The Parc National des Volcans is located in the north-west Rwanda, on the joint border with Uganda and DR Congo, where it is contiguous with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (UG001) and Virunga National Park (CD010). The park contains eight Pleistocene volcanic peaks which form part of the watershed between the Nile and Congo river systems, and includes Karisimbi (4,507 m). The terrain is often difficult and broken, with steep slopes. The vegetation varies considerably with altitude; at lower elevations (2,400–2,500 m) there is 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. Some open areas are occupied by montane bogs. Subalpine vegetation with lobelias, evergreen bushland and thicket occurs between 3,500–4,000 m, while above 4,000 m there is an Afro-alpine vegetation of heath and thicket grassland. Average annual rainfall at Karisoke (3,100 m) is c.2,000–2,400 mm.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The park holds a rich avifauna which includes many of the Albertine Rift endemics. Records come mainly from areas around the Karisoke Research Centre; other areas have been worked by comparatively few ornithologists.
Non-bird biodiversity: The park is best known for the mountain gorilla Gorilla gorilla beringei (CR), a subspecies endemic to the Virunga mountains and Bwindi Forest in Uganda. Other threatened mammals include Cercopithecus mitis kandti (EN) and Loxodonta africana (EN).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The park was created in 1929, although legislation for its current protection derives from a 1974 Decree, when it was reduced by about half to its current size. The park was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1983. Although human pressure around the park is very high, it is the best-protected park in Rwanda. Threats include demand for agricultural land, gorilla poaching, encroachment, illegal wood- and bamboo cutting and feral dogs. Karisoke Research Centre, created by Diane Fossey, is among the oldest primate field research stations in Africa. Efforts have been made to extend research and tourism activities to other elements of the park. Public-awareness campaigns have been conducted around the periphery of the park, aimed at promoting understanding of the park and stimulating support within the local population.