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Rwanda’s primate-rich forests now a national park


One of the world’s great centers of primate diversity is now a national park, created in one of Africa’s smallest and most densely populated nations. With the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the government of Rwanda has recently established Nyungwe National Park, a rich landscape that contains 13 different types of primate, along with 260 bird species, and more than 260 species of trees and shrubs.

"This is an important achievement for Rwanda and for conservation in Africa," said Michel Masozera, country director for WCS’s Rwanda program. "Nyungwe National Park will safeguard one of Rwanda’s most valuable assets--its wildlife--for future generations."

At 970 square kilometers in size, the park is recognized as one of the richest mountain primate communities in Africa, home to chimpanzees, l’hoest’s monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, and others. The rare owl-faced guenon inhabits the bamboo forest in the southern portion of the park, and the Angolan black-and-white colobus monkey congregates in huge groups of up to 400 individuals, one of the great spectacles of Africa’s forests. Nyungwe and neighboring Kibira National Park in Burundi together form the largest block of rain forest in eastern Africa.

Nyungwe was first created as a forest reserve in 1933, in response to the rapid clearing of forests for farmland in the 1920s. However, surrounding communities continued activities such as wood cutting, hunting, small-scale agriculture and mining for gold within the reserve. In 1984, WCS conservationists Drs. Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, both of whom worked on the ecology and conservation of Rwanda’s world-famous mountain gorillas in Parc National des Volcans, began working in Nyungwe, conducting primate surveys and recommending management strategies for the forests. WCS continues to work with the Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) with respect to ecotourism development, ranger-based monitoring, and community outreach.

Pressure on Rwanda’s natural resources has increased over time. Slightly smaller than Belgium in size, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, with nearly 8 million people within its borders (averaging 314 people per square kilometer), most of whom are dependent on agriculture.

"The creation of this park represents the fruition of some 20 years of research and conservation work by both WCS and our partners in ORTPN, some of which occurred during periods of great social upheaval" said Dr. Amy Vedder, vice president of WCS’s Living Landscapes Program and an authority on Nyungwe’s primate species. "Setting aside this landscape for conservation is a testament to the nation’s commitment to their natural heritage and an investment in the future of both Rwanda and Africa."

John Delaney | EurekAlert!
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