Nyungwe forest national park is located in the southwestern part of Rwanda at the border with Burundi and the DRC to the south and west respectively. The forest has an area of over 1000 square kilometers and is the largest protected mountain rain forest in the whole of Africa. The forest was declared a reserve in 1903 by the German colonial government and this continued even after the country was handed to the Belgians after world war I. In 2005, the reserve was then named a national park by the Rwandan government and it has remained so ever since.
The national park has experienced several setbacks but has managed to bounce back brilliantly most of the time. There were hundreds of buffaloes and elephants in the park in the 1960’s but because of the activities of poachers and hunters, the last buffalo was killed in 1974 while the last elephant died in 1999. The 1994 Rwanda genocide also affected the researchers and tourism activities in the forest but this was immediately restored when peace prevailed in the country.
The forest which is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of years old is especially popular for its unique plant species that are found only in this part of the world for example the empatiens and also for research by botanists. There are several species of trees in the forest each serving different purposes to the inhabitants for example the newtonia buchanani has a delicious fruit eaten by monkeys while its buttresses are used for communication by the chimpanzees by drumming them. The forest also has several other plant species like ferns, orchids, lobelia many of which are endemic to this region only.
Since the park has varying altitude and because of this, there are several species found in the forest each used to a different altitude. The forest is as high as 3000 metres above sea level with mountain bigugu as the highest point. The park is home to the greatest concentration of man’s closest relatives-the chimpanzees in the whole of Africa. Actually, the park is popular because of its high population of primates-13 species in total. The blue monkey, rwenzori colobus and the acrobatic L’Hoest monkeys are part of a group of primates found in the park.
The national park is also home to about 285 species of birds, 25 of which are endemic to this region. This is a good indicator that the park is a haven for bird watchers although the world has not yet picked up on the activity in this particular area. Some of the most interesting bird species in the park include; the cape wagtail, augaur buzzard, dusky crimsonwing and so many others.
Nyungwe forest is a major water catchment area for Rwanda and infact shelters more than two thirds of the country’s water. This underlines its importance in terms of the climate to the nation. However, the park is important to the tourism sector as it brings in millions of dollars. Because of the interests of tourists, several pathways and a canopy walk way have been put in place to help tourist move about more easily in the park.
Activities in the park
• Chimpanzee tracking: these are our closest relatives in the family of primates and it is always good to take a crack at knowing exist how they live in their habitat.
• Bird watching: the park is home to almost 300 species of birds and is one of those undiscovered bird paradises in Africa.
• Nature walks: the park is well prepared for these kinds of walks as it has several well maintained paths and a canopy walkway which takes you through the forest as you enjoy seriously breathtaking views.