Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda is one of the 3 parks within the Virunga Massif that protect the endangered mountain gorillas. The other gorilla parks include Virunga National Park in DR Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The increasing population of mountain gorilla
According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, a non-profit conservation organisation which works towards protecting gorillas in Rwanda and DR Congo, since 2010 the population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif has increased from 480 to 604 animals.
Volcanoes National Park in particular has recorded an increase of about 328 newborn gorillas which have been named since 2005 when the gorilla naming ceremony called Kwita Izina was established. With funding from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Rwanda will expand Volcanoes National Park by 34.4 sq.km which is almost 30% of the actual size including a buffer zone of 6620 hectares.
The advantage of expanding the park in the long-term is to sustain the increasing number of gorillas and generate 17,000 plus jobs especially for the 3,400 families resettled round the park. People living around Volcanoes National Park play a key role in the protection of gorillas.
There are indications that gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda support conservation and local economic development including the planned construction of the first permanent gorilla research and education centre in Africa – the Ellen DeGeneres campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
According to Rwanda Development Board there has been 80% reduction of human-gorilla conflicts given that 10% of revenue generated annually from Rwanda gorilla trekking safaris is invested back in the community around the park through development of schools, clean water, health centres which has improved their livelihoods.
Threats to mountain gorillas
The threats to gorillas mainly result from human activities like deforestation for farming and settlement which lead to habitat loss and diseases among the animals. Other threats include poaching of through which primates are caught in snare wires set for small antelopes. Protecting the park is quite challenging for rangers which is the reason why community involvement is among the priorities for expansion of the park.
As a result, authorities are trying to improve the infrastructure in and around Musanze town near the park including roads and accommodation to provide easy accessibility for gorilla tours in Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park is 105 km (2-hour drive) north of Kigali capital city and 3-hour drive from south-western Uganda for those accessing the park through Cyanika border town of Rwanda.
The increasing population of mountain gorillas in the park mean that all travellers visiting Rwanda for a gorilla safari are assured to see these gentle giants which share 98% of the human DNA in their natural habitat. The biggest part of the revenue derived from gorilla tours is also used for conservation and protection of these endangered great apes for future generations.
There are 12 habituated gorilla families available for trekking in Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda gorilla trekking permit cost $1500 per person available for booking through Rwanda Development Board (RDB) or a trusted tour operator.
In addition to gorillas, other experiences to enjoy in Volcanoes National Park include Dian Fossey hike at Karisoke Research Centre, golden monkey tracking, visiting the Gorilla Guardians Village for Rwandan traditional cultural experience, Lakes, Burera and Ruhondo for canoe and boat riding, Musanze caves and Buhanga sacred forest.