Gishwati Forest is incredibly one of a few most splendid places that you should pay a visit while on a safari in Rwanda. This forest is situated in the North West just a few kilometers off Lake Kivu, along the Albertine rift area. In 1978, it was compact and a substantial forest cover still featured in 1986.
In the course of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, this forest reserve offered refuge most of people and thus part of it was cleared for them to conduct subsistence farming. Around 2001, a small portion of the forest was left but reforestation has also helped increase its size to around 2500 acre land, approximately 10 square kilometers.
Regardless of the challenges faced by Gishwati forest reserve, it is remarkably one of the most endowed natural wonders when it comes to biodiversity. Over 58 distinct tree species, shrubs thrive in this forest reserve and 34 percent of its tree species are exotic.
Its faunal species comprise of 4 major kinds of primates including chimpanzees, golden monkeys, mountain monkeys, blue monkeys and more than 130 avian species. 15 of these are endemic to the Albertine rift featuring mainly the Rwenzori Turaco, purple breasted sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Regal sunbird, strange weaver, stripe breasted tit, white-headed wood hoopoe, wood hoopoes, old world warblers, mountain yellow warbler, red throated alethe and grey crowned crane, martial eagle that are listed as vulnerable species in IUCN.
There is also Kazeneza waterfalls that provide ideal ground for one to chill after bird watching in the forest. Besides, there are also red river hogs, southern tree hyrax, serval, black front duiker, felis aurata and many more. The forest also inhabits several reptiles especially the great Lakes bush viper and numerous chameleon species.
Gishwati Forest Reserve is a secondary montane rainforest which lies south of Volcanoes National Park, northwestern Rwanda. The forest reserve forms a portion of the Congo Nile Divide forest complex which comprises of Nyungwe Forest National Park in the Land of a Thousand Hills and some parts of Kibira National Park in Burundi.
This forest lies within 4 sectors of Rutsiro district and they include Ruhango, Kigeyo, Mushonyi and Nyabirasi. Historically, this forest has encountered deforestation impact due to large scale cattle ranching schemes, free grazing of cattle, setting up plantations of non native trees and others. At the end, the reserve suffers from flooding, erosion, decreased soil fertility, river siltation, landslides and many more. It also falls under various stages of regeneration. From 2005 to 2008, it increased from 600 hectares to 886 hectares.
From 2008 to 2009, it covered about 1484 and more than 336 hectares added up around 2008. In order to offer refuge to most reserve’s natural wonders, Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) was initiated around 2007 in a collective effort with Paul Kagame and Great Ape Trust that led to establishment of Gishwati-Mukura National Park. GACP was taken over by Forest of Hope a Rwandan Non governmental Organization that is runs Gishwati Forest Reserve.
Gishwati’s ecosystem services contribute a lot to Rwanda’s economy. The value of its carbon generates about $3.000.000 each year. It also helps in absorbing the running water; minimize soil erosion, landslides and modifying the climate of the area. The reserve also produces materials which enrich soil and recycles significant soil nutrients without necessarily applying any chemicals. Today, this forest inhabits several bird species, insects, bats and many other wildlife species.
In conclusion, Gishwati Forest is amazingly one of the endowed forest reserves that you shouldn’t miss to pay a visit if you are interested in exploring diversity of natural wonders while on a safari in Rwanda.