Nyungwe forest offers a rare and important habitat for many species, especially primates and birds. And at over 1000 km2, Nyungwe is Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest. With about 280 bird species, 25 of which are endemic, Nyungwe is one of the most important — and still undiscovered — birdwatching destinations in Africa. Reaching to almost 3000 meters above sea level with Mount Bigugu, the highest point in the park, Nyungwe’s forests extend to altitudes occupied by few other forests in Africa. Nyungwe is also home to one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of chimpanzees and a sometimes noisy, acrobatic combination of other primates such as Ruwenzori colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys.
A variety of hiking and walking trails criss-cross the park leading to a canopy walk, primate tracking adventures, the southernmost source of the Nile and ecotourism attractions. The park includes a colorful array of orchids, butterflies, moths and other insects.
The forest has a growing network of walking and hiking trails and a number of camping sites near the Uwinka Visitor Center. Cultural tourism activities are being developed near the edge of the park. New trails and camping sites are planned and being constructed as part of the USAID-sponsored Nyungwe Nziza Project, as are new ways of both observing and enjoying the Park.
An Ancient Forest Nyungwe forest has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and is one of Africa’s oldest. Thus, there is a possibility that climate change will not affect Nyungwe as much as other forests, as long as it is protected from threats like fires and tree cutting.
Why is Nyungwe So Diverse?
Scientists think that Nyungwe was one of the few places in Africa to remain green during the last Ice Age. Species took shelter in Nyungwe and never left! Nyungwe is also considered a Mountain Rainforest. It is home to a variety of plants, animals and habitat found almost nowhere else.
This forest is in the Albertine Rift, a mountainous section of East Africa that, as a whole, harbors more endemic birds, mammals, and amphibians than any other region in Africa. For example: over 1000 species of birds, about 52% of all of Africa’s birds, have been recorded in the Albertine Rift. Nyungwe is the largest protected area within the Albertine Rift, and contains 25 of these endemics, more than any other site in east Africa.
What is a Rift?
A rift is where sections of the earth are slowly spreading apart over millions of years, creating mountains, lakes, valleys and volcanoes. Lake Kivu is visible from points in Nyungwe, it is one of the Great Lakes of Africa and the fifteenth largest in the world. Dissolved gases in the lake have the potential to generate enough electricity to power Rwanda for 400 years! Mount Bigugu, the highest point in Nyungwe, rises 2950m.
Nyungwe and Water
Nyungwe is Rwanda’s primary water catchment, sheltering more than two-thirds of all of its waters. The park receives more than 2000 mm a year of rain and, thus is also the source of Africa’s great rivers. Rain that falls on the east side feeds the Nile and on the west runs to the Congo. The Congo-Nile Divide is a mountain range that runs north to south through Rwanda.