While our group has been working hard on our project for Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda, we felt it was necessary to visit Rwanda’s biggest tourist draw – the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Not only are the mountain gorillas critically endangered, with an estimated 790 left in existence, but they are crucial to Rwanda’s tourism. While Rwanda has three national parks (Akagera National Park being the last), we learned that gorilla tourism in Volcanoes National Park is responsible for 90% of the country’s tourism revenues. With this statistic, we could understand how the government could allow its other parks to fall to the bottom of the priority list, and why we were asked to help improve the current situation at Nyungwe.

Upon arriving at Volcanoes National Park, we were extremely impressed by the beautiful landscape which included rolling green hills, a colorful skyline, and you guessed it – Volcanoes! While we enjoyed the mountain forest of Nyungwe National Park and the savannah of Akagera, the gorgeous scenery of Volcanoes is unmatched. Another striking feature about Volcanoes is that it has one of the highest population densities surrounding the park in the country. From the small village, to along the road, to in the park, there are people everywhere! Since the average Rwandan woman has five kids, young people dominate the population.

After two hours of hiking through a bamboo forest, we arrived at the site where one of the gorilla families lives. Each gorilla family has one dominant silverback male, his harem of females, some young males, and babies. The family we visited had nine in all, and one of the biggest silverbacks in the park. He was huge! This one weighed well over 400lbs, and standing straight stands about 6ft tall. These gorillas have been habituated to humans, so they pretty much continued to eat leaves and walk around like we weren’t there. However, once the silverback decided to move his family away, he walked within 10ft of us! It was truly a memorable and exhilarating experience watching this massive animal cross right by us. All in all, we spent an hour with the gorillas in their natural habitat, an experience none of us will soon forget.

—Aaron Azelton

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