* Gov’t embarks on extensive plans for recovery
The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released damning satellite images of Gishwati forest indicating a nearly complete 99.4% destruction of the forest.
The report indicates that the destruction is largely a result of subsistence harvesting and cultivation by refugees in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
“Overall only 600 hectares of Gishwati’s original 100,000 hectares of forest remain, a loss of 99.4 percent,” reads the report.
Speaking to The New Times, the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, said that the government has since 2005 been trying to recover some parts of the forest, but admitted that the situation is worrying.
“Originally the forest was 30 square kilometers, by the time we started recovering it in 2005, there were only 700 hectares remaining. So far we have managed to recover some part of the forest, we now have one square kilometer,” said Kamanzi.
Originally the forest was 100,000 hectares an equivalent of 30 square kilometers.
“We are working with conservationists to restore a corridor of the native forest between Gishwati and Nyungwe Forest National Park, which would provide connectivity for wildlife — including chimpanzees — to move between forest areas.”
“The aim for this is to discourage inter-breeding between same families of the chimpanzees and encourage cross-breeding; interbreeding would endanger the few remaining species,” said Kamanzi.
“As we plan to recover the extensively degraded landscape, we are also looking at creating a National Conservation Park and restore the ecosystem services in the form of improved water quality, reduced soil erosion and flooding, fewer landslides and increased sequestration of carbon,” said Kamanzi.
“Restoring natural biodiversity with special emphasis on chimpanzees as a keystone and flagship species is our main focus.”
Meanwhile NASA’s Earth Observatory website has indicated that: “according to United Nations Environmental Programme, the reserve’s forests were largely intact in 1978, and substantial forest cover still remained in 1986. But in the last 15 year after the Genocide, wave after wave of refugees arrived in Gishwati Forest and began clearing it, often for subsistence farming.”
Also satellite images released by NASA show large tea estates and plantations that now occupy the park.
The loss of forest has carried significant environmental costs, says NASA.
Great Ape Trust of Iowa and Earth-park entered into an agreement with the government last year to restore Gishwati forest.
The selection of Gishwati as the location for Rwanda’s first national conservation park came after President Paul Kagame and Ted Townsend, founder of Great Ape Trust and Earthpark, unveiled the project at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Gishwati was once the second-largest indigenous forest in Rwanda, it covered 100,000 hectares in the early 1900s.