Europe and Central Asia
9 Mar 2016

How the EU helps protect chimpanzees in Rwanda

The number of chimpanzees in the Gishwati Forest has risen from 13 in 2008 to 30 today. Photo: Forest of Hope Association
By Maaike Manten

It is hard work to find the last few remaining chimpanzees in the Gishwati Forest of Rwanda, listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red List (although some would argue this is probably a good thing). While the size of the forest has reduced significantly (from the 1970s to 2002, the 280 sq km forest had been reduced to 6 sq km), it is still a long walk – in the dark with no trails – to get to the place where the apes sleep in their nests.

The trackers of the Forest of Hope Association (FHA) in Rwanda know exactly where they are, though. FHA has been working tirelessly for the past seven years to expand the Gishwati Forest again and protect these chimpanzees – which numbered just 13 in 2008 – from human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat due to human encroachment, creation of cattle pastures, and resettlement of refugees following the 1994 genocide.

This is not an easy task in a country with one of the highest population densities in Africa. Nevertheless, thanks to the hard work of FHA and its partners, the forest’s size has increased to almost 15 sq km in two stages since 2005. It is still home to various other threatened and endangered species such as Golden Monkeys, Mountain Monkeys, Martial Eagles and Grey Crowned Cranes. The partnership is now linking up three forest patches, with the ultimate goal of connecting the Gishwati Forest with the Mukura Forest further to the South. In February, the government of Rwanda declared that both forests will be Rwanda’s fourth and newest national park.


The European Union, through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), supports the FHA by helping them work with local communities to protect the forest. The EU is one of the seven donors of CEPF (together with l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank); it joined in 2012 with a contribution of 18 million euros over five years. The CEPF aims to provide smaller scale grants to local and national civil society organisations, which works in tandem with these donors providing large scale funding to governments and international organisations directly.

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Local Regional Implementation Teams (RITs) are set up in each of the eight African biodiversity hotspots – the “richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth" according to British ecologist Norman Myers – where CEPF works to ensure the successful execution of its conservation strategies. RITs play a key role in linking the fund to local stakeholders and grantees. BirdLife International is the lead partner in the RITs of two African hotspots: the Eastern Afromontane hotspot (where the Gishwati Forest is located) and the Mediterranean Basin hotspot (where CEPF has enabled the Association Les Amis des Oiseaux, or BirdLife in Tunisia, to sustainably develop ecotourism to conserve key biodiversity areas in northern Tunisia).

The Gishwati Forest. Photo: FHA

In the case of the Gishwati Forest, this funding and implementation mechanism – which will run until mid-2017 – has worked perfectly. The entire area of the forest has now been either regenerated from pastures, reforested or is under natural assisted regeneration. Local rivers are healthier than before and floods downstream are decreasing. Local communities are not only the target of awareness campaigns on the forest’s importance and conservation activities, they are also involved in them. The number of chimpanzees has also more than doubled to 30 in the last eight years, thanks to regular patrols and local involvement in their protection.

FHA also supports locals in alternative livelihoods that do not destroy forest resource, such as beekeeping and tourism. Local support for its work in protecting the forest has increased from 27% in 2008 to 75% in 2013.

FHA has just produced a three-year interim management plan funded by CEPF for the forest, to protect it in the current transition period before it is turned into a national park. In the meantime, the government of Rwanda has received large-scale funding from the Global Environment Facility directly to support the new National Park in the long-term, building on FHA’s work.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.