For the past 25 years, WCS’s work in Rwanda has focused on the forest of Nyungwe, in the southwestern part of the country, which together with the contiguous Kibira National Park in Burundi,forms the largest montane rainforest in Africa. Nyungwe is a special place:during the Ice Ages, it served as a vital refuge for the region’s biodiversity and today hosts an astonishing array of unique and endemic species (species found nowhere else in the world). In total, Nyungweis home to at least 275 species of birds, 140 species of orchids, and 13 species of primates—including the rare owl-faced monkey, more than 400 chimpanzees, and groups of black-and-white colobus that can number in the hundreds. Nyungwe provides important benefits to people as well: it is a critical catchment for Rwanda’s fresh water and helps to regulate the region’s climate.
In 2005, with the technical support of WCS, Nyungwe became a national park, but the forest still faces a range of critical threats. Human populations along the boundary of Nyungwe are some of the highest in Africa—with as many as 500 people per square kilometer—and poverty in the area is severe. Key threats include animal poaching, mining for gold and coltan, tree cutting, and fires set by people smoking bees from their hives.
Kibira (Burundi) and Nyungwe (Rwanda) National Parks are contiguous, forming the largest protected forest block in East Africa. As part of the Albertine Rift, this transboundary ecosystem is invaluable both locally and internationally. This ecosystem is not only rich in biodiversity, characterized by a high level of endemism, but also plays an important role in providing ecosystem services for the communities surrounding the parks, and the two countries in general. Its conservation value is widely recognized. However, despite the level of connectivity and similarity in terms of threats, Kibira and Nyungwe National Parks have thus far been managed as distinct and individual units, which has been a hindrance to conservation efforts on both sides of the border.
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