Gishwati Forest Reserve is the newest national park in Rwanda. Situated in the north-western part of Rwanda, the park is neighbored by Lake Kivu and lies close to the Volcanoes National Park.
Gishwati National Park 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); a good population of chimpanzees; mammals such as red river hog, the black-fronted duiker, the southern tree hyrax, among others.
There are also reports of the black and white colobus, another species of primates that lives in the park.
The forest reserve also boasts about 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo.
The park was first gazetted as a protected forest reserve that covered a very wide area till when it suffered severe human activities like deforestation, animal grazing, followed by the settlement of refugees from the 1994 genocide of Rwanda. All these activities together with continuous soil erosion and mass wasting, degradation and landslides all resulted into the reduction of Gishwati Forest Reserve to about 1,500 acres from 250,000 acres of land. It did not only reduce the size of the forest reserve but also the biodiversity of the forest since several wildlife were also destroyed and raided out in this course/ process.
Therefore there is no doubt that Gishwati forest is among the Rwanda’s ecosystems that were greatly destroyed. This later forced the Rwandan government to focus on the reestablishment of the forest reserve and as a matter of fact, Gishwati forest has been gradually growing since the 2000s especially after the heavy floods and landslides which claimed lots of lives and property in the area. Several projects have been put up basically for the restoration of this forest reserve such as Government Reforestation Project, Projetd’Appui a la Reforestation au Rwanda (PAFOR) from 2005 to 2008 and the ones of the Great Ape Trust/Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) from 2008 to 2011.
After successive conservation projects, Gishwati Forest Reserve now covers an area of about 3,427 hectares stretching up to Mukura forest. This has led to the 2015 declaration of Gishwati – Mukura forests as a National park. At Gishwati-Mukura National Park we find a number of wildlife species such as the eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red List); golden monkeys (Cercopithecusmitiskandti, listed as Endangered); mountain monkeys (Cercopithecusl’hoesti, listed as Vulnerable), the black and white colobus monkeys, red river hogs, black fronted duikers; and over 130 species of birds including 14 that are endemic to the Albertine Rift and two IUCN Vulnerable species: Martial Eagle (Polemaetusbellicosus) and Grey Crowned Crane (Balearicaregulorum).
By 2015 plans to transform the Gishwati-Mukura Forest Reserve in Ngororero and Rutsiro districts in the north-west of the country into a national park reached an advanced stage. With the Rwandan Parliament already considering a draft law that paves way for the move, the government is eager to swing into action as soon as the law is gazetted.
Gishwati –Mukura national park is 27 kilometers from volcanoes national park and takes between 1-2hours to drive from Kigali. The Gishwati Forest Reserve is found in four Sectors of Rutsiro District, which are Kigeyo, Ruhango, Nyabirasi and Mushonyi.
Things to See & Do
The Gishwati Forest Reserve is a home of animal species that are under international alarm for protection. These are eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red List); golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti, listed as Endangered); mountain monkeys (Cercopithecus l’hoesti, listed as Vulnerable); and more than 130 species of birds including 14 that are endemic to the Albertine Rift and two IUCN Vulnerable species: Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) and Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).
Currently, it is one of Rwanda’s renowned national parks and is home to a high population of chimpanzees. Though chimpanzee tracking is not yet well established, plans of habitauting these great apes are underway by the ORTPN and the Rwanda Development Board.
The park can also offer its visitors several tourist activities such as
- Birding – ,
- Chimpanzee tracking,
- Forest nature walks
- Picnics and other excursions