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Attractions In Volcanoes National Park – Volcano Attractions/Things To See

What To See In Volcanoes National Park/Attractions In Volcanoes National Park

There are a variety of attractions to see while on your Rwanda gorilla safari in and around Volcanoes National Park. These include;

  • The endangered Moutain Gorillas, 12 habituated gorilla families
  • Rare Golden Monkeys,
  • Buffalos, Elephants, Bushpigs, Giant forest hogs and several antelope species (these are rarely seen),
  • More than 200 species of birds, including 16 Albertine Rift Endemics
  • The dramatic scenery consisting of a chain of free-standing volcanoes, each connected by forested saddles. These include;
  • Mount Karisimbi (4507m),
  • Mount Muhabura (4,127m),
  • Mount Bisoke (3,711m),
  • Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m), and
  • Mount Gahinga (3,474m).
  • The tomb of the legendary primatologist, Diani Fossey
  • The beautiful Twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo,
  • Musanze caves, and
  • Gorilla guardian’s village/Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village.

Below is a detailed description of all attractions to see in Volcanoes National Park on you Rwanda gorilla safari.

Mountain Gorillas In Volcanoes National Park

Over 604 Mountain gorillas reside in the Virunga Mountains–a triangle where Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and the eight Virunga volcanoes intersect. Precisely, this is where the mountain gorillas of Rwanda reside.

Moutain gorillas are the earth’s rarest and most majestic creatures. They are very special creature and before you travel to Rwanda to see them, you should research and learn as much as you can about them. Below are some of the mountain gorilla facts you should know as you plan to go for gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

What Is A Mountain Gorilla

Scientifically known as known as Gorilla beringei beringei, the mountain gorilla is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei).

Moutain gorillas are the biggest and most powerful living primates and also our closest relatives after chimpanzees and bonobos, sharing about 98% of our DNA.

As their name suggest, they live in the forested mountains of East-Central Africa at elevations between 2438 and 3962 metres. At this elevation, it is not unusual for the temperature to drop below freezing at night.

Therefore these great apes have several adaptations that help them survive in their environment. And one of them is their long, thick coats which help to keep them warm. Mountain gorillas, in fact, have longer, thicker and darker fur than their lowland cousins.

They do not survive in captivity. The gorillas you’ve encountered in zoos are most likely from the lowlands of western Africa.

Mountain gorillas are also endangered and according to 2018 census results, there are approximately 1063 Mountain Gorillas remaining in the world with about 459 staying in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Once on the verge of extinction, their survival is one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. The renowned mammologist George Schaller was the first to research mountain gorillas in the late 1950s. But it was Dian Fossey who brought their plight to international attention, studying them for 18 years in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

She lived with them in the forest, raised funds for rangers and protected the gorillas despite extreme danger from poachers, culminating in her unsolved murder in 1985. At that time, Fossey had estimated that just 250 gorillas survived, under threat from habitat loss, extensive poaching and the crossfire of civil wars.

How Big Is A Mountain Gorilla

As the world’s largest primates, adult male mountain gorillas can be as heavy as 220 kilograms (485), stand up to 6 feet (2 meters) tall with a broad bare chest almost that wide and have an arm span of up to 8 feet (2.4 meters).

Females are a bit more petite, weighing about 100 kilograms and standing 5 feet tall.

Because of their immense size and obvious extraordinary physical strength that appear intimidating, many travelers on Rwanda gorilla tours to Volcanoes National Park often wonder if Rwanda gorillas are aggressive or dangerous. The good news is, these massive apes are gentle giants and very shy.

However, when disturbed and threatened they can roar, bark, or hoot very loudly. They can also stand upright and beat their chests, throw things and even make aggressive charges. Also, a mother gorilla will fight to the death if she feels her baby is threatened.

What Do Mountain Gorillas Eat

The mountain gorilla is primarily an herbivore feeding on stems, leaves, bamboo shoots and fruits. Adult males can eat up to 34kg (75 pounds) of vegetation a day, while a female can eat as much as 18kg (40 pounds).

Moutain gorillas’ only true preys are insects such as termites and ants which they eat to supplement their diet.

How Do Mountain Gorillas Move

Moutain gorillas primarily move the ground. Like all great apes other than humans, their arms are longer than their legs. Therefore, they move on all fours using their knuckles, supporting their weight on the backs of their curved fingers rather than their palms.

Besides knuckle walking, they sometimes walk bipedally/on two legs for short distances while carrying food or in defensive situations.

They will however, climb into fruiting trees if the branches can carry their weight. Gorillas also move on all fours even when they are in trees – and hardly jump from branch to branch.

Do Mountain Gorillas Live In Families

Moutain gorillas are highly sociable creatures, living in family troops of anything from 5 to 50 individuals.

A group typically consists of one dorminant male silverback (the male’s back turns silver when he reaches sexual maturity at about 13 years old), one or more subordinate silverbacks, as well as a harem of three or four mature males, and several young gorillas.

A silverback will start to form his family at about 15 years of age, most normally by attracting young sexually mature females from other families. He may continue to lead the group well into his 40s.

The leading silverback forms the focal point of a gorilla family and when he dies, his family may disintegrates.

The major role a silverback is to protect the gorilla family from external threats and mediates conflicts within the group. He is the group’s center of attention and he makes all the decisions in family including determine the movement of the group.

He will bark and hoot as he structures the activities of the day, which often includes moving within a home range of roughly 16 square miles, feeding, resting, and preparing nest in evening for sleeping.

How Many Gorilla Families Are In Volcanoes National Park

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has 12 habituated gorilla families which are available for gorilla trekking.

Each gorilla group has something to offer which may be in terms of character, size, dominance or more.

Some groups are led by silverbacks that are very peaceful and if you indeed portray the same then it would be recommended to bond with a peaceful family.

All gorillas in the habituated gorilla families of Rwanda are known by name and have been given names to identify them through the Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ritual, an event like no other on Earth.

Kwita Izina is one of the world’s most respected forums for conservation and sustainable tourism.

Here, invited guests take to the huge, silverback-shaped bamboo stage and assign each gorilla with a carefully chosen name according to the baby’s behavior and unique character traits, and which Rwandans believe will encourage good fortune and play a prominent role in shaping the infants’ futures.

The festivities – which include traditional music, dancing and performances from local students and artists – attract thousands of visitors each year, with conservationists, rangers and communities; international celebrities, dignitaries and the country’s President attending the ceremony near the town of Kinigi, at the foothills of the Virunga Massif.

Gorilla Families In Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Below are the details of guerilla groups in Volcanoes National Park which yo can visit during your gorilla safaris in Rwanda

  1. Susa Gorilla Family (Susa A)

Susa gorilla family derives its name from Susa River which runs through the area where the group calls home. Susa Gorilla group is the best-known gorilla family of Volcanoes National Park since this is the one that Dian Fossey studied from 1967 until she was murdered in 1985.

Originally, this group was quite large comprising of about 42 members, but it split into two in 2008. The breakaway family was named the Karisimbi group (Susa B).

Today, the group consists of 28 members, including 3 silverbacks. A fascinating feature of this family is the presence of twins, named Byishimo and Impano.

Rwandan mountain gorilla mothers are known to abandon one of their twins because it is so difficult to care for two, but Nyabitondore chose to care for both babies despite their playful and boisterous nature.

  1. Karisimbi Gorilla Family (Susa B)

Karisimbi gorilla group formed after splitting from the original Susa Gorilla Family or Susa group in 2008.  It was originally known as Susa B and later named Karisimbi in 2010 at the gorilla naming ceremony – Kwita Izina.

Just like its name, this group resides on slopes of Mount Karisimbi. If you welcome the challenge of a tough hike, then you will enjoy tracking this group, which lives on the higher slopes of Mount Karisimbi in Volcanoes National Park at heights up to 4507 meters.

It could take you sometime to get there, as it often requires a full day of hiking to reach the family. Trackers usually locate the group a day before spirited gorilla-seeking vacationers set off on the trek, but you must be prepared for the possibility that they have moved too far away and it is not possible to track them.

The group currently has 16 members led by 1 silverback called Nyakangaga. Nyakangaga parted ways along with 13 members and moved far away to form their own family.

  1. Amahoro Gorilla Family

In Kinyarwanda, Amahoro means peace and therefore this group is known for its peaceful ways. It is under the leadership of a silverback called ‘Ubumwe’ which means ‘togetherness’.

Amahoro family lives on Mount Bisoke slopes and it can occasionally move up the hence, making it difficult to track them.

Silverback Ubumwe is known for his congenial nature, which led him to lose some of his members to another group called Umubano.

Amahoro gorilla group is currently comprised of 17 members including;
  • 1 Silverback (Ubumwe),
  • 2 blackbacks,
  • 5 juveniles,
  • 5 adult females and
  • 4 infants.

They are the safest to track as the as these primates hardly get emotional.

  1. Umubano Gorilla Group

Umubano Gorilla Family was once a part of the Amahoro gorilla group.  The group splited into two following a challenge to the head of the Amahoro group leader called Ubumwe, by a rival silverback named Charles.

Having matured into a Silverback of the same rank as Ubumwe, Charles refused to take orders from him and constantly fought Ubumwe for months.

Charles formed his own group named Umubano, the Kinyarwanda word for “living together”.

Umubano is currently composed of 13 members and you have a chance to meet them during your gorilla treks in Rwanda. These include;

  • 1 silverback,
  • 1 sub-adult,
  • 3 adult females, and
  • 6 babies
  1. Sabyinyo Gorilla Family

Sabyinyo Gorilla Group lives in the highlands between Mounts Sabinyo and Gahinga. It is such an impressive family that many visitors on Rwanda gorilla safaris wishes to visit.

As you will learn during your Rwanda gorilla trek, the dominant Silverback of group called Guhonda has taken forceful steps to remain the only alpha male in the family.

Within most gorilla families, when a male matures and becomes a silverback, he is often forced out of the family. Such was the fate of Ryango, a rival to Guhonda who was ousted and remains a lonely silverback.

At an enormous 220 kg, Guhonda is the largest of all the alpha males in the gorilla groups of Volcanoes National Park.

This giant silverback leads a group 16 gorillas. This group also does not go far from one of the luxury safari lodges in Volcanoes National Park called Sabinyo Silverback lodge.

Silverback Guhonda was born in 1971. He was around during the horrific Rwanda genocide of 1994. Not only is he the oldest silverback alive (that we know of), he is, purportedly, the largest.

In 2021, Guhonda will be 50 years old, which is impressive for mountain gorillas, whose average lifespan is between 40 and 50 years in the wild.

Perhaps he will exceed the lifespan of Ruhondeza, the first habituated mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, who died of natural causes in 2012 and was more than 50 years old.

  1. Agashya Gorilla Group (Group 13)

Agashya has the most interesting history of any gorilla group in Volcanoes National Park. The family started with 13 members and it was formerly known as group 13. It was initially led by Silverback Nyakarima.

However, Nyakarima was defeated in a fierce fight against a challenger called Agashya which means ‘the news’. Agashya took his time to watch Nyakarima and assess his strengths before inciting him to fight.

Having defeated the alpha male, Agashya took over the entire group. He moved to the higher slopes of the mountain with his new family, deliberately making it challenging for the old alpha to follow and track them down.

In fact, he still uses this strategy whenever he senses the presence of another silverback that might challenge him.

Agashya has consolidated the group by incorporating lone gorillas and the family has grown from 13 to 20 members including;

  • 3 silverbacks
  • 9 blackbacks
  • 6 females,
  • 2 babies

It is interesting to note that this group resides on the same slopes of Volcanoes National Park as the Sabyinyo group, but as already note, its silverback is careful to avoid danger.

  1. Kwitonda Gorilla Family

Kwitonda Group lives on the lower slopes of Mount Muhabura and sometimes moves to the high elevations at times. The family was founded by a silverback Kwitonda which means ‘humble one’ who died in 2012.

Silverback Kwitonda crossed from Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013 due to pressure from other gorilla families in the area and move to form a group of own in a new area.

Kwitonda died at the age of 40 and his health started deteriorating due to pressure from young gorillas in the group.

Before his death, he allowed other male gorillas to mate with females of the family. It is believed that he knew he wasn’t strong enough to lead the family yet the group need to grow.

By allowing this, he strengthened the family bond. Akarevuro who was young in the leadership of Kwitonda has taken over the leadership of the family. This group is composed of 29 members including;

  • 2 silverbacks
  • 2 blackbacks
  • 10 adult females
  • 1 sub-adult male
  • 7 juveniles, and
  • 7 babies.
  1. Hirwa Gorilla Group

Hirwa Gorilla Family is currently led by silverback Munyinya. This gorilla group often crosses from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Hirwa was formed in 2006 when members of two families broke away from their groups to form a new one. Some of the members originally belonged to the Sabyinyo group, while others came from the Agashya group.

Since this family was created out of pure luck, their name translates to “lucky one.” The group lost its 4 members who died from a lightning strike on 3rd February 2020. Currently, the group has 11 members.

  1. Ugenda gorilla Family

The Ugenda translates as “on the move” or “mobile” in the local Kinyarwanda language. This group has the habit of often moving from one location to another.

They do not seem to prefer any particular territory, and this makes tracking them a bit time-consuming.

Ugenda gorilla group currently has 11 members including 2 silverbacks. They are likely to be found around Mount Bisoke.

  1. Bwenge Gorilla Family

Some members of the Bwenge Gorilla group featured in the “Gorillas in the Mist” movie about Dian Fossey.

This family derives its name from a Silverback known as ‘Bwenge’ a Kinyarwanda word for ‘wisdom’.

The Bwenge family is currently made up of 11 members together with a silverback and is majorly found between Mounts Karisimbi and Bisoke and had gone through hard times when it lost 6 young ones.

  1. Muhoza Gorilla Family

Muhoza Gorilla group was founded by Silverback Muhoza. Muhoza founded his group with 7 members on in December 2016.

He grabbed 2 adult females from the Hirwa group and the family is now composed of 14 members; 1 Silverback, 8 adult females and 5 infants.

  1. Igisha Gorilla Family

Igisha Gorilla Group originated from Susa B Group after separating in 2014. The group is currently led by Silverback Igisha.

The group is formerly known as Susa B family which was later named after the head silverback Igisha.

Today the group comprises of 26 members and is one of the largest groups in Volcanoes national park. This group is graded as a tough trek.

Golden Monkeys In Volcanoes National Park

Besides the breathtaking experience of trekking gorillas in Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park offers traveller on Rwanda safaris and tours, a unique opportunity to encounter the golden monkeys.

What Is A Golden Monkey

The Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) is a species of Old World monkey found only in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa and nowhere else in the world.

Like mountain gorillas, golden monkeys can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are considered an endangered species as they only live in the Virungas and come to about 4000 animals in total.

How Does A Golden Monkey Look Like

Golden monkeys have amazingly multi-coloured coats of rusty red, fiery oranges, shadowy blacks, tints of blue and of course some gold. Males weigh about 12 kilograms and females can weigh up to 6 kilograms.

How Do Golden Monkeys Move

Masters of foraging in the bamboo and the unspoiled highland vegetation, golden monkeys are skilled climbers and can swing from branch to branch with ultimate ease.

They swing their long tails of about 72 centimetres, balance in space as they land on branches with the aid of both their feet and arms that have gripping abilities.

Through natural adaptation, they swiftly indescribably navigate through the thick bamboo. If you’re looking for a reason to spend an extra day in the Volcanoes National Park, don’t miss the chance to track these rare primates.

What Is The Social Life Of A Golden Monkey

One of the qualities that make monkeys and other primates so fascinating is that they often live in complex social webs with relationships and bonds that can be reminiscent of those of humans. As for Golden monkeys, they usually live in packs of 30-100 individuals.

A golden monkey group is a lead by an alpha male. The females tend to guard one territorial region while the males may mate and then travel pack-to-pack.

What Does The Golden Monkey Eat

The golden monkey has a diet that consists primarily of young bamboo leaves, fruits, bamboo branchlets, bamboo shoots, invertebrates, flowers, and shrubs.

However, the golden monkey is an opportunistic feeder and its diet can easily be influenced by the availability of fruit. During seasons where ripe fruit is available, the golden monkey tends to feed more on fruit.

How Many Habituated Golden Monkey Troops Are In Volcanoes National Park

There are two habituated golden monkey troops for tourists in Volcanoes National Park. The larger, and most frequently visited troop, is Sabyinyo which is comprised of about 100 monkeys.

Birds In Volcanoes National Park

Trekking gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is also a great opportunity to see some of the 200 species that reside in the park. The park host the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s swamp warbler. Volcanoes also habours 16 Albertine Rift endemics or birds that are restricted to the Albertine Rift including;

  • The dazzling Rwenzori turacos,
  • Handsome francolins,
  • Rwenzori batis
  • Ruwenzori Apalis
  • Rwenzori Double-collared sunbirds
  • Archer’s robin-chat
  • Doherty’s bush-shrike
  • Dusky Crimsonwing
  • Strange weaver
  • Archer’s robin-chat
  • Ruwenzori nightjar

Other special to look during your Rwanda wildlife safaris in Volcanoes National Park include;

  • African long-eared owl
  • Brown woodland warbler
  • Brown-necked parrot
  • Dusky turtle dove
  • Lagden’s bush-shrike
  • Red-faced woodland warbler
  • Scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird

Dian Fossey Tomb In Volcanoes National Park

Dian Fossey told the world how mountain gorillas live, and fought tooth and nail to save them. Her obsession led to her mysterious death.

For those interested in tracing the footsteps of Dian Fossey, her tomb is a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters and then two or three hours hike through the forest, to above 3,000m altitude. At the site, you will find the house from where Dian Fossey was mysteriously murdered.

About Dian Fossey

  • Born: January 16, 1932, San Francisco, California, United States
  • Died: December 26, 1985, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
  • Buried: December 31, 1985, Gorilla Cemetery at Karisoke Research Station
  • Cause of death: Murder
  • Education: Darwin College, University of Cambridge (1970–1974)
  • Books: Gorillas in the Mist
  • Parents: George E. Fossey III, Kathryn “Kitty” Fossey

What Is Dian Fossey Famous For

Dian Fossey is a woman who gave her life to save the mountain gorillas. She is the primatologist who transformed the way we see gorillas.

Before Fossey’s work, gorillas had an appalling reputation as violent brutes that would kill a human on sight.

Fossey demolished this myth. Living alongside a group of mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, she showed that these massive ground dwelling apes are actually gentle giants, with individual personalities and rich social lives. In many ways they are like us.

But the mountain gorillas were also on verge of extinction; their habitats encroached on by farms, overrun by war and civil unrest, and poaching was the order of the day.  Fossey spent her last years on earth fighting an increasingly savage battle to save them.

In fact, had Fossey not so fiercely protected the mountain gorillas and their habitat, these apes, resting on the high-elevation slopes of Virunga Volcanoes, probably wouldn’t exist today.

For more than a decade she lived alone in a remote and damp cabin in an outpost she built between two mountains, boiling water for baths, eating food from cans, and reading and writing by lantern light.

Dian Fossey is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. It was Fossey who first put the Rwandan mountain gorillas on the map.

What Inspired Dian Fossey To Study And Save The Mountain Gorillas

Dian Fossey did not set out to become a primatologist. She simply loved African nature and was inspired to undertake a safari to Africa in 1963.

It is, in fact, took Dian Fossey’s entire life savings, in addition a bank loan, to make her dream trip to Africa.

In September 1963, she arrived in Kenya. Her trip included safari to Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, and Zimbabwe. John Alexander, a British hunter, served as her guide.

The route he planned included Tsavo, the largest national park in Africa; the saline lake of Manyara, famous for attracting giant flocks of flamingos; and the Ngorongoro Crater, well-known for its abundant wildlife.

The final two sites on her tour were Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania — the archaeological site of Louis and Mary Leakey — and Mt. Mikeno in Congo, where in 1959 American zoologist Dr. George Schaller carried out a pioneering study of the mountain gorilla.

During this trip to Olduvai Gorge she met the renowned palaeoanthropologist Louis Leakey. He was focused on studying the fossils of our ancestors, but had realised that to really understand how we evolved, we would also have to learn about our closest relatives: the apes.

Leakey had already helped another female researcher, Jane Goodall, set up long-term studies on chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Now he wanted to start something similar for gorillas.

At the time little was known about gorillas. In films they were depicted as violent brutes, and tales from hunters suggested that if anyone got too close they would charge to kill.

Three years after their meeting, Leakey hired Fossey to study mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But conflict in the country forced her to leave.

So in September 1967, Fossey set up a small research outpost in neighbouring Rwanda: the Karisoke Research Center. This consisted of a few cabins high in the volcanic Virunga Mountains.

Dian Fossey’s Encounter With Gorillas

Fossey set out to understand and protect the few remaining mountain gorillas, before they disappeared. Her early work was painstaking.

To get close to the gorillas, she started imitating their behaviour like feeding, munching on celery stalks or scratching herself. She would also beat her chest with her fists and copy their belch-like calls.

Fossey’s patience and quiet demeanour paid off. She gained the gorillas’ trust and could observe them undisturbed.

She soon started to see which gorillas belonged to which family, and learnt the key role played by the dominant “silverback” male in each family.

This method of gaining their trust is called habituation, Fossey’s great gift to the world.

Like George Schaller before her, Dian relied heavily on the gorillas’ individual “noseprints” for purposes of identification.

She sketched the gorillas and their noseprints from a distance and slowly came to recognize individuals within distinct groups in her study area.

She learned much from their behavior and kept detailed records of their daily encounters. Fossey also named the gorillas she studied and shared their characteristics, just as Jane Goodall had done with chimpanzees.

How Did Dian Fossey Protect The Gorillas

Even as Dian celebrated her daily achievements in collecting data and gaining acceptance among both the mountain gorillas and the world at large, she became increasingly aware of the threats the gorillas faced from poachers and cattle herders.

Fossey spent ever more time dealing with poachers and farmers, whose cattle encroached on the gorillas’ habitat. She burned poachers’ snares, spray-painting cattle to discourage herders from bringing them into the park, and, on occasion, taking on poachers directly, and forcing confrontation.

She also bought facemasks and pretended to use black magic, so locals might think she was a witch and be scared off.  Some locals referred to her as “the witch of the Virungas.

She referred to her tactics of saving gorillas as “active conservation,” convinced that without immediate and decisive action, other long-term conservation goals would be useless as there would eventually be nothing left to save.

These tactics were not popular among locals who were struggling to get by. Additionally, the park guards were not equipped to enforce the laws protecting the forest and its inhabitants.

As a last resort, Dian used her own funds to help purchase boots, uniforms, food and provide additional wages to encourage park wardens to be more active in enforcing anti-poaching laws.

These efforts spawned the first Karisoke anti-poaching patrols, whose job was to protect the gorillas in the research area.

Dian Fossey And Digit

In the course of her years of research, Dian established herself as a true friend of the mountain gorilla.  However, there was one gorilla with whom she formed a particularly close bond.

Named Digit, he was roughly 5 years old and living in Group 4 when she encountered him in 1967. He had a damaged finger on his right hand (hence, the name) and no playmates his age in his group. She knew him as he was growing up and felt a special bond with him. Just like her, Digit was a bit of an outsider.

Tragically, on New Year’s Eve in 1977, Digit was killed by poachers as he tried to defend his family. He was only 12 years old.

The mutilated body, head and hands hacked off for grisly trophies, lay limp in the brush like a bloody sack. It was the ultimate blow for a woman on an increasingly personal mission to take on poachers.

Six months later there was another, more organised attack on Digit’s family. Two others were killed and one infant, Kweli, was wounded and later died from his injuries.

One of those killed was Uncle Bert, the group’s dominant silverback. Gorilla families depend heavily on their leaders, so his death was devastating to Digit’s family.

The event plunged Fossey into depression. She isolated herself in her cabin, consuming large amounts of alcohol and cigarettes.

Digit had been part of a famous photo shoot with Bob Campbell and, as a result, had served as the official representative of the park’s mountain gorillas, appearing on posters and in travel bureaus throughout the world.

After much internal debate, Dian used his celebrity and his tragic death to gain attention and support for gorilla conservation. She established the Digit Fund to raise money for her “active conservation” and anti-poaching initiatives. The Digit Fund would later be renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Fossey Declare A War On Poachers

The slaughter of Digit and other members of Digit’s family by poachers made Dian Fossey to declared war on the poachers.

She began to employ more direct tactics: she and her staff cut animal traps almost as soon as they were set; frightened, captured and humiliated the poachers; held their cattle for ransom; burned their hunting camps and even mats from their houses.

Fossey was reported to have captured and held Rwandans she suspected of poaching. She allegedly beat a poacher’s testicles with stinging nettles.

In a letter to a friend, she wrote, “We stripped him and spread eagled him and lashed the holy blue sweat out of him with nettle stalks and leaves…”  She even reportedly kidnapped and held for ransom the child of a suspected poacher.

Dian Fossey Murder:  How Did Dian Fossey Die

On 26 December 1985, Dian Fossey was hacked to death with a machete. Her body was found face-up near the two beds where she slept, roughly 7 feet away from a hole that her assailant(s) had apparently cut in the wall of the cabin.

The brutal and still unsolved murder of Fossey is generally thought to have been the handiwork of one of the many poachers she had battled for so many years.

Today, Fossey’s acclaimed book ‘Gorilla in the Mist’ remains perhaps the accessible starting point for anybody who wants to know more about mountain gorilla behaviour, while the eponymous move, a posthumous account of Fossey’s life, drew global attention to the plight of the Mountain Gorillas.

Fossey is buried at Karisoke, in a site that she herself had constructed for her deceased gorilla friends. She was buried in the gorilla graveyard next to Digit, and near many gorillas killed by poachers.

The last entry in her diary read: When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.

Gorillas After Fossey’s Dian Fossey Death

A census one year after her death revealed that the number of mountain gorillas had slowly but steadily been increasing.

Fossey was murdered before she could learn that her work had paved the way for mountain gorillas to begin recovering. Her research laid the foundations for much of what has since been learned about gorillas, allowing the creation of a successful and well-managed conservation and ecotourism industry.

Today, mountain gorillas are believed to be one of the few apes whose numbers are not in decline. They remain endangered, but the trend is upwards. The 2018 mountain gorilla population census revealed that about 1063.

The Virunga Mountains In Volcanoes National Park

The Virunga Mountains also popularly known as the Virunga Volcanoes range are a chain of eight volcanoes created by violent eruptions in the Albertine Rift region. These ranges consist of eight major volcanoes in Uganda, Congo with five of them located in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

The name “Virunga” is an English version of the Kinyarwanda word “ibirunga”, which means “volcanoes”.  Most of these mountains derived their names from the geographical characteristic of their appearance, they include;

  1. Mount Karisimbi (4507m)

Mount Karisimbi derived its name from the word ‘amasimbi’ in Kinyarwanda which means “white shell”, referring to the white-capped summit of this volcano.

The mountain stands at 4507meters (14,787 feet) above sea level and it is the highest point in Rwanda, the highest of the eight Virunga Mountains, and the 6th highest point in Africa.

A hike to Karisimbi summit is not an extraordinary one, but also affords sights of several bird varieties and primates including monkeys and gorillas.

It is also known for its exotic plants in its four belts of vegetation, from the dense forest at its base to the barren volcanic core at the summit.

  1. Mount Muhabura (4,127m)

Muhabura means “The Guide” in Kinyarwanda local language. Mount Muhabura was historically used to aid navigation since the mountain can be seen from many parts of Rwanda and also in Uganda because of its high slopes.

At 4,127 meters (13,540 feet) Muhabura is the 3rd highest of the Virunga massifs. It is an extinct volcano and a hike to its top offers breathtaking views of the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo.

Other major Rwanda tourist attractions on the volcano include the crater, which is near the summit with its unique vegetation cover as well as the endangered mountain gorillas that can be even bumped into while on the Volcano trek.

  1. Mount Bisoke (3,711m)

Bisoke is a Swahili word which means ‘soaked with water’ because of a large crater lake on the summit of this mountain. Mount Bisoke is a dormant volcano and it last erupted in 1957. Its peak rises to 3,711 meters (12175 feet) above sea level.

The mountain features different types of montane vegetation at different levels varying from bamboo forests, to Hypercom forests. Aside from visitors to the parks searching for gorillas or other wildlife, the peak is popular with mountaineers.

It can be climbed in a day from the Rwandan side, and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) leads two-day excursions to it. The climb is considered steep but walkable.

  1. Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m)

Sabinyo volcano has its name derived from a local term ‘Iryinyo’ which means “old man’s teeth” in reference to the mountain’s unique summit with peaks which look like an old man’s spaced teeth.

The summit of mount Sabinyo at 3,669 meters (12,037 feet), marks the intersection of the borders of the Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

It harbours the endangered mountain gorillas including the Sabyinyo gorilla family, which is one of easiest gorilla groups to trek in Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.

The mountain is also home to several Albertine Rift endemic bird species such as the Rwenzori turacos and the handsome francolins.

  1. Mount Gahinga (3,474m)

Gahinga means a small pile of stones in the Kinyarwanda. At 3,474 meters (11398 feet) above sea level, this volcano also features a swampy caldera on its peak which is believed to about 180m wide.

It has afro-montane bamboo vegetation that hosts several mountain gorilla groups, golden monkeys, and a variety of bird species.

Its great place for hikers and offers great scenic views and has volcanic caves that can be explored by travellers on Rwanda hiking safaris in Volcanoes National Park.

The Twin Lakes Of Burera And Ruhondo, Volcanoes National Park

Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo are the two most beautiful lakes you will see while on the safari in Rwanda. The lakes share a combined surface area of 28 square kilometres. Because of their location in the same area and their physical connection, these lakes are called twins.

They are the examples of lava dammed lakes in Africa, formed as a result of magma that erupted from the volcanoes block the flow of River Nyabarongo which was flowing towards the northern part of Rwanda.

They are cantered in the suburbs of Volcanoes National Park at Ruhengeri, just on the foothills of Mountain Sabyinyo, Muhabura, Bisoke and Gahinga.

The Twin Lakes are surrounded by beautiful woodland and only separated by 1 km wide strip of land; the experience of seeing these lakes is worth telling stories.

Their waters look green due to the green vegetation that encloses them.  The lakes and the surrounding wetlands are inhabited by a wide variety of colourful water birds including;

  • Baglafecht Weaver,
  • Great White Pelican,
  • Yellow-billed Stork,
  • Yellow-backed (Black-headed) Weavers,
  • Grosbeak Weaver,
  • Common Moorhens,
  • Pied Kingfisher,
  • Grey Heron,
  • African Spoonbill and many more.

Interestingly, the two lakes also have islands which can be visited by a boat.  The island is inhabited by locale people with unique cultural practices and norms which increase the traveller’s understanding of Rwanda. They are great spots to be visited after your Rwanda gorilla tour in Volcanoes National Park.

Musanze Caves In Volcanoes National Park

The Musanze Cave is 2 kilometer long and a frequently visited site by travellers after their Rwanda gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. It is found in the Innes University grounds and situated within a volcanic region dating back 65 million years, where the lava flows contributed to the Albertine Rift Valley.

The cave is part of the lava basaltic layers from the Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes. It has 31 entrances, most being roof collapses. The collapses create an incredible array of coloured shafts of light shining into the cave. The main cave has an entrance the size of a cathedral and is home to a sizeable bat colony.

Musanze Cave has been used as a shelter during wartime for many centuries and was the site of a massacre during the genocide. It continues to hold considerable significance to local people. The site is formally protected and access is limited to guided tours, which last two and a half hours.

Gorilla Guardians Village/Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Near Volcanoes National Park

Iby’Iwacu’ means ‘treasure of our home’ or ‘our heritage’, thus the village exhibits the real treasure behind the existence of Rwanda as a nation.  This cultural village is located close to Volcanoes National Park in Nyabigoma, Kinigi, and Musanze district.

How Did Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Start?

Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village cultural village started as a response to gorilla poaching which was carried out by some members of the community and was on the increase in-spite of the park recruiting more rangers for the protection of the mountain gorillas.

The village was developed by Edwin Sabuhoro, who worked in the park, witnessed poaching activities, participated in rescuing a poached baby gorilla and was disturbed by human-wildlife conflicts around and within the park.

He decided to pursue his studies in Tourism and Conservation at University of Kent in Canterbury, UK to find solutions to this.

During his Master’s degree research entitled “ecotourism as a potential conservation incentive for local communities around Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans”, he found that the costs met by communities around Volcanoes National Park were higher than benefits they get, and were more than willing not to stop poaching and killing wildlife to compensate for the losses, and that they were not benefiting from tourism directly.

Before finishing his research, he decided to test his hypothesis and offered his life savings to help the community with an alternative source of income.

He offered and divided US$ 2000 to 7 groups (40 families each) of poachers around the park, and in 9 months 5 of them had done excellent work and were not poaching any more, had harvested food and had seeds to plant for the next season’s food, and shared with him 200kgs of potatoes.

This proved to him that the village has a potential, to work and curb down poverty in their community, get food, all they need is a little hand to begin, guidance and monitoring.

From here, he conducted another mini survey to see what tourist would want while and after trekking gorillas and it was apparent that they would want to meet local people, learn about the Rwandan culture, take a walk in the community and share experiences and have a taste of their culture.

Given the fact that communities had this platform of social gathering and exchange, there was need to widen this and make it an experience for travelers to the community, this gave birth to the Gorilla Guardians.

He therefore decided to invest more than $50,000 of his hard earned income to the project he believed in that later came to change the whole village and provided much needed incentive towards the reduction of poaching and increasing livelihood economic opportunities for the under-privileged around the park.

What Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Offers To Visitors

Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village gives visitor rare chance to meet local people, in their environment, with a taste of Rwanda culture and traditions.

Travelers can visit the different cultural sites in the community and get insight into the everyday lives of the village communities.

There is the king’s house replica where visitors are told about;

  • The King’s stories
  • The meanings of different symbols within the palace
  • How the kings were enthroned

The village offers different types of traditional dances by all community categories; men, women, youths and the children. These include;

  • Intore Dance

This is the most famous traditional dance of Rwanda, a highly choreographed routine consisting of three components – the ballet, performed by women; the dance of heroes, performed by men, and the drums. The word ‘Intore’ means warrior.

Origin Of Intore Dance

This special Rwanda traditional dance originated from a political asylum-seeker group from Burundi.

In the early years of the reign of King Mutara II Rwogera (1830-1853), political rivalry broke out in the neighbouring southern Burundi Kingdom.

A Busoni royal figure called Muyange fled for his life from Burundi with his dancers called ‘Abayange’ and sought asylum in Rwanda.

Obviously, such a royal figure had to be given security at the king’s palace. One day, the Abayange were given chance to entertain King Rwogera at the palace and they exhibited a dance that was liked.

Abayange’s dance caught the interest of Rwanda’s royal army but somewhere somehow it was wanting; not satisfying the vacuum in Rwanda’s army for performing in poetry alone.

As a result, Rwandans entwined fighting tactics and songs into the dance, making an evolution of an army’s dance, the Intore dance, which emerged quite different from the one it came from.

From then onwards, the army that exhibited their heroism only through epic poetry in a ceremony known as “Kuvuga Amacumu”, literary translated as ‘talking about spears’, to which was added music and dance.

Other traditional dances offered at Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village include;

  • Ibyivugo dance
  • Umuduri dance
  • Ikembe dance
  • Iningiri dance
  • Inanga dance
  • Amakondera dance
  • Agakenke dance

Besides the traditional dances, visitor to Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village have an opportunity to See the local traditional medicines and take a lesson from a traditional healer in how to create medicinal elixirs from local plants and grasses.

Listen to   ‘Songs of the Gorillas’ sang by the famous Ngayabatema, commonly referred to as Kayuku.

Have a Batwa pottery making experience, lessons and engagement

Join local people when they go to their agricultural fields to work and learn about their work, harvest and participate in food preparation and making processes like millet grinding using stones, carrying potatoes and water on their heads, and attend lessons and participate in preparing a local dish i.e. (Ubugari, Igikoma etc).

There is a campfire (Igitaramo) where all gather around camp fire, with drums and local dances before sunset, where stories, riddles are recounted by storytellers of the old Rwanda with everyone seated around the fire.

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