Satellite images released by NASA show nearly complete destruction of Rwanda’s Gishwati Forest between 1986 and 2001. Deforestation of the forest reserve is largely the result of subsistence harvesting and cultivation by refugees in the aftermath of the country’s 1994 genocide. Overall only 600 hectares of Gishwati’s original 100,000 hectares of forest remain, a loss of 99.4 percent.
“According to UNEP, the reserve’s forests were largely intact in 1978, and substantial forest cover still remained in 1986. But in the 15 years that elapsed between these images—a time that spanned the country’s tragic genocide—wave after wave of refugees arrived in Gishwati Forest and began clearing it, often for subsistence farming,” wrote Michon Scott and Rebecca Lindsey on NASA’s Earth Observatory site. “By 2001, only a small circular patch of native forest remained—1,500 acres of the forest’s original 250,000.”
NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite captured the left-side image on July 19, 1986, while NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite captured the right-side image on December 11, 2001. Densely forested areas are deep green.
Large tea estates and plantations now occupy the park, which is located in the northwestern part of the country.
The loss of forest has carried significant environmental costs, says NASA.
“Rwandan deforestation was driven by the need for food, medicine, charcoal, and timber, especially for commercial products. But the loss of so many trees in a rainy, mountainous country has had severe environmental consequences,” write Scott and Lindsey. “In addition to tremendous loss of biodiversity, the region experiences soil erosion and degradation and landslides.”
Conservationists are now working to restore a corridor of native forest between Gishwati and Nyungwe Forest National Park, in southern Rwanda. The initiative would provide connectivity for wildlife — including chimpanzees — to move between forest areas.
(06/02/2009) Accounting for roughly half of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2005, Brazil is the most important supply-side player when it comes to developing a climate framework that includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). But Brazil’s position on REDD contrasts with proposals put forth by other tropical forest countries, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a negotiating block of 15 countries. Instead of advocating a market-based approach to REDD, where credits generated from forest conservation would be traded between countries, Brazil is calling for a giant fund financed with donations from industrialized nations. Contributors would not be eligible for carbon credits that could be used to meet emission reduction obligations under a binding climate treaty.
(06/01/2009) Major international companies are unwittingly driving the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest through their purchases of leather, beef and other products supplied from the Brazil cattle industry, alleges a new report from Greenpeace. The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, is based on a three-year undercover investigation of the Brazilian cattle industry, which accounts for 80 percent of Amazon deforestation and roughly 14 percent of the world’s annual forest loss. Greenpeace found that Brazilian beef companies are important suppliers of raw materials used by leading global brands, including Adidas/Reebok, Nike, Carrefour, Eurostar, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Honda, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, IKEA, Kraft, Tesco and Wal-Mart, among others.
(06/01/2009) Despite worldwide attention and concern, prime orangutan habitat across Sumatra and Borneo continues to be destroyed by loggers and palm oil developers, resulting in the death of up to 3,000 orangutans per year (of a population less than 50,000). Conservation groups like Borneo Orangutan Survival report rescuing record numbers of infant orangutans from oil palm plantations, which are now a far bigger source of orphaned orangutans than the illicit pet trade. The volume of orangutans entering care centers is such that these facilities are running out of room for rescued apes, with translocated individuals sometimes waiting several months until suitable forest is found for reintroduction. Even then they aren’t safe; in recent months loggers have started clearing two important reintroduction sites (forests near Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra and Mawas in Central Kalimantan). Meanwhile across half a dozen rehabilitation centers in Malaysia and Indonesia, more than 1,000 baby orangutans—their mothers killed by oil palm plantation workers or in the process of forest clearing—are being trained by humans for hopeful reintroduction into the wild, assuming secure habitat can be found. Dismayed by the rising orangutan toll, a grassroots organization in Central Kalimantan is fighting back. Led by Hardi Baktiantoro, the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) has mounted a guerrilla-style campaign against companies that are destroying orangutan habitat in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo.
(05/25/2009) A partnership between local villages and conservation groups, headed up by the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), has led to the creation of a new 1,847 square mile (4,875 square kilometer) reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The reserve will save some of the region’s last pristine forests: ensuring the survival of the embattled bonobo—the least-known of the world’s four great ape species—and protecting a wide variety of biodiversity from the Congo peacock to the dwarf crocodile. However, the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is worth attention for another reason: every step of its creation—from biological surveys to reserve management—has been run by the local Congolese NGO and villages of Kokolopori.
(09/15/2008) Rwanda and Burundi have agreed to protect a large tract of tropical mountain forest that is home to chimpanzees, rare owl-faced monkeys, and other wildlife.
(03/17/2008) conservationists in Rwanda have launched an ambitious reforestation project that aims to create a forest corridor to link an isolated group of chimpanzees to larger areas of habitat in Nyungwe National Park. The initiative, called the Rwandan National conservation Park, is backed by the Rwandan government, the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, and Earthpark, a group seeking to build an indoor rainforest in the U.S. Midwest.