The Parc National des Volcans is located in north-west Rwanda, on the joint border with Uganda and DR Congo, where it is contiguous with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda) and Virunga National Park (the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
It 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. The park contains eight Pleistocene volcanic peaks which form part of the watershed between the Nile and Congo Rivers systems and includes Karisimbi at 4,507 m.
The vegetation varies considerably with altitude; at lower elevations of 2,400–2,500 m there is a montane forest with Neoboutonia, above which there is a zone of bamboo Arundinaria alpina between 2,500 and 3,200 m, replaced on more humid slopes in the west and south by Hagenia–Hypericum forest. Montane bogs occupy some open areas. Subalpine vegetation with lobelias, evergreen bushland and thicket, occurs between 3,500–4,000 m, while above 4,000 m there is Afro-alpine vegetation of health and thicket grassland. Average annual rainfall at Karisoke (3,100 m) is c.2,000–2,400 mm.
Volcanoes National park is best known for Mountain Gorilla Gorilla gorilla beringei and famous for being the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the Mountain 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 Mountain Gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. Unknown assailants murdered her 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 famous film “Gorillas in the Mist”, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research centre, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.
The park holds a rich avifauna which includes many of the Albertine Rift endemics. Three globally threatened species namely; Lagden’s Bush-shrike, African Green Broadbill, and Kivu Ground Thrush. Besides, 17 of the 25 species of the Albertine Rift Mountains Endemic Bird Area and 53 of the 74 species of the Afrotropical Highlands biome that occur in Rwanda have been recorded at the site.
Other wildlife includes; African Elephant Laxodanta africana, Golden Cercopithecus mitis kandti (both endangered) and much more.