Nyungwe National Park is in Rwanda. It is probably the best preserved rainforest in the mountains throughout Central Africa.The park contains 13 primate species (25% of Africa's total), 275 bird species, 1068 plant species, 85 mammal species, 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species. Many of these animals are restricted-range species that are only found in the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion in Africa.
Nyungwe rainforest is in southwestern Rwanda bordering Burundi along the south with Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. It is in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest is one of the sources of the Nile.
The National Park was established in 2004 and covers an area of approximately 970 km² of rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, and bogs. The nearest town is Cyangugu, 54 km to the west. Mount Bigugu is within the park boundaries.
Important to Rwanda and the world for its biodiversity, beauty, and natural resources, today Nyungwe is a protected area. Nyungwe forest is hundreds of thousands of years old. People’s presence in Nyungwe dates back at least 50,000 years.
In 1903, Nyungwe was declared a forest reserve by the German colonial government with restrictions on clearing. This status was maintained by the Begins after World War I. Protection was not consistently enforced.
From 1958-1973, Nyungwe was reduced by over 150 km² due to fires, woodcutting, hunting of animals, and small-scale agriculture. Nearby Gishwati and Virunga forests were cut in half at this time. In 1969, elephants still numbered in the hundreds in Nyungwe. In 1974, the last buffalo was killed in Nyungwe by hunters.
In 1984, Nyungwe was divided into areas that allow for sustainable use and harvesting of timber. The Government of Rwanda develops a plan for a buffer zone that can still be seen today. In 1984, biodiversity surveys conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) with RDB documented colobus in groups of up to 400 members—an unheard of phenomenon. In 1987, development of the trail system began at Uwinka.
In 1994, war and genocide devastated the country and destroyed many of the research and tourist facilities in Uwinka. Most senior staff were forced to flee, but many junior staff members at Nyungwe stayed on to protect the park. The park began to rebuild in 1995, but security and stability were still uncertain. In 1999, the last elephant in Nyungwe was killed in the swamp by poachers.
In 2005, the Rwandan Government makes Nyungwe an official National Park, giving it protected status, the highest level of protection in the country.
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
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.
Flora and fauna
Nyungwe forest has a wide diversity of animal species, making it a priority for conservation in Africa. The forest is situated in a region where several large-scale biogeographical zones meet and the variety of terrestrial biomes provide a great span of microhabitats for many different species of plants and animals.
There are more endemic species found here than in any other forest in the Albertine Rift Mountains that has been surveyed. The forest, which reaches its maximum altitude of 3000 m above sea level, is of particular interest for the presence of colonies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and Angola colobus (Colobus angolensis), the latter now extinct in Angola following an intense hunt for them.
- Common Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): the only ape in Nyungwe. 500 of them live in this park. Your guide can help you spot them and their signs: calls, nests, or scat.
- Adolf Friedrich's Angolan Colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzori): Nyungwe is the only forest in Africa where these monkeys form large “supergroups” of over 350 individuals.
- L'Hoest's Monkey (Cercopithecus l'hoesti), Sun-tailed Gabon, and Preuss’ Cameroon: these three monkeys were most likely one species that lived in a continuous larger forest before the last ice age. Over time the forest split into fragments and each monkey adapted to its own forest. Today they are separate species. http://www.arkive.org/lhoests-monkey/cercopithecus-lhoesti/#src=portletV3web
- Blue Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis doggetti): These tree-dwelling guenons can be found around Uwinka.
- Silver Monkey (Cercopithecus doggetti)
- Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus kandti)
- Hamlyn's Monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni)
- Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius)
- Dent's Mona Monkey (Cercopithecus denti)
- Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
- Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)
- Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena)
Nyungwe is classified by BirdLife International as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA), which means that the park has “true significance” for the international conservation of bird populations....” In their fact sheet, they say that Nyungwe is one of the most important forests for conservation of montane birds in the region.
A birder’s paradise, Nyungwe is home to 278 species of birds—26 of those are found only in the few forests of the Albertine Rift.
Grauer’s Rush Warbler is an Albertine Rift endemic that thrives in isolated mountain swamps, such as Kamiranzovou.
Turacos such as this Ruwenzori Turaco are rare elsewhere but abundant in Nyungwe. You are likely to hear their loud repetitive call resonate in the forest.
Spectacular and rare sunbirds, such as the endemic Purple-breasted and Blue-headed, can be seen feeding in flowering trees.
The Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, one of two hornbill species in the park, is known by its huge bill and honking call.
Some Albertine Rift endemics found in Nyungwe:
- Red-throated Alethe Alehe poliophrys
- Kungwe Apalis Apalis argentea
- Ruwenzori Apalis Apalis ruwenzorii
- Ruwenzori Batis Batis diops
- Stripe-breasted Tit Parus fasciiventer
- Ruwenzori Nightjar Caprimulgus ruwenzorii
- Archer’s Robin-chat Cossypha archeri
- Dusky Crimson Wing Cryptospiza jacksoni
- Shelley’s Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi
- Handsome Francolin Francolinus nobilis
- Neumann’s Warbler Hemitesia neumanni
- Red-collared Babbler Kupeornis rufocinctus
- Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher Melaenornis ardesiacus
- Regal Sunbird Cinnyris regius
Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age. A uniquely rich centre of floral diversity, the forest has more than 200 different types of trees, and a myriad of flowering plants including the other-worldly giant lobelia and a host of colourful orchids.
Vegetation zones of the park:
- 2950 m Subalpine – bamboo, shrub. Species present: Podocarpus, Phillipia, bamboo, Erica johnstonii
- 2500 m: High elevation – upland trees. Species present: Podocarpus, Syzygium, Macaranga, Balthacaria, Hagenia
- 2250 m: Middle elevation – tree ferns, tall trees. Species present: Carapa, Entandophragma, Newtonia, Polycscias, Symphonia, Cyathea manniana
- 1900 m: Low elevation – taller trees. Species present: Carapa, Newtonia, Engtandophragma, Prinaria exelsium, Cyathea manniana, etc.
Epiphytes are mosses, ferns, orchids and other plants that live high in trees without needing soil. These “air plants” are characteristic of moist mountain rainforests.
Carapa grandiflora is a tree commonly found in Nyungwe. Monkeys and squirrels eat the large round seeds, while chimps, monkeys and people eat the young fruits.
Entandrophragma excelsum, or African mahogany (locally called “umuyove”), is one of the largest trees in the forest.
As altitude changes, so does vegetation. Nyungwe’s varied vegetation provides a diversity of habitats for its many species. Nyungwe has over 1000 different kinds of plants, many of which you will only find in the Albertine Rift.
The western part of Nyungwe was refugium for rare forest species and still has richer, taller forest with more biodiversity today. The eastern part of Nyungwe forest was grasslands and shrub during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago.
Only in Nyungwe
Nyungwe’s great variety of plants and animals, some found nowhere else, makes it one of the most important protected places in all of Africa.
- Impatiens kagamei is named in honor of President Kagame for his efforts in environmental protection. It is endemic to the Albertine Rift and found in Cyamudongo and parts of Congo.
- Impatiens nyungwensis is endemic to Nyungwe, found only on Mt. Bigugu—it grows nowhere else in the world.
- Begonia pulcherrima is found only in western Nyungwe.
Abundant plant species
Don’t let all the green fool you, Nyungwe forest is comprised of over 1,000 different kinds of plants, many of which you’ll only see in the Albertine Rift.
Nyungwe National Park is home to many medicinal plants. The following list includes some of the plants that can be found in the Park. Descriptions of some of these plants can be found in the Handbook of African Medicinal Plants by Maurice M. Iwu. Another book that might be of interest is Medicinal Plants of East Africa by John O. Kokwaro.
Scientific name / English name / Kinyarwanda name - Traditional Uses:
- Erythrina abyssinica / Lucky bean tree orFlame tree / Umuko - Gonorrhea, burns, joint pain, fresh cuts/wounds, backache, syphilis. According to the World Agroforestry Centre, it is also “used in Kenya to treat diseases such as anthrax, and the bark is boiled with goat meat for treating gonorrhoea.The bark of the green stem may also be pounded and then tied into a fine piece of cloth and the liquid from it squeezed into the eyes to cure inflammation of the lids.”
- Zanthoxylum gilletii / East African satinwood / Umuturirwa - Cold and fever, malaria, tuberculosis, ulcers, tooth ache
- Vernonia amygdalina / Bitter leaf / Umubirizi - Malaria, fever, worms, abdominal pain, diarrhea, asthma
- Crassocephalum vitellium / ... / Isununu - Sterility in men, High blood pressure
- Prunus African / Bitter almond / Umwumba - Fever, stomach ache, benign prostate cancer, diabetes, cough
- Ficus natalensis / Bark-cloth fig / Imvuvumu - Stimulation of pregnancy, cold, cough, wounds, bed wetting
- Syzygium guinense / Waterberry / Umugote - Amoebas, poison
- Carapa grandflora / Bitter Oil / Umushwati - Amoebas
- Myrica californica / California Bayberry / Umusengesi - Poison, stomach ache
If you visit at the right time and you look closely, you can see lots of these in the park. Nyungwe has over 140 species of orchids.
The main entrance is at Uwinka on the main Cyangugu - Huye road. It's about 55 km from Cyangugu and 90 km from Huye. The road is mostly in good condition. There are regular buses along the route and hitching is also an option. Buses are often full when the reach here so if you're getting a bus out it may be best to try and book your ticket in advance.
If travelling from Cyangugu ignore the sign in town that says it's 20 km and further ignore the sign 15 km from Cyangugu directing you right up a dirt track. These refer to a small off shoot of the park, not the park proper.
Fees and permits
There are no "park fees" as such but you must be accompanied by a guide on all of the walking trails. The costs vary depending on the length of the trail and what your immigration status in Rwanda is (Tourist, National, Resident or East African Community Resident). If you are a tourist expect to pay around US$40-60 per trail. Additional days within the same category of activity entitle to a 50% discount.
Camping fees are US$50 if you don't do any other activities, $35 if you do, but the camp site is well situated in the jungle, there are European toilets and a cold shower.
Other than the main road through the forest there are no (public) roads or vehicle tracks in the park, everything is on foot (see do).
A whole host of different Primate species, a few other mammals including leopard and duiker (which you're unlikely to see) and a phenomenal array of birds and plants.
There are a number of trails ranging from the very easy to the reasonably challenging. nb. their "strenuous" guide is based on the assumption that you are not a regular walker. Any hiker would not find their "very strenuous" trails particularly challenging.
Canopy Walk - In October 2010, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) launched canopy walk tourism in Nyungwe National Park as part of a strategy to diversify tourism attractions. Canopy tourism is also aimed at encouraging tourists to spend a longer time in Rwanda. The Canopy Walk is the only attraction of its kind in East Africa. This is the first hanging platform that allows tourists to view different animal species in Nyungwe Forest. The dizzying platform is above a steep and deep valley stretching across the massive forest.
The platform is 50 m above ground level and 90 m long. It allows tourists to view butterflies, birds and blue monkeys that dwell in the upper levels of the forest. The forest has 13 rare primate species, the world’s largest ever recorded arboreal troop of black/white colobus monkeys, and nearly 300 species of birds and 154 types of orchids.
There are also a couple of multi-day trails such as the Nile-Congo divide trail (which is the only way of reaching the longest source of the Nile). These must be booked at least seven days in advance (they will not negotiate this). Price is US$400 up to 4 people and $100 per additional person.
Chimpanzee tracking is available and there are two groups habituated to human contact. In principle, Colobus monkey tracking is also available but they may have moved too far away from the trail head to be tracked. Should they move back this may be possible again in the future.
There is a small kiosk selling basics, but if you are camping bring whatever food you will need.
Water, soft drinks and Primus (beer) is available.
There are guest houses on either side of the park on the main road.
In Kitabi (on the Huye side) the guest house is situated in the school of wildlife management. Coming from Huye take the left turn marked 'tea factory' about 200 m before the park entrance. There is then a right turn about 500 m further on, this is the guest house. The reception is l'Hoests monkey house.
At the West side, Gisakura guesthouse is 4.5 km east to Gisakura village. On the bus from Huye or Cyangugu, ask the driver to stop at "Gisakura Guesthouse" or take a motorbike from Gisakura (1000 Rwandan francs).
At the upper end is the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, which is a luxurious eco-lodge surrounded by tea fields and at the edge of Nyungwe Forest.
There is camping at the Uwinka head quarters, it's a bit pricey (see fees and permits) but you do get a guy who lights your fire for you. This may sound a bit unnecessary but after a cold night (apparently it can get down to 0°C here due to the altitude), waking up to a roaring fire is heaven!