Gishwati forest circa 1986. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Rwanda has announced a planned expansion of the Gishwati National Conservation Park. The effort with increase the size of the park by 21 percent—from 3,018 acres to 3,665 acres—and marks the beginning of a conservation corridor, dubbed the "Forest of Hope," intended to help a group of endangered chimpanzees.The expansion will help other wildlife as well and lead to improvements in the water quality of the nearby Sebeya River. Small-scale agriculture has cleared the forest from the steep hillsides above the banks of the river, leading to frequent landslides and erosion. Dr. Benjamin Beck, director of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program, explained:
The water quality of the Sebeya River is linked to the health of local people and the national economy...the Sebeya is not only an important source of drinking water for local residents but it also provides hydroelectric power and water for beverage production downstream.
The corridor will help protect a group of 14 critically endangered chimpanzees. Image credit: Shiny Things/Flickr
Rejuvenating this area, though, is not a simple task. Already, more than 150 families have been relocated. Conservationists now face the challenge of reforesting 647 acres of cleared land. In spite of these challenges, Beck said that:
The reforestation of Kinyenkanda is a perfect example of win-win-win sustainable conservation. There are local and national economic benefits, the chimpanzees and other fauna will enjoy expanded habitat, and the environmental quality of the river and the atmosphere will be enhanced.
To help stimulate the local economy, a 100 meter buffer zone of fast growing, non-native trees—which nearby residents will be able to harvest—will be planted on either side of the corridor. In addition, laborers for the reforestation and two more wildlife rangers—bringing the count to six in total—will be hired locally, with preference given to relocated families.
The entire project is part of the plan laid out during the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative. The ultimate goal is to restore Rwanda's natural resources—which had be severely degraded after years of poor management and conflict—as a means of alleviating poverty.