National Parks of Rwanda

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Rwandan National Parks

Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda is a small African country, comparable in size to the state of Maryland in the United States. Rwanda is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the west, Uganda on the north, Tanzania on the east and Burundi on the south.

Rwanda’s geography is dominated by mountains and highlands in the west. The country’s tallest peaks occur in the Virunga volcanic mountain range, which is found in the northwest. Mount Karisimbi, stands nearly 15,000 feet and is Rwanda’s highest mountain, and the 11th highest mountain in Africa. The Karisoke Research Center, founded in 1967 by Dian Fossey (whose true-life story was the basis of the Academy Award-nominated movie, “Gorillas in the Mist”) to study endangered mountain gorillas, is located nearby in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. In the Rwanda’s interior, rolling hills dominate the landscape and giving it’s nickname of ” the land of a thousand hills”. In contrast, Rwanda’s eastern region consists mainly of savanna and swamps and is where we find Akagera National Park.
Rwanda has many lakes throughout this small country. The largest lake in Rwanda is Lake Kivu, found on Rwanda’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lake Ihema is one of the larger lakes on the eastern savanna and lies within Akagera National Park.

The population density of Rwanda is among the highest in Africa and most people are subsistence farmers. There are three main ethnic groups in Rwanda: the Twa, the Hutu, and the Tutsi. The Twa are descendents of Rwanda’s earliest inhabitants and are mainly forest-dwelling, aboriginal pygmies. The Hutu and Tutsi the two primary ethnic groups found in Rwanda and the ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority have often led extreme bloodshed. During the mid-eighteenth century,Tutsi kings ruled over the Hutu. In 1959, the Hutu population revolted, massacring large numbers of Tutsi and ultimately establishing an independent Hutu-dominated government in 1962. During the 1990’s, civil war and the infamous “Rwandan Genocide” took the lives of more than a million Rwandans.

Beginning in 1990, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (“RPF”) launched a civil war against the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government. In August 1993, the rebels and the Rwandan government of Rwanda signed the Arusha Accords peace treaty to end the civil war. However, on April 6, 1994 Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, were killed when their airplane was shot down in Rwanda. Although, initially blamed on Tutsi rebels, official investigations would later show that the airplane was actually shot down by a Rwandan military missile. This event was used to ignite the Rwandan Genocide. The Rwandan military and Hutu militia groups began to systematically slaughter Tutsis, regardless of age or sex. Over 500,000 machetes had previously been imported from China specifically for Hutu to use in killing Tutsi. The Hutu regime which carried out a formal campaign of genocide against the Tutsi, also encouraged Hutu civilians to participate in the slaughter by handing out machetes and telling Hutus to kill Tutsis in public radio broadcasts. Over about a 100 day period, from April 6 through mid-July, approximately one million Rwandans were massacred, nearly 10,000 each day, until the RPF achieved military victory over the Rwandan military and ended the genocide. It is estimated that over 70 percent of the Tutsi population was murdered during the Rwandan Genocide, along with about 300,000 moderate Hutus and Twas. This horrific event was the culmination of long standing ethnic competition, pressurized by Rwanda’s high population density, at the time one of the highest in the world.

Although the Tutsi defeated the Hutu regime and ended the genocide in July of 1994, around two million Hutu refugees fled into the neighboring countries of Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Epidemics of cholera and dysentery swept through these refugee camps killing thousands. Later the Rwandan Hutu government-in-exile, composed of Hutu troops and militia members, began to militarize the refugee camps. The camps were used as bases by the Hutu’s who wanted to destabilize Rwanda’s new RPF government.

The RPF and its proxy rebel forces prosecuted the First Congo War between 1996–1997 and the Second Congo War between 1998–2003, all of which involved fighting a Hutu force with the objective of regaining control of Rwanda. Thus while the new Tutsi-led, Rwanda government took over in 1994, the continued presence of Hutu rebel groups along the Rwandan border suggest that country’s ethnic tensions still exist, although less evident that in the 1990’s.

As one would expect, Rwanda’s economy suffered severely from the violence in the 1990s, but Rwanda’s economy has since recovered. While the economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture, coffee and tea are Rwanda’s major exports. More recently tourism has become a fast-growing sector of the Rwandan economy. Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world where tourists can safely observe wild mountain gorillas, and visitors have been willing to pay premium prices for gorilla tracking permits. As a result, tourism is now Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner.

Rwanda mainly has a temperate tropical highland climate. Although Rwanda is located just south of the Equator; the country has lower temperatures than most equatorial countries because of its high elevation. The mountainous regions in the west and north are generally cooler and receive more precipitation annually than the lower regions in the east and south. Rwanda has two rainy seasons each year. The first rainy season occurs from February to June, while the second rainy season is from September to December. Rwanda also has two dry seasons. The driest part of the year in Rwanda is from June to September. During this period in Rwanda, there is almost no rain at all. Rwanda’s second and milder dry season of the year is from December to February.

Montane forests at one time were a significant part of Rwandan landscape. Now almost all usable land in Rwanda has been turned into farmland. Naturally occurring vegetation is largely restricted to Rwanda’s three National Parks. The largest remaining tract of forest is found in Nyungwe Forest National Park. This forested area contains nearly 200 species of trees, as well as many species of orchids and begonias. In the north, The Volcanoes National Park has small areas of forest, but is mostly bamboo and moorland. Akagera National Park in the east, is mainly savanna dominated by acacia trees.

Not surprising, the greatest biodiversity in Rwanda is also found in the three National Parks. Nyungwe Forest National Park contains 85 mammal species (including 13 species of primate), over 270 bird species, about 70 species of amphibians and reptiles, and nearly 1,100 species of plant. Some of the primate species found in the Nyungwe Forest National Park include the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), the Olive Baboon (Papio anubis), the Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), the Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius), and Adolf Friedrich’s Angola Colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzori). Angola Colobus monkey is found in groups of nearly 400 individuals. This is the largest troop size of any African primate. Volcanoes National Park is the home to nearly one-third of the worldwide population of the critically endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Volcanoes National Park is also home to the endangered golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus), and Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), as well as, over 170 species of birds. While Akagera National Park is home to most of the typical savanna mammals such as African elephant (Loxodonta africana), African cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), zebra (Equus quagga boehmi), olive baboons (Papio anubis) and vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythus). The lion (Panthera leo), although once common in Akagera National Park, has been wiped out, mostly from poisoning by local cattle farmers.

National Parks of the World   African forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus)     National Parks of Rwanda   National Parks of Africa  Volcanoes National Park

National Parks

Akagera National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park

Volcans National Park

Other Conservation Areas

Gishwati Forest

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