Government to oversee management of Gishwati Forest

The government will soon reassume responsibility for the management and protection of Gishwati Forest, replacing Great Ape Trust, an organization that has acted as the caretaker since 2007. Great Ape Trust will bow out early next year, but the organization says it will continue to provide technical advice and advocacy for the protection of forests.
Stanislas Kamanzi recognises the role played by Great Ape Trust on the restoration of Gishwati Forest.
Stanislas Kamanzi recognises the role played by Great Ape Trust on the restoration of Gishwati Forest.

The government will soon reassume responsibility for the management and protection of Gishwati Forest, replacing Great Ape Trust, an organization that has acted as the caretaker since 2007.

Great Ape Trust will bow out early next year, but the organization says it will continue to provide technical advice and advocacy for the protection of forests.

In a letter to the Founder of Great Ape Trust, Ted Townsend, the Minister of Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, congratulated the organization for their efforts in restoring the forest.

“The Government of Rwanda will always value your personal effort to avail appropriate expertise and financial resources for the rehabilitation of the Gishwati ecosystems, with particular focus to creating a viable habitat for chimpanzees,” said the minister.

“Gishwati is back in Rwandan hands as it should be. It’s bigger, richer and better understood than it was just four years ago,” said the conservation director of Great Ape Trust, Dr. Benjamin Beck.

“It is now poised to become a new major research and international ecotourism destination, like the Volcanoes National park.  

 “To a conservationist, nothing can be more satisfying than the restoration of a damaged ecosystem and its designation as a national park that will secure its biodiversity in perpetuity,” said Beck.

Through demarcation of legal boundaries and the annexation of illegally occupied land, the protected area of Gishwati has increased by an impressive 67percent, from 2,190 to 3,665 acres.

According to Great Ape Trust, the small population of East African chimpanzees, once teetering on the brink of extinction, has increased by 54 percent, from 13 to 20 apes – possibly the first time the Gishwati chimpanzee population has increased in more than 40 years. Endangered golden monkeys and mountain monkeys are also rebounding as well.

Gishwati’s history of deforestation extends over many decades. A forest that covered about 70,000 acres in 1930 was nearly depleted because of ill-advised large-scale cattle ranching projects, resettlement of refugees after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, inefficient small-plot farming and the establishment of plantations of non-native trees. 

As a result, the area has been plagued with catastrophic flooding, erosion, landslides, decreased soil fertility, decreased water quality and heavy river siltation – all of which aggravate a cycle of poverty.

In 2007, President Paul Kagame and Ted Townsend pledged at the Clinton Global Initiative conference to create a “national conservation park” in Rwanda to benefit climate, biodiversity and the welfare of the people.

In early 2008, the Gishwati Forest Reserve, disregarded for years by international conservation organizations, was chosen as a future national park – which saw the beginning of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP).

Last year, the Ministry of Natural Resources entered into an agreement granting GACP responsibility for managing the protected forest while endorsing the most challenging element of the project – a 30 mile-long forest corridor connecting Gishwati to Nyungwe National Park.  

edwin.musoni@newtimes.co.rw

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