Volcanoes National Park is a national park in northwestern Rwanda. It covers 160 km2 (62 sq mi) of rainforest and encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, namely Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. It borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It is home to the mountain gorilla and the golden monkey, and was the base for the primatologist Dian Fossey.
The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Bisoke 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. In 1958, 700 hectares of the park were cleared for a human settlement.
Between 1969 and 1973, 1,050 hectares of the park were cleared to grow pyrethrum.
The park later became the base for the 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.