NYAMAGABE — The government on Tuesday officially inaugurated the Nyungwe Forest National Park, said to be the largest in the country and the largest Afro-montane forest in East and Central Africa.
The colourful ceremony, presided over by the Commerce minister, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, was however, derailed by an early morning heavy downpour followed by chilly conditions, that sent many scampering to the coffee table to beat the cold- to the amusement of residents who seemed unbothered by the cold weather.
The development brings the number of parks to three after the Akagera and Volcanoes National Parks.
Nyungwe Forest National Park boasts of 13 species of primates-Angola Colobus monkeys found in groups of 300-400.
There are large populations of chimpanzees, 280 bird species and a network of water falls, rivers and streams vital to Rwanda’s water resources.
Speaking during the launch, Rosette Chantal Rugamba, the deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, said that gazetting of Nyungwe Forest National Park is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to conserving and protecting bio-diversity.
Through the revenue sharing scheme with park communities, Rugamba, said, the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) gives back 5 percent of all revenues generated from tourist activities for the benefit of communities.
“We have so far given back Rwf146 million through the financing of community projects around Nyungwe Forest National Park. This money has been used to construct schools and health centres,” she said.
To develop the park, ORTPN has partnered with the private sector to provide first class services to visitors. According to Rugamba, a private company, Dubai World is building a 25 room lodge with capacity to accommodate 50 people which is expected to be completed in July next year.
Five camp sites to provide alternative accommodation are expected to be completed in April next year and an interpretation centre to be stationed at Uwinka site will be operational in February.
Partnerships have also been developed with local communities to ensure increased awareness and participation in conservation activities.
A joint conservation deal has also been signed with Burundi to foster conservation efforts on the other side of the Nyungwe forest which forms the Kibira forest in Burundi.
Rugamba highlighted a number of conservation challenges including poaching, growing of cannabis, gold mining, fires, and the poor state of the road that leads to the National Park.
Speaking as chief guest at the function, Nsanzabaganwa reiterated the government’s support to the tourism sector that contributes over US$240 million to the national treasury.
She said that the road network to the National Park will be considered in the 2009-2010 budget. She called upon the private sector to invest in the services sector at the National Park, saying it is a ‘lucrative area for investment.’
During the same function, plans to set up the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management were unveiled.
The ORTPN with assistance from the MacArthur Foundation and the American government through USAID has set up the college expected to be launched next year.
The college will offer high quality training in environmental and conservation studies for the communities of the Albertine Rift. The Albertine region countries are; Rwanda, Burundi, DRC Congo, Tanzania and Uganda.
The USAID through its Destination Nyungwe Project aims to develop ecotourism opportunities and enhance the livelihoods of local people while conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the newly launched park.
The function was also attended by the American Ambassador to Rwanda W. Stuart Symington, Provincial Governor Fidele Ndayisaba senior Army and Police officers.