History of Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is nestled in northwestern Rwanda, covering an expanse of 160 km² (62 sq mi) of verdant rainforest terrain. The park is privileged to encompass five of the eight mesmerizing volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo. Adjacently, it shares its borders with the esteemed Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
This park boasts of being a sanctuary to the magnificent mountain gorilla and the elusive golden monkey. These species not only add to the rich biodiversity of the area but also act as major tourist attractions, drawing thousands every year to witness their grace and natural behavior in the wild.
Genesis of the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
The need to shield the vulnerable gorillas from the clutches of poachers led to the gazetting of the park in 1925. It secured the areas encompassing the volcanoes Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Mikeno. This initiative earned it the honor of becoming Africa’s very first National Park. As the years rolled on, the park saw an expansion in 1929, extending its boundaries further into Rwanda and reaching into the Belgian Congo. This led to the formation of the colossal Albert National Park, spread across 8090 km². The administrative reins of this park were held by the Belgian colonial authorities, given their governance over both the colonies at that time.
Challenges and Changes:
However, the park faced certain challenges in 1958 when 700 hectares of its precious land were cleared for human habitation. This pattern of land clearing persisted, with another 1,050 hectares sacrificed for the cultivation of pyrethrum between 1969 and 1973.
Dian Fossey and Her Legacy:
It was during these times of change and challenges that the park drew the attention of the American naturalist, Dian Fossey. Arriving in 1967, she established the Karisoke Research Centre strategically between Karisimbi and Visoke. The park soon became her second home. Fossey’s relentless efforts, passion, and research played a pivotal role in drawing international attention to the potential extinction of the gorillas. Her tragic murder in 1985, suspected to be at the hands of the very poachers she opposed, left an indelible mark in the history of the park. Her memory is eternally preserved not only in her autobiography “Gorillas in the Mist” and its subsequent film adaptation but also in her final resting place in the park, near the research center, surrounded by the gorillas she cherished.
The Dark Phase – Rwandan Civil War:
The park’s tranquility was brutally disrupted during the Rwandan Civil War, turning it into a battlefield. In 1992, the park’s headquarters faced a brutal attack. This tumultuous phase led to the abandonment of the Karisoke Research Centre and a halt in all tourist activities. It wasn’t until 1999 that the park reopened its doors to the world, having ensured safety and stability in
the region. Despite sporadic disturbances from Rwandan rebels in the subsequent years, swift action by the Rwandan army has ensured the safety of tourists and residents alike.
Beyond its lush rainforests and captivating wildlife, the park also shelters Buhanga Eco-Park, a realm of ancient woodlands narrating Rwanda’s intriguing folklore. The Musanze Caves, which trace their origin back to volcanic explosions roughly 62 million years ago, also lie within the park’s boundaries, offering a glimpse into the region’s geological past.
With a history that oscillates between serenity and turmoil, Volcanoes National Park remains a testament to nature’s resilience and mankind’s determination to conserve it.