conservation in rwanda

Ecotourism and conservation in Rwanda

Conservation in Rwanda is an aspect that is seriously undertaken by every stakeholder from government and conservation agents to every individual in the country. Rwanda has given over almost 40% of her land for conservation which includes 4 national parks, 4 protected wetlands, and forest reserves.

The country is leaning on tourism to protect landscapes and wildlife species including endangered species like mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The country has also got a variety of other species to take care of including mammals, primates, birds, reptiles among others.

conservation in rwanda

Tourism revenues since 2009, when Rwanda Development Board (RDB) was formed, have to a larger extent helped to strengthen the local economy in regard to creation of new jobs and putting the necessary infrastructure in place. As such, RDB has been doing useful investments to support the sector such as attracting international hotel brands in the capital Kigali and around national parks. These including Radisson and Blue, Mantis, One and Only resorts, and Singita.

Conservation projects undertaken include reintroducing lions and rhinos back to Akagera national park. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery phase is promising with an atmosphere conducive to business. By having the active participation of everybody including local and international NGOs and private sector players, ecotourism and conservation in Rwanda has been a success. The conservation efforts undertaken have been rigorous despite challenges such as limited natural resources especially land to expand wildlife habitats and support the ever increasing population. 

Top ecotourism destinations in Rwanda

Here are some of the best ecotourism destinations you should visit on your safari to Rwanda and discover how the country manages its resources for conservation and ecotourism. 

Volcanoes national park

conservation in rwanda

Volcanoes national park is the lead model for ecotourism and conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The protected area, located in the Virunga massifs is famous for harboring over 350 mountain gorillas, which have bounced back from the risk of extinction.

There were less than 500 gorillas in the Virunga Mountains altogether in the 1980s a period in which the park was the centre for research. This was mainly undertaken by American primatologist Dian Fossey since 1960s. She had established Karisoke research centre within the park in 1967 and began habituating gorillas for tourism.

Fossey also introduced active conservation technique which is today known as ranger monitoring program, through which the gorillas and their habitats are guarded 24/7 by wildlife rangers and gorilla doctors against poachers, snare wires, and treating sick or injured gorillas. Due to enhanced protection, the gorilla population has been rising steadily from less than 500 to 604 individuals in the Virunga Conservation Area which includes interconnecting protected areas in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo.

Saving gorillas requires a lot of resources. Rwanda introduced the high-end low impact strategy and increased its gorilla permit fee from $750 to $1,500 per person. This has helped to generate revenue which is invested into the local communities. People depend on nature for livelihood, thus they must be engaged in caring for it through giving them incentives to start sustainable practices that don’t harm the forest.

For instance, the Gorilla Guardian’s village, formerly Iby’iwacu cultural center is an example where locals including ex-poachers are mostly empowered to preserve and promote their culture. People living around the gorillas in Rwanda have significantly reduced their reliance on nature, thus paving the way for conservation. When you come to see gorillas, ensure to take a cultural tour and spend your money there.

Fossey established a name for herself, which Rwanda has used to promote its gorilla safaris. The Dian Fossey Tomb hike provides a chance to learn about the history of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The tomb is located in a saddle between the Karisimbi and Bisoke volcanoes. You can also check out the Ellen DeGeneres Campus, which was constructed to improve the infrastructure required for quality scientific conservation research. 

Akagera national park

conservation in rwanda

Rwanda reintroduced black rhinos and lions, which became extinct from the park during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The strategy has greatly created a balanced tourism from over relying on gorillas. Being the only savanna protected area, Akagera national park offers classic wildlife safari with game drives, boat cruise, and birding in the savanna wilderness. Being the only savanna protected area, Akagera is a must-visit gem on your safari to Rwanda. The park has attracted luxury hotel brands including Mantis collections. 

Creation of new protected areas and partnerships for conservation 

The civil war in Rwanda in 1994 led to large scale encroachment and poaching particularly that lions, African wild dogs, and rhinos got extinct in Akagera. The plans to restore the lost biodiversity were set in 2010. Rwanda sought a long-term collaboration with the African Parks Network, which took over the management of Akagera and recently Nyungwe national parks in 2020.

Today, the combined efforts have reintroduced the big 5 animals and introduced effective law enforcement and clean energy measures. The solar-powered Akagera fence, ranger stations and cafe along the northern boundary fully prevent human-wildlife conflicts and while also making the community energy-efficient. As such, Rwanda is attaining SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 15 (life on land), which involves reducing biodiversity loss. 

Nyungwe national park

conservation in rwanda

Nyungwe national park is a dense afromontane tropical forest located in the Albertine rift valley. With over 300 bird species, 16 of which are Albertine Rift Valley endemics, and 13 primate species, including chimpanzees and colobus monkeys, Nyungwe national park is one of the best ecotourism and conservation hotspots in Rwanda.

A conservation partnership between Wildlife Conservation Society and RDB was started in 1988 to protect the park. This collaboration has made great achievements including creation of Ecotourism activities including chimpanzee tracking, canopy walk, and over 10 hiking trails. This has helped to promote ecotourism and conservation, and community development however. The population around Nyungwe forest is high with over 500 per sq.kilometer and continues to put pressure on the park. Rwanda sought out another collaboration with African Parks in order to manage and protect biodiversity properly. 

Gishwati Mukura national park 

conservation in rwanda

One of Rwanda’s most significant investments in ecotourism and conservation was the creation of Gishwati Mukura National Park in 2015. The protected area was recognised on the network of UNESCO biosphere reserves, which are the new learning places for sustainable development.

The move aims to reverse environmental degradation while also protecting the rich biodiversity in Gishwati Mukura including endangered golden monkeys, eastern chimpanzees, and Albertine rift endemic bird species. The park is located in Rutsiro and Ngororero districts, north west Rwanda mostly dominated by livestock farming. There, people rely greatly on agriculture putting pressure on the forests.

Despite having been designated for conservation early on in 1933, the forests that were intact became fragmented during and after the civil wars. Mukura forest area was reduced from 30,000 ha to less than 300 ha, and Gishwati forest area from 100,000 ha to 600 ha.

Today, Gishwati Mukura covers 34 consisting of two separate forests, which are being restored through creation of buffer zones and tourism activities including chimpanzee and golden monkey tracking, birding, and nature walks. Locals who used to rely on the forests are now actively participating in ecotourism and conservation through offering cultural experiences including as visiting a herbalist for his stunning metaphysics, handcraft, bee and cattle keeping farms, and camping from which the community earns income.

Financial benefits for local communities

Local brands in the hospitality space are also given opportunities and protected from international competition such as Sabinyo Silverback lodge, the Retreat, the Bishop’s house, and Amakoro Songa. Local communities living around protected areas get 10% of park entry fees to create support infrastructure such as training schools and skilling centers, alternative ways of income, community cooperatives and social enterprises. In cases where animals raid crops, farmers are also compensated. These programs are largely financed by the rising ecotourism industry, which helps communities improve their livelihoods in ways other than relying on nature. Ultimately poaching is no longer a threat to biodiversity with people taking advantage of tourism.

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