As Margrit and Russ travel Africa they discover what’s happening to wildlife in progressive Rwanda.
Mere meters before you get to the Rwandan border from Tanzania there is this strange crossover. Suddenly without warning you’re driving on the right side of the road. This is but the first of many surprising changes we find upon entering Rwanda.
We’d planned only to pass through Rwanda en route to Uganda. However, we stay for two week to explore this small, densely populated country, known for its infamous genocide of 1994. Now, a little over 20 years later this once war torn country is one of the cleanest, most progressive, least corrupt in Africa.
Immediately after leaving the border post the road is better. There are drivable shoulders. Trimmed bushes on the roadside. No rubbish in the ditches. It’s literally like driving into a totally different Africa.
Every inch of land seems to be put to use. There are banana and paw paw trees, maize and rice fields, and vegetable gardens. Unlike other countries we’ve traveled, large indigenous trees have been spared along the perimeters of the fields and homes.
It’s not until later, when we drive through the Nyungwe National Park rainforest, that we realize what Rwanda must have once been like… pristine jungle teeming with wildlife. Today, due to the density of the population it is mostly gone. There are people everywhere. The entire country seems to be one great big rural community.
Russ and I are very conflicted about all this. The people appear to be industrious and diligent farmers. The hills and even steep mountainsides (which are many) have been painstakingly cleared and carefully cultivated. However, the natural beauty is largely gone. The Africa covered in rainforest and alive with wild things is pretty much only found in picture books.
Kigali, the capital city, unlike many others in Africa, is clean, well-organized, not over run with humanity and vendors, and the traffic flows like in most western cities. A total surprise!
We learn the most about what’s happening to wildlife in progressive Rwanda from three people. Our trail guide in the Nyungwe National Park rainforest, a PhD student/consultant we meet at a camp outside the Volcano National Park, and a foreign embassy minister we meet later on holiday in southern Uganda. (Their names are not mentioned here as anything negative may be held against them by the Rwandan government.)
During our quiet night camping in the rainforest I’m astonished by just that, the quiet. Besides the brief calling of some night critter it is still. On our hike through the beautiful forest, it is quiet. I ask our guide, I’m told it’s because everything is hiding in the dense forest. However, later as we are in Bwindi National Park in Uganda we hear and see many different bird species from the road and in our camp.
During our day and night in Nyungwe we see a small troop of L’Hoeste’ monkeys coming through camp, a brightly colored Turaco and an Olive Baboon both at a great distance from the canopy walk, two small birds on the hike and that’s about it. Where are the birds?
Our guide tells us about how the communities around the rainforest are still a great threat. They poach with snares. Actually one of the guides has started a birding program with local students to encourage the preservation of the rainforest’s beautiful bird (so they must be there, we just didn’t see them!)
Not too long ago buffalo and other large mammals roamed the rainforest here. Sadly the last elephant was taken down by a trophy hunter in 1998. Since then the vines have grown uncurbed and are beginning to cause damage to the forest. There is talk about reintroduction of elephant.
Probably the scariest we learned while chatting to a fellow hiker at an overlook. He was from South Africa working in Rwanda on a helicopter survey team. This company is doing aerial surveys for the government to determine mineral deposits. Currently they were surveying the rainforest!
What’s happening to wildlife in progressive Rwanda?
During the genocide era the game reserves and forests were pillaged for food and resources. Apparently wildlife populations are still suffering. In the north western volcanic mountains small pockets of gorillas are being studied in an effort to protect them. Tourists come from across the globe, paying $750 each to do a gorilla trek. We’re told a portion of the money does go to help preserve these endangered mountain icons.
Why didn’t we go on a gorilla trek? Simply because it is too expensive and secondly because we like to avoid the touristy places. We prefer to support the smaller lesser known operations on the ground saving wildlife.
In many ways Rwanda is a fantastic place. However, the more westernized it becomes, the more the people become consumers the more the wild places and its inhabitants are forgotten.