Silvery whale-headed storks and 670 other bird species share Rwanda with its world-famous population of mountain gorillas. So do the world’s biggest earthworms, blue and a foot (30 cm) long.

Bulky, intelligent mountain gorillas made world-famous by he book and film “Gorillas in the Mist” build leafy nests and orage on seemingly inedible stinging nettles in Rwanda’s haze-shrouded heights, part of the Virunga Volcanoes which stretch also into Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.  

Black-and-white colobus monkeys with flowing white whiskers and shoulder streamers travel with prodigious leaps through dense tropical forests in troops up to 400-strong—largest arboreal primate groups in Africa. Shimmering golden monkeys found only in these mountains chatter in the bamboo, among a dozen or so primate species in this tiny, beautiful, landlocked central African country astride the eastern Rift. It has one of the continent’s richest and most endangered wildlife populations.

Hippos lounge in wild swamps where semi-aquatic sitatunga antelopes splash and graze. Giraffes, elephants, and gazelles forage in savannah and scrub mindful of lions close by.

An amazing 670 bird species include big, silvery whale-headed storks or shoebills—not actually storks but resembling them, with massive heads and large yellow eyes—and multicolored Rwenzori or mountain touracos, unnoticed until they spread crimson wings. Rwanda is a crossroads for migrating raptors—sometimes 550 Eurasian buteos an hour in AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK.

On slopes of six spectacular volcanoes rising over 13,000 feet (4,000 m) are more than 100 kinds of orchids growing in fern and moss-hung hagenia trees. This ecological richness survives precariously in a country devastated by civil war which killed up to one million persons; then by volcanic eruptions which brought great numbers of refugees from neighboring Congo, many into protected wildlife areas where they squatted and now live. Population growth continues unabated—Rwanda has one of the world’s highest birth rates. All this exacerbates problems such as habitat destruction and poaching and sets back efforts to encourage tourism on which popular support and effective protection of wild areas depends.

Historically a strong conservation ethic exists. By 1983 this little country a fifth the size of England—10,160 square miles (26,638 km2)—had set aside almost 17 percent of its land (not including forest reserves) in a protected areas system.



Nwungwe National Park

Akagera National Park

More about the Reserves in Rwanda

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