It has been two years since the Rwandan government passed a law to create a new national park combining the Mukura and Gishwati forests, establishing the Gishwati-Mukura National Park – a forested area which spreads from up in the north of the country near the Volcanoes National Park, all the way down, joining the Gishwati and Mukura forests, to Nyungwe Forest. This is a great success story for the conservationists who have been fighting for a long time to protect this strip on the Congo-Nile divide.
In the far north of Rwanda, Gishwati Forest once had a flourishing eco-system, extending all the way up to the Volcaones National park. Following the tragic events of the 1994 genocide, large numbers of the population flowed back into the country from across the border and spread out over the land, many heading towards these forested area to set up new farms and homes for their families. Part of the forest was cut down, natural resources extracted, and exotic species introduced – all shrinking the forested areas, pushing them beyond their means and threatening their survival. In 2007 an American research facility stepped in with the aim of saving a small population of less than 20 chimpanzees who had somehow managed to survive in a diminishing forest. They had tremendous success and quickly the protected area increased, the forest began to flourish once more, and the local communities began to live in harmony with their environment.
Further south, Mukura Forest has had a “reserve” status for the past 60 years or so – however during those years its size has reduced by almost 50% – partly due to the population pressures which affected the Gishwati Forest, but also due to illegal mining which has been taking place.
The newly created Gishwati-Mukura National Park gives both these areas official protected status, and a wildlife corridor has been established, linking Gishwati Forest to Mukura Forest and down to Nyungwe Forest. This protected area offers incredible biodiversity – Presently, it is known for a wide range of fauna, including four species of primates: the eastern chimpanzee, the golden monkey, the blue monkey, and the l’hoest’s monkey (also known as mountain monkey); more than a dozen species of East African chimpanzees; mammals such as red river hog, the black-fronted duiker, the southern tree hyrax, among others
This has been extremely exciting news for Rwanda, and shows a great willingness of the government to help stabalise and protect these hugely important areas and turning the forest into a national park move has increased the number of parks in the country to four. The others are the game-rich Akagera, situated in savannah lowlands in the country’s east; Volcanoes, home to the famous mountain gorillas in the north; and Nyungwe rainforest in south-west, one of the world’s richest ecosystems that is home to several species of primates and birds.
Giswati makes the biggest part of Nyabihu, Ngororero, Rubavu and Rutsiro districts.