Gishwati Forest Reserve
Gishwati Forest Reserve is situated not far from Lake Kivu, in the north-western part of Rwanda. This reserve is part of the Gishwati Forest which is one of the protected areas in the country. Today, the forest reserve along with the Mukura Forest Reserve are to make Rwanda’s 4th national park, which is set to be opened to the public, later in 2019.
Between 1978 and 1986, a large portion of the Gishwati forest reserve (about 80% of the reserve) was covered by forests, until 1994, when the Rwandan Genocide forced a large number of Rwandans to flee their homes and settle within the forest reserve. As a result of this, a large majority of the refugees begun to clear the forests to create room for the construction of their homes and farmlands. A huge chunk of the forest reserve was destroyed, along with the wildlife animals inhabiting the forests.
Originally, Gishwati forest reserve used to extend west, far beyond Lake Kivu and leading into the tropical rain forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The southern part of this forest reserve connected with the famous Nyungwe Forest.
By 2001, only a small portion of the Gishwati forest reserve was left, covering about 1,500 acres only, as compared to its original forest coverage of 250,000 acres. In addition to this, the area became to experience a tremendous amount of soil erosion, degradation, and landslides. At present, large tea estates occupy the central and northern parts of the forest reserve.
However, in 2007, the Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) was introduced in collaboration with the government of Rwanda and the Great Ape Trust. The main aim of this program was to create a national conservation park in order to protect the rich biodiversity of the Gishwati forest area. In 2011, the GACP was taken on by the Forest of Hope Association (FHA), a Rwandan non-governmental organization, currently managing the Gishwati area conservation program. This organization has been able to successfully restore 67% of the Gishwati Forest.
Gishwati forest reserve has a recorded number of 58 species of trees and shrubs, including a series of various indigenous hardwoods and bamboo. A wide range of wildlife species can be found living within this forest reserve, including four species of primates like; the eastern chimpanzees, golden monkeys, the blue monkey and the L’Hoest monkey. Other wildlife animals found in the forest reserve include; the river hog, the black front duiker, the southern tree hyrax, the serval and the Felis aurata, which is also known as the African golden cat.
There are about 84 bird species found in this forest reserve, including the Wood-hoopoes, Mountain Yellow Warbler, and the Old World Warbler and so many more.
The Gishwati forest reserve is a source of livelihood for hundreds of Rwandans living around the area. Its forests play a huge scientific role in helping to maintain the soil’s fertility and prevent erosion. In the future, the forest reserve will greatly boost ecotourism in Rwanda, through its rich bio-diversity.
In 2015, the government of Rwanda passed a law to change the status of Gishwati Forest Reserve into a national park, combining it with the Mukura forest reserve. The Gishwati-Mukura National park was set to be opened to the general public later this year, making it Rwanda’s fourth national park. The newly created national park could connect tourists from Volcanoes National Park, leading to Nyungwe Forest National Park.
The newly established Gishwati-Mukura National Park with give both Gishwati and Mukura forest areas the official ‘protected area’ status. The creation of this national park will also boost Rwanda’s tourism sector and the economy at large.
Accommodation in Gishwati-Mukura National Park.
Visitors traveling to this national park will be able to get accommodation in the newly constructed Gishwati Lodge. It is a simple and eco-friendly lodge, located within the Gishwati Forest Reserve. The newly constructed lodge has 6 cottages and able to accommodate a maximum of 12 guests.
Visitors staying at the lodge will be able to engage in a number of activities such as; chimpanzee tracking, golden monkey tracking, bird watching, and guided nature walks among others.
Visitors who wish to visit the Gishwati Forest Reserve can as well combine it with gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park or the Canopy Walkway in Nyungwe Forest. There are plenty of attractions for tourists to see and do when visiting this forest reserve in the newly established Gishwati-Mukura national park.
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