It was gazetted in 1991 to protect the mountain gorillas of the Ugandan sector of the Virunga Volcanoes that straddle Rwanda and the D.R.C. It forms part of the greater 434 square kilometer Virunga Conservation Area. Of the 600 mountain gorillas left in the world, 300 are found in the Virunga Volcanoes, whilst the other 300 are in the nearby Bwindi National Park.
Mgahinga forest is a dense tropical rain-forest on the lower slopes of the volcanoes. The vegetation includes bamboo, and lots of lichens and mosses – delicacies to a mountain gorillas. There is only one group of mountain gorillas in Mgahinga forest that is habituated to humans. It is known as the Nyakagezi group and can be visited on a gorilla track.
The park has had a turbulent history because of its proximity to Rwanda and the D.R.C – both troubled nations during the 1990s. It has closed on numerous occasions and the mountain gorillas themselves were often in danger from rebel fighting when they unwittingly wandered over borders. The seasonable availability of bamboo shoots determines the movements of Mgahinga’s gorillas across the Uganda-D.R.C border. This is biological behavior of a wild species, and cannot be controlled or predicted, despite the obvious logistical problems for the park authorities. Remember that as a rain-forest, the park is always wet.