Nyungwe Forest
From above

by Gaël R. Vande weghe


In 1983, my father playfully remarked to Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, “Why do you waste your time in the Virungas, when Nyungwe is so much richer and more beautiful“. Reflecting on the significance of both places for Rwanda and broader conservation efforts, I chuckle at his comment. Yet, I understand his unique perspective on environmental beauty and biodiversity, which many often misinterpreted. Afterall he had already spent years studying the forest, which at the time must have been a pretty lonely adventure.

Fast forward 40 years, Nyungwe has just been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site under criteria X. This honors the forest’s role as a paramount natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, especially those with species of exceptional universal value from a scientific or conservation standpoint. This narrative has come full circle, and I eagerly anticipate the completion of the book we’re currently crafting about the Natural History of Rwanda.

I’m familiar with Nyungwe, especially its accessible regions, but its vastness still holds countless secrets. To me, Nyungwe stands as the crown jewel of mountain forests in East Africa. Admittedly, I might be slightly partial in this view.

Last year, with African ParksI had the absolute privilege to be part of a three-day aerial survey of the forest. Witnessing the diversity of habitats from above felt like the culmination of decades of dedication, passion, and curiosity. The reward was not just in seeing but truly understanding the landscape below, which would have been much less easy years before. I captured thousands of photos, and each review reveals something previously unnoticed.

Here’s a glimpse:

Nyungwe, as you’ve never seen before.


The cliffs on the eastern side of Mt. Muzimu in the north.

Dense canopy of Macaranga trees in the eastern part of the forest.

Uniform Hagenia canopy on the slopes of Mt. Ruhindu 

A ridge on the western slope of Bigugu, with heath forest

on the north and mature Podocarpus on the south.

Tall heath forest on Mt. Bigugu

Spectacular ridges with Heath and Podocarpus adjacent to Bigugu

Open canopy high-altitude forest in the eastern part of the park.

The incredible Podocarpus forest in the

south-east plateau largely unvisited.

There are many high altitude wetlands in the eastern part of the forest.

The river flowing out of Uwasenkoko.

Mixed canopy of Carapa, Syzygium and Macaranga,

with lots of dried Sericostachys creepers.

Almost mono-dominant canopy of flowering Dichaetantera corymbosa.

Around 2,250m with Parinari forest on the ridges coming down from Uwinka.

Mature Parinari trees of the Umuyove trail.

A large and old emergent Newtonia.

The canopy walkway below Uwinka.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge, in Gisakura.

Water flowing out of the Kamiranzovu wetland.

The northern edge of Kamiranzovu wetland.

Open waters make the limit between the central part of

Kamiranzovu and the decaying tree line.

The oldest trees on the edge of the wetland,

are ancient decaying relic of the mature swamp forest.

A nice encounter with chimps, on the boardwalk

of the southern part of the swamp.

An emergent Newtonia on the edge of the Rubyiro valley.

The lower parts of the Rubyiro valley, with tall Newtonia trees.

The very steep southern edge of the forest, 

in valleys flowing into the Kabulantwa.

Large Newtonia, Symphonia and Parinari crowns.

Giant mahoganies Entandrophragma excelsum

(Imiyove) in the steep valleys of the south west.

The largely unknown Tangaro valley

on the south west of the forest.