Gishwati-Mukura forest to become national park

Plans to transform Gishwati-Mukura Forest Reserve in Ngororero and Rutsiro districts in the north-west of the country into a national park have reached an advanced stage.
Gishwati-Mukura Forest Reserve in the north-west of the country will soon be transformed into a national park. (Courtesy)
Gishwati-Mukura Forest Reserve in the north-west of the country will soon be transformed into a national park. (Courtesy)

Plans to transform Gishwati-Mukura Forest Reserve in Ngororero and Rutsiro districts in the north-west of the country into a national park have reached an advanced stage.

With 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.

The Bill is before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Technology, Culture and Youth.

MP Agnès Mukazibera, the committee chairperson, told The New Times, yesterday, that her team intends to visit the area on a fact-finding mission before they could further discuss the Bill.

She said they wanted to assess the size and implications of the proposed national park and the subsequent buffer zone, citing expropriation among the issues they will look into when they visit the area “in the next two weeks or so”.

The Minister for Natural Resources, Dr Vincent Biruta, last week, said the move was part of a broader agenda to step up conservation interventions across the country, adding that it would also boost the tourism sector.

“It will not only help in terms of improving biodiversity and nature conservation but will also play a key part in increasing our tourism revenues,” Biruta said.

Presently, Gishwati-Mukura forest reserve 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); more than a dozen species of East African chimpanzees;  mammals such as red river hog, the black-fronted duiker, the southern tree hyrax, among others.

Conservationists have also reported seeing the black and white colobus, another species of primates.

The forest reserve also boasts about 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo.

Human encroachment

Turning the forest into a national park move will increase the number of parks in the country to four. The others are the game-rich Akagera, situated in savannah lowlands in the country’s east; Volcanoes, home to the famous mountain gorillas in the north; and Nyungwe rainforest in south-west, one of the world’s richest ecosystems that is home to several species of primates and birds.

Upgrading the forest into national park, Biruta said, will ensure that the remaining part of the natural forest – as it were before – will be fully protected.

Gishwati and Mukura natural forests were originally earmarked as forest conservation zones in 1933.

According to the draft law, the Gishwati-Mukura National Park will cover a total surface area of 3,427.46 hectares – Gishwati forest (1,439.72 hectares) and Mukura forest (1,987.74 hectares).

The government has also dedicated an area covering 992.48 hectares to a subsequent buffer zone to deter human encroachment.

Over the past decades, the Gishwati-Mukura area was nearly depleted largely due to resettlement, livestock farming and smallholder farms in the aftermath of 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 1980s.

The idea to transform the reserve into a national park was first mooted in 2007.

The plan is part of the country’s broader efforts to expand the total forest cover to 30 per cent of the country’s total surface area.

Charles Serushyana, the managing director of Attractive Safaris, a Kigali-based regional tours and travel agency, welcomed the latest move to upgrade the forest reserve to a fully fledged national park, saying it would help enhance local tourism.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that the government wants to position tourism as an engine of national development and for us (private tour operators) we are certainly excited with this plan because the resultant monetary benefits will reach us even before government,” he said.

What is on course?

Last year, 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 and Least Developed Countries Fund 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.

Dr Rose Mukankomeje, the managing director of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (Rema), is happy “things are on course.”

“We (Rema) initiated this project, and did the necessary advocacy, considering the history of the degradation of this particular natural forest area,” she told The New Times yesterday.

“The Gishwati-Mukura project’s two main components are forestry friendly rehabilitation of Mukura landscape and upgrading Gishwati-Mukura forest reserves to national park; and improvement of livelihoods for surrounding communities to be climate resilient.”

It is expected that in a year following the adoption of the requisite legislation, preliminary biodiversity surveys will be conducted. During that period, a 10-year management plan will be developed by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), which oversees national parks; and the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, in partnership with RDB, will then prepare an interim management roadmap with a component on conservation and protection of Gishwati-Mukura and carry out an inventory of private properties that need compensation – those that fall within the proposed buffer zone.

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