Gishwati-Mukura National Park

Rwanda's newest national park, saved from destruction following decades of deforestation and exploitation, comprises two forest ecosystems that are home to habituated groups of chimpanzees and four other primate species.

Highlights and Main Attractions of Gishwati-Mukura National Park

Established in 2016, Gishwati-Mukura is Rwanda’s newest national park, after Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe Forest. The park is composed of the Gishwati Forest to the north and the Mukura Forest to the south, the former of which suffered huge deforestation following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when refugees began to clear the forest to make way for farms. The much smaller Mukura Forest was officially protected as a wildlife reserve for over half a century prior to its elevation to national park status, but its area was still reduced by almost 50% during this time as a result of illegal mining and the aforementioned refugee crisis.

Today, Gishwati-Mukura’s joint national park status offers these ecosystems greater protection and has ensured their flora and fauna will not only survive, but thrive. Thanks to reforestation efforts and Rwanda’s increasingly stable political climate, Gishwati Forest alone has grown by around 1,000 acres over the last few years. A buffer zone of trees grants another line of protection to the national park, while plans for a wildlife corridor that will connect the forests of Gishwati, Mukura and Nyungwe bodes well for the survival of the region’s endangered species.

Here travellers can track habituated groups of chimpanzees, while four other primate species can also be sighted here: the blue monkey, golden monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey and black-and-white colobus. Some 84 species of bird live here – including wood hoopoes, warblers and the Rwenzori turaco – while other resident animals include the serval, red river hog, black-fronted duiker, Great Lake bush viper, southern tree hyrax and multiple species of toad and chameleon. Visitors to Gishwati-Mukura will have the chance to witness a rich yet historically beleaguered ecosystem on the road to recovery.

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Back from the Brink

The 1994 Rwandan genocide remains one of the most heinous atrocities in living memory, and sparked a refugee crisis that saw an estimated 2,000,000 people displaced. The Gishwati Forest was an unfortunate victim in the aftermath as tens of thousands of acres were cleared to allow for subsistence farming practices that would sustain those refugees who remained in the region around Gishwati, with others departing for neighbouring countries. The intensive exploitation of the forest compounded years of degradation prior to the genocide, with agriculture and cattle ranching leading to soil erosion, floods, landslides, reduced water quality and soil infertility.

A 2009 report by the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority found that Gishwati had lost 99.7% of its animals, while wild fruits had declined by 93.3%, wild vegetables by 99.6%, and wild medicines used by native peoples by 79.9%. Without proper protection and management, Gishwati seemed doomed to destruction. But as the years passed and Rwanda began gradually to recover from the horrors of 1994, hope began to grow for Gishwati’s survival.

2007 saw the founding of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) by philanthropist Ted Townsend, in collaboration with the Great Ape Trust and Rwandan president Paul Kagame (the man who helmed the rebel force that ended the genocide and who has led the country since 2000). The GACP was succeeded by the Forest of Hope Association in 2012, and since then a number of successes have been demonstrated.

Illegal use of Gishwati has declined sharply; the size of the forest has increased by 67%; the number of chimpanzees has grown from 13 to 30; 13 school eco-clubs have been established; and 10 local cooperatives and 3 community groups are involved in developing tourism, which will help to bring investment and ensure the continued survival of this valuable landscape. Further good news was in store in 2014, as the Rwandan government and the World Bank signed a $9.5 million funding deal for the conservation of the Gishwati and Mukura forests, just two years before the national park was established.


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