AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera National Park covers 1,200 km² in eastern Rwanda, along the Tanzanian border. It was founded in 1934 to protect animals and vegetation in three ecoregions: savannah, mountain and swamp. The park is named for the Kagera River which flows along its eastern boundary feeding into several lakes the largest of which is Lake Ihema. The complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps makes up over 1/3 of the park and is the largest protected wetland in central Africa.
Much of the savannah area of the park was settled in the late 1990s by former refugees returning after the end of the Rwandan Civil War. Due to land shortages, in 1997 the western boundary was regazetted and much of the land allocated as farms to returning refugees. The park was reduced in size from over 2,500 km² to its current size. Although much of the best savannah grazing land is now outside the park boundaries, what remains of Akagera is some of the most diverse and scenic landscape in Africa.
GISHWATI NATIONAL PARK
Gishwati Forest is a protected reserve in the north-western part of Rwanda, not far from Lake Kivu. The reserve’s forests were largely intact in 1978, and substantial forest cover still remained in 1986. During the Rwandan Genocide, wave after wave of refugees arrived in Gishwati Forest and began clearing it, often for subsistence farming.
By 2001, only a small circular patch of native forest remained, 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) of the forest’s original 250,000. In addition to tremendous loss of biodiversity, the region experiences soil erosion and degradation and landslides. Reforestation efforts in the past few years have increased the remnant native forest to about 2,500 acres (10 km2). Large tea estates occupy the central and northern parts of the reserve.
NYUNGWE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
The Nyungwe rainforest is located in southwestern Rwanda, at the border with Burundi, to the south, and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The Nyungwe rainforest is probably the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources.
Nyungwe Forest National Park was established in 2004 and covers an area of approximately 970 km² of rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, and bogs.
The nearest town is Cyangugu, 54 km to the west. Mount Bigugu is located within the park borders.
The Nyungwe forest has a wide diversity of animal species, making it a priority for conservation in Africa. The forest is situated in a region in which several large-scale biogeographical zones meet and the variety of terrestrial biomes provides a great span of microhabitats for many different species of plants and animals.
The park contains 13 different primate species (25% of Africa’s total),
275 bird species, 1068 plant species, 85 mammal species, 32 amphibian and
38 reptile species. Many of these animals are restricted-range species that are only found in the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion in Africa. In fact, the number of endemic species found here is greater than in any other forest in the Albertine Rift Mountains that has been surveyed. The forest, which reaches its maximum altitude of 3000 meters above sea level, is of particular interest for the presence of colonies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes – Blumenbach, 1775) and Angola colobus (Colobus angolensis – Sclater 1860), the latter now extinct in Angola for the intense hunt to which they were subjected.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Volcanoes National Park (French: Parc National des Volcans) lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), which are covered in rainforest and bamboo. The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey.
Vegetation varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within the park. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, mainly on the more humid slopes in the south and west, is Hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests of Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation from 3500 to 4200 m is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park.
From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also occur, but their total area is relatively small.
The park is best known for the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Other mammals include: golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.