Rwanda will next year open the Gishwati-Mukura National park to visitors further expanding the country’s tourism menu.
According to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), plans for the official launch are in the advanced stages. The idea to transform the reserve into a national park was first mooted in 2007.
The new park is part of the government’s broader efforts to expand the total forest cover to 30 percent of the country’s total surface area.
The park is located in districts of Ngororero and Rutsiro in the north-west of the country.
Speaking at a news conference to launch the 14th annual gorilla naming Ceremony—Kwita Izina—the Chief tourism officer at RDB Belise Kariza said that in 2019, the Park will begin welcoming visitors.
“Before a national park is ready to be visited by tourists, there are a couple of things that need to be put in place. We have to have the tourism master plan, have the infrastructure in place, hire staff, train staff, train rangers and guides as well as promote the park to different tour operators,” Kariza said.
“Those were the steps that were taken since it was gazetted and we feel confident that by next year, it will be open for tourists,” she added.
The Gishwati-Mukura area was a powerful come-back story.
It was nearly depleted largely due to resettlement, illegal mining in the mineral-rich forest, livestock farming and smallholder farms that settled in after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Subsequent soil erosion, landslides, and floods would later take their toll on the natural habitat. Initially, the reserve was estimated to cover 250,000ha before it reduced to 28,000ha in the 1980s.
Anna Behm Masozera a director at international Gorilla conservation programme says the establishment of Gishwati-Mukura as a national park is proof of commitment to preserve the natural heritage of Rwanda.
“Gishwati is truly a jewel not only for the forest, chimpanzees and golden monkeys but also because of the story of Gishwati-Mukura, its link with the people that live around those areas, and I am excited for it to be open to the rest of the world as well,” Behm said
In 2014, the government and the World Bank signed a $9.5 million (about Rwf7 billion) funding deal for the conservation of Gishwati and Mukura forests.
The grant was part of the Global Environment Facility to help increase the number of trees to improve soil fertility, stabilise slopes, regulate stream flow and expand the resource base for local communities’ livelihoods.
In February 2016, a law was adopted to transform Gishwati-Mukura rainforest into a single national park, making it the fourth national park in the country.
This paved way for environmentalists to start devising means to restore the forests through; conservation of biodiversity; increasing forest cover, promotion of climate change adaptation efforts, along with combating land degradation among others.
About 130 hectares of land on the outskirts of the forest was expropriated to allow free movement of animals within the park.
In 2013, The Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), a regional organisation working for biodiversity conservation, estimated that Mukura forest resources and ecosystems services are worth more than $1 million per year, while other researchers valued the ecosystems services provided by Gishwati forest at $3 million per year.
The park is being lined up to be recognised by UNESCO World heritage as a biosphere reserve, according to officials.
The project targets to restore natural forest (653 hectares) in Gishwati–Mukura National Park restore buffer zone plantations (500 hectares) around the park, plant natural forests (700 hectares) and sustainable land management on 1406 hectares while over 18 tree species will be introduced.
Additional reporting by Liesse Niwe.