Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park
(French: Parc National des Volcans) lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myahinga Gorika National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimba, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), which are covered in rainforest and bamboo. The park was the base for Dian Fossey.




The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno, intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. It was the very first National Park to be created in Africa. Subsequently, in 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park, a huge area of 8090 km², run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies.


After the Congo gained independence in 1960, the park was split into two, and upon Rwandan independence in 1962 the new government agreed to maintain the park as a conservation and tourist area, despite the fact that the new republic was already suffering from overpopulation problems. The park was halved in area in 1969.

The park later became the base for the famous American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. From then on she spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. Fossey's life later was portrayed on the big screen in the film Gorillas in the Mist, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.
The Volcanoes National Park became a battlefield during the Rwandan Civil War, with the park headquarters being attacked in 1992. The research centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities (including visiting the gorillas) were stopped. They did not resume again until 1999 when the area was deemed to be safe and under control. There have been occasional infiltrations by Rwandan rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in subsequent years, but these are always stopped quickly by the Rwandan army and there is thought to be no threat to tourism in the park.


Flora and fauna



Vegetation varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within the park. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, mainly on the more humid slopes in the south and west, is Hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests in Africa with Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation from 3500 to 4200 m is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also occur, but their total area is relatively small.



The park is best known for the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Other mammals include: golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.


Tourism in the park

The Rwanda tourist board, ORTPN, runs several activities for tourists, including:


  • Gorilla visits - there are four habituated groups open to tourists, allowing for a total of 32 permits per day. Tourists spend an hour with the gorillas.
  • Golden monkey visits.
  • Climbing of Karisimbi volcano - this is a two day trek with overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800 m.
  • Climbing of Bisoke volcano - one day.
  • Tour of the lakes and caves.
  • Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey.


The majority of revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving the wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and (around 10%) to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park.



  •   Area: 130 km²
  • Altitude: 2,400 m – 4,507 m
  • Annual rainfall: 1,975 mm (the high at 3030 m, with a marked decrease to the west)
  • Mean annual temperature: 9.6 °C.


 Special Events


Kwita Izina The Baby Gorilla Naming Ceremony which takes place every year during the month of June in Rwanda.

Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe Forest is a high-altitude, mountainous rainforest in southern Rwanda established as a forest reserve in 1933. The conservation area consists of approximately 378 square miles (970 square kilometers). The forest is located in the Albertine Rift, a series of mountain ranges beginning at the Rwenzori mountains in western Uganda and Congo, continuing south into the Lendu Plateau in eastern Congo. Contiguous with Kibira National Park in Burundi, Nyungwe is one of the largest mountainous rainforests remaining in Africa. Just recently the Nyungwe forest received National Park status, making it East Africa's largest protected high-altitude rainforest.


Nyungwe's biodiversity is astonishing by African standards and is one of the most endemic species-rich areas in all of Africa. Along with its biodiversity, Nyungwe is an important water catchment for Rwanda and contains many natural resources integral to Rwanda's human populations. Rwanda is also in one of the most heavily populated areas of Africa with over 8 million inhabitants in a country the size of the state of Vermont in the United States. Nyungwe is under constant threat from anthropogenic and environmental stresses.


This website exists as a clearinghouse of information for researchers, activists, and citizens interested in visiting, studying, conserving and working in this complex and valuable landscape.


Facts About Nyungwe Forest



970 square kilometers (378 square miles), the largest single forest block in East Africa.


Between 1,600 meters and 2,950 meters (Between 5,600 feet and 9,700 feet).


Temperature range

0-30 degrees C (32-85 degrees F, average daytime temperature: 15.5 degrees C (60 degrees F).



1800-2500 mm per year (71-78 inches).


Rainy season

September to May.


Dry Season

June to August, with several dry weeks in December/January.


Forest Type

Nyungwe is made up of a complex matrix of Albertine Rift montane forest. Nyungwe is known for its rugged terrain and complex mosaic of dense vegetation types from tall dense forests to open, flower filled marshes. The park has a varied topography with varied soil types providing microhabitats for both plants and animals. Moist, fertile soil supports tall forests, while dry ridges provide habitat for shorter trees and thickets. The southeastern portion of the forest is blanketed with bamboo, an important commodity, while flooded forests, marshes, and open harbaceous ground cover are interspersed throughout.


Threats to the Forest

Nyungwe faces many major threats to the forest, caused mostly by the huge human population living around the forest. Nyungwe's biodiversity leads to a great number of natural resources that are important to the livelihood of the surrounding human communities, including bamboo, honey, timber, and wild animals. Farms are encroaching on the boundaries of the forest, leading to habitat fragmentation and loss for Nyungwe's natural communities. Below is a short synopsis of some of the more important threats to Nyungwe.


Honey Collection and Forest Fires


Residents of the area surrounding Nyungwe often search for wild beehives in the forest. Honey-hunters often use fire to smoke bees from the hives. These fires sometimes spread, resulting in the loss of large tracts of forest. El Niño leaves Nyungwe particularly dry, resulting in massive collateral fire damage. Entire hillsides in Nyungwe are nearly or completely devoid of trees due to this damage.


Human Encroachment and Habitat Fragmentation

High human populations lead residents to seek out land for farming within the forest. This leads to a highly fragmented landscape, in which habitat areas are isolated and form islands in formerly connected forest. Habitat fragmentation disrupts the movement and territory patterns of animals, while interrupting ecological processes such as nutrient flow and seed dispersal. It also causes the forest to become more vulnerable to invasive species. Another threat to the forest is excessive removal of bamboo.



Throughout history, mining for gold and more recently columbo-tantalite have been economically important in Rwanda. Mining camps can be found throughout Nyungwe and often have up to 3,000 inhabitants.


Species Present in Nyungwe Forest

Nyungwe has one the largest populations of endemic species in all of Africa. Of the 86 mammal species present, 14 are endemic to the Albertine Rift. The forest is home to 14 species of primates, including large troops of colobus monkeys that often travel in groups of 300 or more individuals. Two hundred eighty avian species have been identified in the forest, with 26 Albertine Rift endemic species and 121 forest species. There are also 43 species of reptiles, 8 of which are endemic. Thirty-one species of amphibians are present, with 15 endemic species. There are innumerable invertebrate species present, and Nyungwe is especially known for its abundant butterfly populations, which include 21 Albertine Rift endemic species. The floral community consists of over 1100 species, with 137 endemic species. Below is a partial species list.




L'Hoest's Monkey - Cercopithecus lhoesti
Owl-faced Monkey - Cercopithecus hamlyni
Mona Monkey - Cercopithecus mona
Blue Monkey - Cercopithecus mitis doggetti
Golden Monkey - Cercopithecus mitis kandti
Red-tailed Monkey - Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti
Vervet Monkey - Cercopithecus aethiops


Other Monkeys

Greycheeked Mangaby – Cercocebus albigena johnstoni
Black and White Colobus – Colobus angolensis rwenzori




Eastern Needle-Clawed Galago – Galago inustus
Greater Bushbaby – Galago crassicaudatus
Dwarf Galago – Galago demidovii




Olive Baboons – Papio anubis




Chimpanzee – Pan troglodytes


Other Mammals


Giant Forest Squirrel – Protoxerus stangeri
Mountain Sun Squirrel – Heliosciurus rwenzorii
Boem's Squirrel – Funisciurus boehmi
Lord Darby's Flying Squirrel – Anomalurus darbianus
Giant Forest Hog – Hylochoerus meinertzhageni
Bush Pig – Potamochoerus larvatus
Tree Hyrax – Dendrohyrax arboreus dorsalis
Lestrade's Duiker – Cephalophus weinsi lestradi
Black-fronted Duiker – Cephalophus nigrifrons
Yellow-backed Duiker – Cephalophus sylvicultor
Leopard – Pantera pardus
Golden Cat – Profelis aurata
Serval – Leptailurus serval
Wild Cat – Felis silvestris
Side-striped Jackal – Canis adustus
African Civet – Viverra civetta
Two-spotted Palm Civet - Nandinia binotata
Genet Servaline – Genetta servalina
Large-spotted Genet – Genetta tigrina
Slender Mongoose – Herpestes sanduneus
Marsh Mongoose - Herpestes paludinosus
Ichneumon Mongoose – Herpestes ichneumon
Congo Clawless Otter – Aonyx congca




Great Blue Turaco – Corythaeola cristata
Ruwenzori Turaco – Tauraco johnstoni
Black-billed Turaco – Tauraco schuetti
Ross’s Turaco – Musophago rossae
Black and White Casqued Hornbill – Bycanistes subcylindricus
Crowned Hornbill – Tockus alboterminatus
Crowned Eagle – Stephanoaetus coronatus
Forest Buzzard – Buteo oreophilus
Handsome Francolin – Francolinus nobilis
Olive Pigeon – Columba arquatrix
Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater – Merops oreobates
White-headed Wood Hoopoes – Phoeniculus bollei
Blue-Headed Sunbird – Nectarinia regia
Stuhlmann's Sunbird – Nectarinia afra stuhlmanni
Black-headed Waxbill – Estrilda atricapilla
Olive Thrush – Turdus olivaceus
Slender-billed Chestnut Wing Starling - Onychognathus tenuirostris theresae
White-necked Raven – Corvus albicollis
African Saw-wing – Psalidoprocne pristoptera
Mountain Wagtail – Motacilla clara
Cape Wagtail – Motacilla capensis
Red-throated Alethe – Alehe poliophrys
White-starred Robin – Pogonocichla stellata
Equatorial Akalata – Sheppardia aequatorialis


Reptiles and Amphibians


Nyungwe's high altitude precludes great reptile and amphibian diversity. However, there are five chameleon species and several snake species, including a viper species, Atheris nitschei. (See Fischer and Hinkel 1992 in Publication list for more details.)




Butterflies are the most charismatic invertebrate species in all of Nyungwe. There are over 120 identified species, forty of which are endemic to Nyungwe. On a sunny day the forest is full of brilliant patches of color.


Perhaps the most notorious invertebrate species is the driver ant, Dorylus spp. These ants travel in huge colonies and often move in columns guarded by larger ants with pinchers. Vibrations cause the guards to seek out the source of the movement and attack.


These ants are important carnivores in the forest. One study at Kibale Forest in Uganda found that the total ant biomass in a given area was larger than that of the mammalian carnivores. The ants also devoured more prey by weight than large carnivores.



The trees of Nyungwe forest include large species such as Entandrophragma excelsum in the Mahogany family, tree ferns (Cyathea manniana), and many species of herbaceous ferns. For a list of Albertine Rift endemics found in Nyungwe,