PARC NATIONAL DES VOLCANS (PNV) [aka Volcanoes National Park]
"In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat," wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, "are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest - the Virungas". Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda , the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range - home of the rare mountain gorilla - and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. The park covers the Rwandan side of Virunga Conservation area.
Species: In the forested hills of the park can be found the rare golden monkey and a populations of buffaloes and elephants. The park is most known for hosting a population of mountains gorillas, Gorilla Gorilla Beringei specie. About 200 bird species have been recorded in the park, with 13 species endemic to the Albertine Rift, including the Rwenzori turaco.
Activities: Trekking can be arranged to hike two of the Virunga volcanoes, accessible from the Rwandan side, through the cultivated foothills: Karisimbi (4.507m) and Bisoke (3.711m). The climb to the peak of Karisimbi requires two days, with clients sleeping in a tent on the mountain. It does not require technical skills, but clients have to be fit and healthy as the walk is quite arduous and conditions can be wet, cold and muddy. Bisoke is a day's walk and although less steep than Karisimbi still requires walkers to be fit. The paths go through afromontane forest, bamboo, and woodland. Higher up there is Afro - alpine moorland, grassland and marsh, giant lobelia and senecio. Another important activity is t racking the habituated rare Golden Monkey of the Kabatwa group and Musongo Group. Visits to "Old Karisoke" Dian Fossey Research Centre are available. The walk takes about 6 - 8 hours in all and is a fascinating way to explore the park and get a glimpse of the remains of this historic place. Dian Fossey graveyard is located on Bisoke volcano, where she spent most of her time when researching on gorillas.
Four habituated families of mountains gorillas make the gorilla tracking the most exciting activity in the Parc des Volcans.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK (ANP)
Set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park is different than the cultivated hills that characterise much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland. Created in 1934 it covers an area of 2.500 kms.
Species. Akagera offers big game viewing, with herds of elephants and buffaloes emerging from the woodland to drink at the lakes, then other mammals include leopards, spotted hyenas and lions. Giraffes and zebras haunt the savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the chestnut - coated impala, but also the oribi and bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world's largest antelope, the statuesque Cape eland. The lakes of Akagera are inhabited by hippos and crocodiles, a part from some of the continent's densest concentrations of waterbirds. The connecting marshes are the haunt of the endangered and exquisite papyrus gonolek, and the bizarre shoebill stork.
Activities. The Park offers well developed trials for game drives. Also possible to arrange boat trips on the lakes along the Akagera river.
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK (NNP)
Extending for 970 kms across the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda , Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa , and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age. It is located in Southern Rwanda bordering Burundi.
Species . A uniquely rich centre of floral diversity, the forest has more than 200 different types of tree, and a myriad of flowering plants including the other - worldly giant lobelia and a host of colorful orchids. Nyungwe is most alluring for its primates: 13 species in all, including the chimpanzee, as well as 'Hoest's monkey and hundred - strong troops of the Angola colobus. The most important ornithological site in Rwanda , Nyungwe harbours about 275 bird species of which two dozen are restricted to a handful of montane forests on the Albertine Rift. The avian highlight of Nyungwe is the great blue turaco - an outlandish blue, red and green bird which streams from tree to tree. There are 270 species of tree and 70 species of mammals.
Activities. An extensive network of walking trails leads through the forest to various waterfalls and viewing points. The main attraction is the guided walk to view large groups of black and white Angolan Colobus monkeys or chimpanzees. The starting point is the information centre and Head Quarter at Uwinka
Gishwati -Mukura officially becomes Rwanda’s 4th National Park
Rwanda officially has four parks. The newest is Gishwati -Mukura National Park after Nyungwe, Akagera and the Volcanoes National Parks. The law establishing the Gishwati-Mukura National Park was signed and gazetted on 01 February 2016.This law also determines its boundaries, surface and buffer zone.
According to the law, Gishwati-Mukura National Park is composed of the Gishwati Forest with an area of 1,439.72 hectares and Mukura Forest with a total surface of 1,987.74 hectares. The park’s buffer zone has a total surface of 992.48 hectares.
Initially, the Gishwati-Mukura reserve was estimated to cover 250,000 ha before it reduced to 28,000 ha in 1980s due mainly to uncontrolled human activities such as illegal mining, animal grazing and tree cutting, among other threats. Over the past decades, the Gishwati-Mukura area was nearly depleted due largely to resettlement, livestock farming and small farming in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Today, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) through its project called “Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) project” is working to restore the highly degraded Gishwati-Mukura landscape to enhance both environmental & economic benefits from both forests.
Activities to restore the Gishwati-Mukura landscape include rehabilitating natural forest and biodiversity within the Gishwati and Mukura reserves, enhancing sustainable land management in the agricultural lands between both forests and introducing silvo-pastoral approaches in the rangelands of the central former Gishwati reserve.
Gishwati-Mukura Park is known for a wide range of flora and fauna, including primates, chimpanzees and mammals among others. It also boasts of about 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo.
As noted by the Director General of REMA, Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, upgrading Gishwati-Mukura forests to the status of a National Park will ensure that the remaining part of the natural forests is fully protected.
Dr. Mukankomeje also affirms that “the new park will contribute to improving the livelihoods of population living in the surrounding areas as they will get off-farm jobs such as working in hotels and restaurants to be established near the park, becoming guides for tourists and selling craft products to different people coming to visit the park.”
"In addition, implementation of LAFREC activities within the park boundaries and its landscape will create hundreds of jobs for local communities, giving them an opportunity to diversify their sources of income and eventually improve their living conditions," Dr. Mukankomeje added.
Residents around Mukura – Gishwati National Park welcome its establishment. They also assert that the new park equals to richness as they are promising to build good relations with daily visitors.
The Gishwati-Mukura National Park is located in Rubavu, Rutsiro, Ngororero and Nyabihu Districts of the western part of Rwanda.