanda in the early ‘90s turned the national park into a battlefield. Dian Fossey’s famous Karisoke Research Center shut down for seven years after it was attacked in 1992. No tourists ventured into Volcanoes National Park during these turbulent times.