View across Nyungwe Forest Reserve from near the visitor centre at Uwinka.
L'Hoest's Monkey in Nyungwe Forest Reserve
To the detriment of its wildlife, most of Rwanda lies on fertile soils that support a very high human population and one of the highest densities in Africa at >490 people / km2, WORLD BANK (2018). Add to that various periods of land use change and mineral extraction and the result is that there are, few remaining sizeable patches of intact habitat outside national parks. However, the current Rwandan government is environmentally conscious and tries to develop in a “Green” way. The country also seems to recognise that eco-tourism is important for its development and as a result the national parks and some other areas now seem well protected.
Until 1997, some 15% of the country was included in National Parks and reserves. In that year, the largest National Park, Akagera was reduced to 40% of its original size and today, only 8.9% of Rwanda’s land area are protected as national park, with the inclusion of the newest national park, Gishwati-Mukura in 2015.
Africa's first National Park, Virunga, was created in what was the Belgian Congo, now north-western Rwanda in 1925 in order to protect the Mountain Gorilla Gorilla gorilla beringei. During independence in 1960 the 30,000ha Rwandan portion was split off to form the Parc national des volcans, VANDE WEGHE, JP. & VANDE WEGHE, GR. (2011) and during the 1960s areas were degazetted, the Rwandan portion now covers around 16,000 hectares (160 square kilometres). The park was renamed in the mid-2010s as Volcanoes NP and is transboundary with Mgahinga NP in Uganda and Virunga NP in DRC. VNP was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1983. There are reportedly plans to increase the park area in Rwanda.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has been heavily involved in surveying Nyungwe Forest Reserve (PLUMTRE, A.J. et al 2002). This was gazetted as a National Park by the government of Rwanda in 2005. It covers an area of about 101,000 ha and is an IBA in which 322 bird species have been recorded. It is one of the most important areas of forest for the conservation of montane birds in the region.
In 2005 the Rugezi Marsh in north-west Rwanda became Rwanda’s first (and only) RAMSAR site. At 6,736 ha this is one of the largest high-altitude marshes in Africa and supports populations of the endangered Grauer's Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri, the endangered Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum and the vulnerable Papyrus Yellow Warbler Chloropeta gracilirostris. During a survey in the mid 2000s Grauer's Swamp Warbler had a population of at least 370 singing males, Papyrus Yellow Warbler was represented by only a few individuals in an apparently rehabilitated papyrus patch.
Akagera National Park, is a savanna-dominated area in the east of the country. It has had a somewhat turbulent past. Originally 174,000ha were gazetted in 1934, during the 1970s the cattle herders in the Umutara region were expelled (without legal basis) and the area was increased to 250,000ha. Following the Genocide in the 1990s a large part of the park was used to resettle returning refugees. At that time many of the large mammals and vultures were lost as the park was used by cattle herders, eventually the park was re-established VANDE WEGHE, JP. & VANDE WEGHE, GR. (2011), it is currently 1,122 km2. Since 2010 the park has been managed in partnership between the Rwandan Government and African Parks Network. The partnership has been very successful in developing the park, which now has a boundary fence, effective anti-poaching patrols and since the re-introduction of African Lion (2015) and East African Black Rhino (2017) the park has regained its Big 5 Status, AFRICAN PARKS (2018).
In 2015 the Rwandan Government gazetted the Gishwati-Mukura National Park. This area of montane forest along the Congo-Nile divide is estimated to have covered 250,000ha, before it was reduced to 28,000ha during the 1980s. Since then the area suffered further losses. The current protected area is approximately 1,439ha at Gishwati and 1,987ha at Mukura with an additional 992ha buffer zone. Even though small, these forests are still home to good numbers of ARE bird species and Gishwati is home to a troop of Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes. Since the area was gazetted the government has embarked on an ambitious project to further protect and restore the landscape REMA (2016). Tourism will be available in the coming years.
Since 2014 there has been a successful series of projects to help the globally Endangered Grey-crowned Crane. Historically the Grey-crowned Crane had been traded as a pet. This was made illegal and cranes in captivity have been rehabilitated and released at Akagera National Park. The government has been very supportive of this project. There remain some permanently disabled cranes in captivity. An area of land has been set aside to create a sanctuary for these birds and the habitats is currently being restored and improved by the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association with support of the US Forestry Service. It is due to open mid-2019.
Rwanda has ratified a number of international treaties including Biodiversity; RAMSAR; CITES; Convention on Migratory Species including the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement; Convention on Climate Change; and Desertification. Volcanoes National Park was designated a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Programme in 1983.
To ensure the support for and benefits from its national parks, Rwanda established a unique Revenue Share Program in 2005 in 5% of all tourism revenues are invested in community development projects around national parks such as schools, health clinics, water catchments and distribution systems and agricultural projects. To date $4.4 million USD has been invested into more than 600 projects between 2005 and 2017. In early 2017, as part of the decision to increase the price of mountain gorilla permits in Volcanoes National Park, the Government of Rwanda increased the percentage of all tourism revenues in national parks invested in communities adjacent to national parks from 5 to 10%, with implementation to begin this fiscal year, 2018-19. This decision is anticipated to increase funds available by 400%, from approximately $1 million USD in 2017 to $4 million USD by 2024 – leading to significant benefits for communities adjacent to all national parks in Rwanda.
Latest page update January 2019.