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History of Nyungwe Forest

The history pf protection of Nyungwe Forest National Park started as early as 1903. Even though formally protected for more than 100 years, the biodiversity and size of Nyungwe Forest has steadily been decreasing and Nyungwe Forest was not declared a national park until 2005. The original forest of Nyungwe included both forest elephants and buffalo, which became extinct in the later part of the 20th century.

Up until the 80’s, Nyungwe Forest was still divided into different zones of different use some of which were used for logging. The park suffered a lot during the war in the 90’s, but many devoted rangers stayed to in the park to protect the forest when many where forced to flee.

It was not until rather recently that hiking trails and the canopy walkway were constructed. This was done to find a sustainable future for the park which involves the right balance between ecotourism and conservation in Nyungwe Forest. It also opened the park up to activities such as hiking in Nyungwe Forest

The history and people of the area are diverse, with many examples of song, dance, music, cuisine, handicrafts and other artisan skills that make for a fascinating complement to the ecotourism attractions of Nyungwe.

Nyungwe forest is hundreds of thousands of years old. People’s presence in Nyungwe dates back at least 50,000 years.

Handicrafts and beverages purchased by tourists create local income and the Rwanda Development Board gives a portion of park revenue to surrounding communities, who help protect the forest.

1903 Colonial Crown Land:

1903: Nyungwe was declared a forest reserve, first by the German colonial government followed by the Belgians with restrictions on clearing, but protection was not consistently enforced
Nyungwe was reduced by over 150 km2 due to fires, woodcutting, hunting of animals and small-scale agriculture.

While the neighboring forests, Gishwati and Virunga were cut in half as well.

1958-1973 Forest Lost:

Elephants still numbered in the hundreds in Nyungwe.


Hunters killed the last buffalo in Nyungwe.


Nyungwe was divided into areas that allowed for sustainable use and harvesting of timber.

The Government of Rwanda developed a plan for a buffer zone that is still seen today.


In this year, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Government of Rwanda documented colobus monkeys in groups of up to 400 members by conducting surveys—an unheard of phenomenon

1984 Wildlife Revealed:

They began to form trail systems at Uwinka.


War and genocide devastated the country and destroyed many of the research and tourist facilities in Uwinka. While most of the senior staff was forced to flee many junior staff members at Nyungwe stayed to protect the park.

1994 War and Genocide:

The Park began to rebuild, but security and stability were still uncertain. Poachers killed the last elephant in the swamp of Nyungwe.


The Rwandan government made Nyungwe an official National Park, giving it the highest level of protective status in the country.

2005 Officially Protected:

Today and Beyond

Just by visiting, you are part of the park’s history and contribute to the local economy, which in turn helps to protect this amazing place. Nyungwe’s rich natural resources make it vital but also threaten it. Protecting the forest is up to us. Mining, poaching, fires, and illegal logging have all threatened the forest throughout its history. Once damaged, forests take centuries to recover.

The Rwanda Development Board, surrounding communities, Wildlife conservation Society and many others are working to ensure Nyungwe is protected for generations to come. Beekeeping and other cooperatives help protect the park, gaining income through responsible, sustainable forest use. For centuries, bamboo has been used to make traditional homes, and some of Rwanda’s famous weavings are made from bamboo.

Community Projects around Nyungwe

Revenue Sharing and Outreach projects, Bee-Keeping Associations Handicraft Associations, Rural Electrification Project, Community Tourism Project, Community Tourist Lodge Project, Energy Efficient Stoves, Benefits from Tourism.

Community Tourism at Banda Village
“When tourists come to Banda, they pay to watch dancers and purchase handicrafts. Tourists buy food, water, and soda. This began as a nature conservation club. The objective was to transmit messages, and people used dancing. In 2003 we got a permit to be a cooperative that has general aim of ecotourism development of Nyungwe National Park using Banda culture and handicrafts. The objective is to reduce poverty of people in the cooperative and in the general population while promoting nature conservation.”

Teaching kids about the forest through nature clubs will protect the park for generations to come.

Rwandans depend on Nyungwe as a source of natural resources and water, and protection from erosion.

People depend on Nyungwe to make a living—it provides jobs for guides and trackers, and opportunities for the local economy, like the selling of handicrafts.

Nyungwe forest provides estimated hundreds of millions of US dollars (billions of RFW) worth of “ecological services” to surrounding communities, Rwanda and the entire planet every year—such as slowing global warming and watershed protection. Rope, bamboo, and other traditionally used forest plants are still important to people for weaving, medicines, building and more. They must be harvested sustainably to protect the forest’s integrity.

Several plants found in Nyungwe have important medicinal value. A list of these can be see by clicking here. Some medicines have yet to be discovered!

The bark of the umugote tree makes a good cough medicine.