The Gishwati Forest Reserve is a rainforest extending west beyond Lake Kivu connecting with the rainforests of Congo and south connecting with Nyungwe Forest. The 2012/2013 national budget contains the supplies to turn Gishwati into a full national park. The Gishwati rain forest is located in a 900 ha area of land. An additional 700 ha of agricultural fields and pastures land will soon be recognized to be within reserve boundaries.
Gishwati region is a part of the Congo-Nile Divide and Albertine Rift. The relief is dominated by hills with high slopes. The characteristics of that relief have an important impact on the local climate which is characterised by cool temperatures and high rainfall.
Gishwati has a history of deforestation extending over the past 50 years. This deforestation was mainly caused by ill-advised large-scale cattle ranching schemes, resettlement of refugees after the genocide, inefficient small-plot farming, free-grazing of cattle, and establishment of plantations of non-native trees. As a result, the area is plagued with catastrophic flooding, landslides, erosion, decreased soil fertility, decreased water quality, and heavy river siltation, all of which aggravate local poverty. This forest had 28,000 ha in the 1970s, while in 2005, the remnant forest was 600 ha. And today, the Gishwati Forest Reserve is 1,484 ha.
Gishwati Reserve has 58 Species of trees and shrubs which includes the following;
- Indigenous Hardwoods
- Macaranga Kilimandscharica
- Carapa Grandiflora
- Entandrophagrama Excelsum
- Symohonia Globulifera.
- Giant Tree Ferns
- Blue Lichen.
The reserve is rich in animals including the following;
- Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurtii)
- Golden monkey
- Blue monkey
- L’Hoest’s monkey known as mountain monkey.
- Black and white colobus.
- Red river hog (Potamochoerus porcus), the
- Black front duiker (Cephalophus nigrifrons)
- Southern tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus)
- Woodhoopoes (Phoeniculidae)
- White-headed Woodhoopoe (Phoeniculus bollei)
- Old World Warblers (Sylviidae)
- Mountain Yellow Warbler (Chloropeta similis).
Gishwati Forest Reserve is going through restoration efforts supported by Great Ape Trust expected to create a 50km forest corridor to connect the chimpanzees to Nyungwe National Park to protect 15 chimpanzees that are on the brink of extinction.
The tourist activities
The tourist activities in the reserve include the following;
- Bird watching
- Hiking the Congo Nile Trail
- Chimpanzee Tracking
- Butterfly watching
Challenges of Gishwati Reserve
The challenges facing the park including the following;
- Exploitation of the forests by the local people for commercial products such as charcoal, timber, medicine, and food has been the main driver of this deforestation.
- The forest systems became fragmented due to population increase and deforestation.
- The area has been degraded for cattle ranching and agriculture.
- The land has been degraded erosion, landslides, reduced water quality and soil infertile