Nyungwe faces many major threats to the forest, caused mostly by the huge human population living around the forest. Nyungwe’s biodiversity leads to a great number of natural resources that are important to the livelihood of the surrounding human communities, including bamboo, honey, timber, and wild animals. Farms are encroaching on the boundaries of the forest, leading to habitat fragmentation and loss for Nyungwe’s natural communities. Below is a short synopsis of some of the more important threats to Nyungwe.
Large mammal poaching has been incredibly high in Nyungwe in the past. As a result, duiker densities are low, buffalos were extirpated in the early 1980s, and the last elephants were shot in 1999. Currently hunters trap smaller animals like rats and squirrels.
Honey Collection and Forest Fires
Residents of the area surrounding Nyungwe often search for wild beehives in the forest. Honey-hunters often use fire to smoke bees from the hives. These fires sometimes spread, resulting in the loss of large tracts of forest. El Niño leaves Nyungwe particularly dry, resulting in massive collateral fire damage. Entire hillsides in Nyungwe are nearly or completely devoid of trees due to this damage.
Human Encroachment and Habitat Fragmentation
High human populations lead residents to seek out land for farming within the forest. This leads to a highly fragmented landscape, in which habitat areas are isolated and form islands in formerly connected forest. Habitat fragmentation disrupts the movement and territory patterns of animals, while interrupting ecological processes such as nutrient flow and seed dispersal. It also causes the forest to become more vulnerable to invasive species. Another threat to the forest is excessive removal of bamboo.
Throughout history, mining for gold and more recently columbo-tantalite have been economically important in Rwanda. Mining camps can be found throughout Nyungwe and often have up to 3,000 inhabitants. (See Kristensen and Shaban 1992 and Kristensen and Fimbel 1994 in publication list for more information.)