Karisoke Research Center: Rwanda Gorilla Safaris

Karisoke Research Center stands out as an outstanding research institute in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda founded by a prominent primatologist Dian Fossey on 24th September 1967 and was built as a study research center about the facts of the great Mountain Gorillas. Fact Dain Fossey was an American conservationist who loved primates in her daily life and on her visit to Rwanda, she decided to undertake an extensive study about the endangered mountain gorilla families-groups in 1966. Fortunately, she created a camp in Rwanda’s Virunga volcanic mountain range between the impressive Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke where she built a research center which she named Karisoke a name got from the two mountains named ‘’Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke.

Karisoke Research Center
Photo Credit: National Geographic

Since then, she began a daily study in the mountain forests of Rwanda where she created love with these unique mountain gorillas. In spite of this fact, Dian Fossey never stopped to study and conserve about the endangered mountain gorillas and also wrote a famous book called Gorillas in the Mist which sold all over the world, because of the facts she had experienced about the unique nature of these species. Sadly, the book was published two years before her death. Unfortunately, Dian Fossey was murdered in her cabin at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985 and the report shows that it was a poacher who killed her. However, Rwanda’s government appreciates the great work that was made by Dian Fossey before her death on the impact of Rwanda’s tourism. Currently, Rwanda tourism has become a popular visited safari destination worldwide because of the great works of Dian Fossey who invested much of her time studying the behaviors and ecology of mountain gorillas.

Over time, they were trained in habituation to allow visitors to meet up with our closest related cousins in their natural environment of Rwanda Volcanoes National Park. Before Dian Fossey’s death, she had spent over 20 years in Rwanda carrying out research about conserving the primates and wildlife habitats as well as acknowledging people about the sapience of gorillas. Her death never left the research institute in exile, however, in 2012 the Government of Rwanda had to pull out a hand to renovate a new modern facility of Karisoke Research Center headquarters in Musanze.

However, the coming of Dian Fossey played a great role in the increase of the population of mountain gorillas that inhabit Virunga Mountain. Late in 1981, the census shows that the mountain population had fallen to a total of 242 individuals and from 1960 the mountain gorilla estimated of about 400 – 500, and by 2010 the population of gorillas had increased to 480 individuals. Recently, Volcanoes National Park –Virunga Mountains estimates more than 550 mountain gorillas all rewards go to Dian Fossey and the Government of Rwanda has never stopped appreciating her great work. Historically, it happened when the Rwanda Genocide and civil war were taking over, the Karisoke site had to be closed for a period of time and during the civil war all workers had become refugees in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo which is formerly known as ‘’Zaire’’. During that difficult time, many Karisoke trackers lost their properties and some were murdered and others imprisoned. The Karisoke Research Center had to be monitored by the Rwanda staff.

In 1998 Karisoke’s emigrant staff had evacuated several times, something which lead to the destruction of the facility –rebuilding it twice. Eventually, the building had to be relocated to Musanze. Despite the constant threat of the genocide, Karisoke’s duty work had to continue to upgrade its capacity for carrying out research through new technology and other new partnerships with the local authorities in the area as well as conservation organizations. Fortunately, during the war gorilla population survived in good condition.

Despite the threats made by the poachers lead to their decrease in number but the government had to put strict rules around the inhabits of gorillas by providing the mountain Gorilla Project to conserve the inhabitant, habituate mountain gorillas to tourist groups, train the park rangers in new methods all these were created to protect gorillas from being threatened.

Karisoke Research Center

Although the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund still exists and continue to operate the Karisoke Research Center from its Regional Research Center headquarters in Musanze. Karisoke Research Center ranks as one of the world’s best projects for conservation programs about the great mountain gorillas through providing daily protection and developing new research projects to sustain the growing population of gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. And it is renowned that mountain gorillas of the Virunga are the only giant ages species that have increased in population in recent years. Fact, Karisoke Research Center was created in 1967 by popular Dain Fossey a site that was built to produce an unparalleled amount of information about these critically endangered mountain gorillas, considering also their habitat and attracts scientists and students from around the world. Ideally, the Karisoke Research Center has also played a significant role by employing people who live around the gorilla inhabits and the majority of them are Rwandans, they employed over 100 staff to take part in research, protection and monitoring of the mountain gorillas.

Besides that, Karisoke Research Center supports the human communities in the area by building schools, hospitals and economic development programs. More so, the Fossey Fund has also helped in renovating schools and health Centre in the area, building water holes, and parasite treatment. It has also introduced prevention program to teach people on how to prevent the transmission of diseases from gorillas and more so improve the life of people in the communities.

Additionally, the focus of Karisoke’s scientific effort was to expand through introducing research on the biodiversity of the region, since the mountain gorilla’s habitat are occupied with other important species of animal and plants. Karisoke Research Center protects and monitors the endangered since its establishment in 1967 there has led to numerous research projects and development centers. Today Fossey Fund researches and trackers protect and study to half of all the mountain gorillas in Rwanda ‘s Volcanoes National Park. The trackers team also play a great role of serving both protection and data collection and the main key factor is to save the mountain gorilla population that still exists in the wild. 

Other Facts about Karisoke Research Center –Duties of Researcher and Trackers

Karisoke Fossey Fund trackers also help in locating visitor on gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National park to their assigned gorilla families by finding where the gorilla were last seen the previous day and then follow the researching trails as you can get exposed to other species like small monkeys, bird species, visit the Dian Fossey’s grave and beautiful butterfly. Once finding the gorilla groups one hour is given to observe them as they play, feed, and behave and research as they record some information on general appearance and health as well as making certain changes in group composition due to their births, deaths, an immigrant in order to track the population dynamics. In addition to that, the research is made to collect data information on behavior for our long-term gorilla research database and specific studies. This process of data collection is possible because the mountain gorillas are accustomed to human presence, ‘’what we call habituated’’.

Karisoke Research Center

Karisoke Research center which was built to protect the critically existing endangered gorillas in the wild. Furthermore, the research program has also become a training Centre for the next generation of conservationists and scientists in Rwanda, also supports hundreds of local university students each year for study purposes and conservation training and scientific methods.


While the above information brings out the finest facts to the existence of the Karisoke Research Center and still exists because of the great works of the Dian Fossey. More so, it’s a great reason why Rwanda’s tourism hub is growing on high speed as we see thousands of tourists flocking in Rwanda Safari Destination to meet up with our cousins whom we share 98% DNA the great mountain gorillas. The only possible way to access these fully habituated mountain gorillas is to go for Gorilla Trekking Experience which can be done in Volcanoes National Park at affordable Gorilla permit which allows visitors to see the mountain gorilla in their natural inhabitant. General –Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Permits costs USD1,500 per person per day.

Volcanoes National Park: Karisoke Research Center

In general, Volcanoes National Park is the top tourist destination in Rwanda. The park is located in the far northwest Rwanda region with the key major point of protecting the steep slope of this impressive mountain range home to critically endangered mountain gorillas and inhabitant of the montane ecosystem which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath. The park covers an area of about 160 square kilometers and was established to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, reptiles, amphibians, insects, a variety of bird species, and other animals like spotted hyenas, elephants, black-fronted duiker, bushbuck among others. Being a major home to endangered mountain gorillas, the park comprises about 15 habituated mountain gorilla families for visitors to see.

Therefore, over 80 gorilla permits are available each day for visitors on their Gorilla Trekking Activities and are valid on a single day given that assigned gorilla family. So we advise visitors to always book their Gorilla Permits in advance to avoid disappointments a last minute. Note, each gorilla family is led by old silverback who is responsible for overseeing the family’s day to day activities. However, Volcanoes National Park’s habituated Gorilla Families include; Umubano group, Amahoro group, Titus Group, Karisimbi group ‘’Susa B”, Sabyinyo group, Agashya group –Group 13, Ugenda group, Hirwa group, Kwitonda group, Bwenge gorilla family –group and more. 

The Park was named after the chain of dormant volcanoes thus making up the Virunga Massif that is; Karisimbi –rises the highest at 4,507 meter, Bisoke stuns with its verdant crater lake, Gahinga, Sabinyo and Muhabura. Interestingly, the park’s main tourist’s attraction are the unique mountain gorilla and activities to do include; Gorilla trekking, Volcanoes hiking –Karisimbi or Mount Bisoke hike, Visiting Dian Fossey, Visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera.

Location; Volcanoes National Park lies in a small village of Musanze famously known as Ruhengeri and can easily be accessed by a safari vehicle or by public transport from Kigali –Rwanda’s Capital City to the park’s headquarter at Kiningi within 2 hours drives. On your visit, you can decide to do a 1-day gorilla tracking tour on the same day and then drive back to Kigali after the Gorilla trekking experience or even add a visit at Karisoke Research centre and return to kigali the following day or even add a visit at Karisoke Research centre and return to kigali the following day.

How much is Rwanda Gorilla Permits?

Rwanda Gorilla Permits is sold at USD1,500 per person per day. They can be booked through a reliable tour operator  -local tour agent or government body –Rwanda Development Board ‘’RDB’’ and the bookings must be done in advance ,due to the high  demand and strict Gorilla conservation rules in Rwanda ,which leads to limited number of permits to be issued per day .Note, travelers are recommended to book their gorilla permit at least six months before their tracking –trekking date ,especially during peak season which happens from the months of June to September and December to February.

Gorilla Trekking Experience in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Gorilla trekking –tracking experience is the main highlight tourist attraction to be done by tourists on Rwanda Safari Destination, starts early in the morning with a short after your breakfast from the lodge, your safari driver guide picks you from the lodge with package lunch boxes to drop you to the park head quarter at Kiningi for briefing about gorilla trekking rules and regulations. After briefing, meet up with park ranger guide who will group you in a group of 8 individuals to your assigned gorilla family. The trekking activity starts 8am  lead by  skilled park ranger  who take you through tracking trails in search for them and  the activity can be 30 to 6 hours depending on their movements in their natural environment .As your tracking you will be able to see other forest inhabits like notable birds ,small primates like golden monkeys ,colobus monkeys  among others

Is Rwanda Safe

Once you locate the gorilla family you’re assigned too ,trackers are given one hour to spend with  them as observe them how they play  ,feed and lay their nets in the evening hours as well as taking memorable pictures. If you have heavy luggage you can hire a porter to help you at every small note, porters are available at the starting point. Generally, Gorilla trekking is quite breathtaking and unforgettable safari experience. Take note, trackers must be 15 years above and always follow the instruction given by the park range guide.

What to pack for gorilla trekking?

Gorilla trekking experience is quite incredible adventure done in thick cold forest through hiking in forest trail head in search for mountain gorillas. While planning for the activity you need to pack useful item that will make your Gorilla Trekking Safari comfortable and memorable lifetime experience. Such trekking gears to pack include; Waterproof hiking boots, pair of hiking gloves, a long sleeved shirt and trousers must be dull colors, enough mineral water bottle, energy giving snacks, warm clothes, rain jackets, hand gloves, hat, sunscreen glasses.

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