Gishwati forest reserve is one of the protected forest reserves in Rwanda located in the north western side in four sectors of Ruhango, Nyabirasi, kigeyo and Mushonyi in Rutsiro district covering about 10 sq km. the forest can be accessed from volcanoes national park by road covering 27 km or take a one and a half hour drive from Kigali city.
The forest reserve lies within the Albertine rift valley near Lake Kivu and includes the stretches of Mukura forest reserve hence was recognized for its biodiversity of species of flora and fauna including the Albertine rift endemics. In 2007 the Gishwati area conservation program started in partnership with the great ape trust to save the forest from human pressure that had earlier massively encroached on the forests before and during the genocide of 1994 reducing its size through establishment of farmlands, settlements and illegal charcoal burning and timber cutting.
As a result of detrimental human activities causing severe soil erosion, landslides due to degradation that was putting the life of species of wildlife at risk of extinction. In 2015 the government of Rwanda announced plans to transform Gishwati –Mukura forest reserve into a national park although plans to restore the forest reserve are still underway including creation of buffer zones to easy movement of wildlife and prevent human encroachment.
Rwanda has a vision of increasing its forest cover by 30 % and has already made deals with the World Bank and the global environmental facility to fund the restoration of Gishwati-Mukura forests reserve as well as providing alternative sources of income to the locals near the proclaimed national park. Activities to restore the forest have already received funding and they include tree planting, sustainable land use management to address issues of farmers and cattle keepers through the land approach to forest restoration and rehabilitation. Through such a project locals will benefit employment in form of guides, rangers, local community tourism based enterprises making and selling crafts, hotels and restaurants will all improve the lives of people near the park.
Therefore the Rwandan development board has partnered with the Rwandan ministry of natural resources to design to introduce some tourist activities to widen the experience of tourists as well as supporting local people living near the new national park hoped to generate revenues.
Attractions in Gishwati-Mukura national park
Primates and mammals
A variety of wildlife lives in the forests such as four species of primates including the eastern chimpanzee, golden monkeys which are critically endangered and red listed by IUCN, the handsome L’hoest monkey, blue monkey, the black and white Colobus monkey have also been sighted roaming the forests. Chimpanzee and golden monkey tracking are possible adventure activities for tourists in the newly created national park. Species of mammals also dwell in the forest which includes the black fronted duikers, southern tree hyrax, river hogs. Primate and wildlife safaris have a chance to discover more species living in the forest.
Birding safaris to Rwanda have a chance to explore the new national park birds and its known birding is one of the activities that make visitors stay for long in a destination. Facilities to make birding come true have been established such as camping, walking trails that also allows visitors to explore the forest on foot.
Gishwati-Mukura forest reserve has a list of 130 species of including the alluring list of 15 Albertine rift endemics. Endemic species of birds commonly sighted include the red throated alethe, the Rwenzori turaco, the regal sunbird, strange weaver, martial eagle, grey crowned crane Rwenzori batis. The forest is a birders paradise; other species of birds that can be seen include mountain yellow warblers, wood hoopoes, and several species of weaver birds waiting for you to discover them. You never know you could discover new species of birds since the forest has been transformed into a new national park and become a hero especially along the walking trials around the kazeneza sparkling waterfalls inside the forests.
Other important wildlife includes several species of amphibians and reptiles such as the brown forest frog and chameleons and bush vipers respectively. Various types of trees have also been discovered about 58 including indigenous trees, shrubs, such as Macaranga kilimand and mahogany known to be among the hardest tree species. Giant tree ferns, orchids, blue lichens are also found in the forest teeming with an array of colorful butterflies.
The new Gishwati-Mukura national park is hoped to give tourists a new experience as well as contribute to the development of communities near the forest. In addition help to preserve the environment through eco tourism given the support from conservation bodies like the great ape trust that work together with local people and the Rwandan Development Board