Made up of two separate forests – the larger Gishwati and small Mukura – that form a total of 34 square kilometers plus a buffer zone, the Gishwati-Mukura is Rwanda’s newest and fourth national park after the Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe Forest National Park, and Akagera National Parks. The forests sit on the ridge which divides the Congo and Nile water catchment areas, along the incredibly bio-diverse Albertine Rift in the west of the country.
The new Park comprises of over 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo. The Park is most famous for residing the chimpanzees, with it constituting to a group of 20 chimpanzees which live alongside golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s and Blue Monkeys. The Park is also a popular birding site in Rwanda, boasting a remarkable number of over 300 bird species among them includes the Albertine Rift Endemic species and forest specialists. Among the usual activities carried out from the Park include; guided nature hikes, guided chimp and monkey tracking, bird watching and a visit to the waterfalls, among others.
The protected area nestles in the north-western part of Rwanda, within proximity to Lake Kivu. Large tea estates occupy the central and northern part of this new national park in Rwanda – which is the country’s fourth.
Due to the deforestation of the Gishwati forest serious loss of biodiversity has resulted. According to Wikipedia, Fauna alone has declined by 99.7%. Flora that play an important role in the lives of the native people have also seen significant decline. Wild fruits have declined by 93.3%, wild vegetables have declined by 99.6%, and wild medicines used by the native people have declined by 79.9%.
As aforementioned, the protected area boasts 60 species of trees and shrubs, including numerous indigenous hardwoods and bamboo. A recent study of carbon sequestration of the forest indicated Macaranga kilimandscharica to be the most common species of tree in the protected area that have not been disturbed. Previously disturbed regions of the forest experiencing regeneration show colonization of Carapa grandiflora, Entandrophagrama excelsum, and Symphonia globulifera. Other flora of the protected area includes giant tree ferns and blue lichen.
A wide range of fauna can be found within the protected area. Four species of primates are found in the protected area among them include; the Eastern Chimpanzee, the golden monkey, the blue monkey, and the L’Hoest’s monkey (also known as mountain monkey). Though not seen since 2002, a fifth species of primate, the black and white Colobus has been reported having been seen. There are currently estimated to be 20 East African chimpanzees in the forest. This is a 54% increase in population size from the 13 chimps in 2008. Among the 20 chimpanzees however includes five infants. Other mammals here include the red river hog, the black front duiker, the southern tree hyrax, the serval, and Felis aurata.
Other fauna found are over 300 species of birds, including Wood-hoopoes, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Old World Warblers, and Mountain Yellow Warbler. The brown forest frogs along with multiple species of toads are some of the amphibian life found in the forest. With respect to reptiles, the great lakes bush viper and multiple species of chameleons are also found live in the Gishwati-Mukura.
A small isolated group of east African chimpanzees inhabits the Gishwati-Mukura, a place that may serve as a test bed for new conservation approaches and ideas. By 2008 the population had been reduced to thirteen members and was on the verge of extinction. Between 2008 and 2011, the population increased by 46% from 13 to 19 members through the efforts of Rwandan government and the Gishwati Area Conservation Program.
Efforts like those established to help Gishwati’s great apes may be instrumental in helping great apes around the world. Gishwati forest is the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans who live around Gishwati. The forest helps maintain the topsoil’s fertility and keeps it from eroding away. In the future it may provide the Rwandan economy with profits from ecotourism through the biodiversity found in the area.
The Plant-It 2020:
In 2011, Plant-It 2020 provided funding for the Gishwati Area Conservation Program of the Great Ape Trust to plant 1,000 native trees in and around the Gishwati National Forest in western Rwanda. Plant-It 2020 is a nonprofit international reforestation foundation that was founded by the late singer John Denver.
Gishwati Forest and Nyungwe National Park corridor:
A 10,000 acre corridor of newly planted trees may one day connect Gishwati Forest and Nyungwe National Park, about thirty miles to the south. This connection will allow animals to migrate between the protected areas and insure the gene flow of alleles between both populations of chimpanzees. The project has received government support from Rwandan Ministry of Lands and Environment because the new forest cover will improve water catchment and water purification, prevent soil erosion, replenish soil fertility, and support ecotourism.