Nyungwe National Park, Primate Tracking, Canopy walk in Rwanda
Nyungwe Forest is a high-altitude, mountainous rainforest situated in southern Albertine Rift of Rwanda. It was established as a forest reserve in 1933. The conserved area consists of approximately 378 square miles / 970 km2. A series of mountain ranges beginning at the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda and Congo, continuing south into the Lendu Plateau in eastern Congo.
Contiguous with Kibira National Park in Burundi, Nyungwe is one of the largest mountainous rainforests remaining in Africa. Just recently the Nyungwe forest received National Park status, making it East Africa’s largest protected high-altitude rainforest.
Nyungwe’s biodiversity is astonishing by African standards and is one of the most endemic species-rich areas in all of Africa. Along with its biodiversity, Nyungwe is an important water catchment for Rwanda and contains many natural resources integral to Rwanda’s human populations.
Rwanda is also in one of the most heavily populated areas of Africa with over 8 million inhabitants in a country the size of the state of Vermont in the United States. Nyungwe is under constant threat from anthropogenic and environmental stresses.
Intact mid-elevation forests -1600-2000M- like Nyungwe are rare in Africa, but they are important habitat for many species. Nyungwe is one of the last places in Africa to maintain this type of crucial forest.
At over 1000 square kilometers, Nyungwe is Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest and the source of Africa’s great rivers. Rain that falls on the east side feeds the Nile and on the west runs to the Congo. The Congo-Nile Divide is a mountain range that runs north to south through Rwanda.
It receives more than 2000mm a year of rain and of recent, Nyungwe opened a canopy walk, the only one of its kind in East Africa. This is a wonderful vantage point to view the incredible biodiversity of this rare forest. The canopy walk opens at a time when Rwanda is being recognized as a top 10 global travel destination (Lonely Planet, 2009.)
In 2005, the Government of Rwanda declared Nyungwe a national park, affording it the highest level of protection in Rwanda. This forest, the largest mountain rainforest in all of Africa, protects 13 species of primates like, the Angola colobus found in groups of 300-400 animals that is an attribute unique to Nyungwe. It also hosts a large population of chimpanzees and two other threatened species of monkeys; the owl faced monkey and reported but unverified sightings of the golden monkey.
Nyungwe is stated as “the most important site for biodiversity conservation in Rwanda” by Birdlife International for its approximately 280 bird species, 25 of which are endemic. Nyungwe’s forests extend to altitudes occupied by few other forests in Africa; 1600-2950 meters above sea level.
It is also home to myriad orchids, butterflies, moths and other fascinating insects – all of which constitute the potential for a major, low volume, tourist destination in the making. (Source: Draft Investors Guide to Nyungwe National Park Area, South Western Rwanda, Preliminary version 1 – 2008)
This is also Rwanda’s primary water catchment, sheltering more than two-thirds of all of its waters.
The people in the areas around the park are diverse, with many examples of song, dance, music, cuisine, handicrafts and other artisan skills that make for a fascinating complement to the nature side of the trips to this part of Africa.
The combination of both potential and conservation has been noted by the Government of Rwanda and a major integrated development thrust is underway, supported not only by the Government itself, but also the USAID, UNDP, Wildlife Conservation Society and other donors and NGOs.
The forest has a network of walking and hiking trails with a number of camping sites and the development of cultural tourism near the edge of the Park is underway. New trails and camping sites are planned and being constructed as part of the development project, as are new ways of both observing and enjoying Nyungwe National park.