Chimpanzee habitat restoration in Rwanda


Vince Shacks


Saving a species from the brink of extinction

Wilderness Rwanda Chimpanzee Giswati Forest

Chimpanzee and other wildlife populations in Rwanda’s Gishwati Forest, part of Gishwati-Mukura National Park, are showing a significant recovery thanks to a partnership between Wilderness, the Rwanda Development Board and the Forest of Hope Association.


Wilderness’ vision is to develop a conservation economy around Gishwati Forest in Gishwati-Mukura National Park, combining government efforts through the RDB with the benefits of high-end tourism and focused conservation programmes.

Wilderness aims to achieve sustainable commercial benefits for the custodians of Gishwati Forest, the adjacent villages and its fauna and flora through sensitive high-end conservation tourism that is employment intensive, engages the surrounding communities and has a positive impact on biodiversity and ecosystem-service conservation.


During their Gishwati Forest experience, visitors have the opportunity to see chimpanzees, as well as endangered golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, and near-endemic bird species range-restricted to the Albertine Rift Valley and high-altitude forest. Hiking to the waterfalls found in Gishwati Forest provides another exclusive and intimate experience.


Actively participate and engage in a world-leading example of community-based conservation through our partnership with the RDB, the FHA, the University of Rwanda and other universities and neighbouring communities.

The problem

Gishwati Forest's Eastern chimpanzees, & other species, neared extinction due to habitat loss.

The cause

Human activity led to environmental degradation, reducing forest habitat and causing biodiversity loss.

The solution

Partnership to support people, restore habitat & protect endangered species.

Our approach to solving it

The RDB oversees all national parks in Rwanda. In 2019, Gishwati Forest formally became part of Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park. This status gives Gishwati Forest the official protection it deserves.


Gishwati Forest has suffered a 98% reduction in size and forest cover since the 1970s.  This has resulted in environmental degradation, with landslides, erosion, loss of biodiversity, flooding, and silted rivers, which impact the downstream hydro plants and increase local poverty. Many mammal and other species, which were found here during the 1980s and even 1990s, no longer occur.


The existence of a relict forest fragment and small chimpanzee, golden monkey and L’Hoest’s monkey populations (now recovering and expanding) is largely due in recent years to the efforts of a single grassroots NGO, the FHA, which has worked to secure the goodwill of the neighbouring communities. The people have been encouraged to value the ecosystem services provided by the forest and to also consider potential future economic benefits through conservation and tourism. Wilderness’ partnership with the FHA has ensured that we are able to build further on this relationship with the people, and to increase the sustainability of these efforts.


  • Wilderness forged partnerships with the Rwanda Development Board and the FHA, a local conservation research NGO, in a bid to reverse the degraded ecological condition of the park.
  • Wilderness believes that sensitive high-end conservation tourism can unlock the value of the forest, with the revenue generated used to enhance its protection and restoration, as well as benefit the local rural people surrounding the Gishwati sector in particular.
  • The partnership brings together Rwanda’s government and the two conservation organisations to manage the Gishwati Forest Concession, each with a specific mandate.
  • Wilderness purchased land adjacent to the national park with the aim of expanding the Gishwati Forest habitat – and by extension, the habitat for the Eastern chimpanzee and other species.
  • With the assistance of the FHA, Wilderness started an expansive reforestation programme to restore this land through an on-site indigenous tree nursery; more than 21,000 indigenous trees have been planted to date (1 January 2024) and are now independent of our care.
  • Development of the tourism experience in the park creates economic opportunities for the surrounding local communities.
  • Opportunities range from direct employment in the Park as a ranger, porter or trekker, to employment in the hospitality sector as a chef, housekeeper or waiter.
  • Secondary opportunities are created through delivering supplies needed, providing arts & crafts to visitors, and showcasing the community’s cultural heritage.
  • With greater purchasing power, thanks to a more reliable and sustainable income, local communities are less dependent on subsistence farming to feed their families. This protects the land against deforestation.


Employing people from local communities empowers individuals and families to reduce reliance on subsistence farming, which protects wildlife and enables us to rebuild populations of critically endangered species.


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Our results and progress

By 2008, an isolated group of chimpanzees inhabiting the forest was almost extinct, with just 13 individuals left. Through joint conservation efforts between 2008 and 2011, the population increased by 46% to 19. Since 2019, Wilderness has supported a team of researchers, trackers and agronomists studying and habituating the chimpanzees, and reforesting the land adjacent to the park. The Gishwati reforestation programme covers 20 hectares of land. Through this project, the teams have planted tens of thousands of indigenous trees here, and the total number of chimps recorded in 2023 has reached 30 individuals – an increase of 130% since 2008.


Increase in chimp population


Chimp members thriving in 2023




Indigenous trees planted

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