Geography of Rwanda

Geographical Facts about Rwanda

Rwanda owes its mountainous topography to tis position on the eastern rim of the Albertline Rift Valley, a western arm of the Great Rift Valley which cuts through Africa from the Red Sea to Mozambique. The country’s largest freshwater body, Lake Kivu, which forms the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), is effectivly a large sump hermmed in by the Rift Valley walls, while its highest peak in the Volcanic Virung chain-are geologically modern (and in some cases still active) products of the same tectonic process that started froming the Rift Valley 20 million years ago. The Rift Valley escarpment running through western Rwanda is also a watershed between Africa’s two largest drainage system: the Nile and the Congo. Western and Central Rwanda are characterised by a seemingly endless vista of steep mountains, interspersed with several substantial lakes whose irregular shape follows the mountains that surround them. Much of this part of the country lies at elevations of between 1,500 m and 2,500 m. Only in the far east of the country, along the Tanzania border, do the steep mountains give way to the lower-lying, flatter terrain of the lake Victoria Basin. The dominant geographical feature of this part of the country is the Kagera River and associated network of swamps and small lakes runinng along the Tanzanian border, eventually to flow into Lake Victoria, making it most remote source of the world’s longest river, The Nile. Much of this ecosystem is protected within Akagera National Park.


In prehistoric times, as much as a third of what is now Rwanda was covered in montane rainforest, with the remainder of the highlands surpprting open grassland. Since the advent of Iron-Age technology and agriculture some 2,000 years ago, much of Rwanda’s natural vegetaion has been replaced by agriculture, a process that has accelerated dramtically in the last 100 years. The only large stand of forest left in Rwanda today is Nyungwe, in the southwest, through several other small relic forest patches are dotted around the country, notably Gishwati and Mukura forest. Patches of true forest still occur on the Virunggas, through most of the natural vegetation on this range consists of bamboo forest and open moorland. Outside of Nyungwe and the Virungas, practically no montane grassland is left in Rwanda; the highlands are instead dominated by the terraced agriculture that gives the Rwandan countryside much of the distinctive character. The far east supports an altogether different vegetation: the characteristic African ‘bush’ a mosaic of savannah woodland and grassland dominated by thorny acacia trees.


Rwanda naturally supports a widely varied fauna, but the rapid human population growth in recent decades, with its by-products of habitat loss and poaching, had resulted in the extirpation of most large mammals species outside of a few designated conservation areas. Rwanda today has three national parks — Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe National Park — along with a few smaller forest reserves. Each of the three established national parks protects a very different ecosystem and combination of large mammals, for which reason greater detail on the fauna of each reserve is given under the appropriate regional section. Broaddly speaking, however, Akagera supports a typical savannah fauna dominated by a variety of antelopes, other grazer such as zebra, buffalo, giraffe, the aquatic hippopotamus, and plain predators such as lion, leopard and spotted hyena. Nyungwe and Akagera National Park probably supports a similar range of large mammals 500 years ago. Today, however, their faunas differ greatly, mostly as a result of extensive deforestation on the lower slopes of the Virungas. The Volcanoes today support bamboo specialists such as golden monkey and mountain gorilla, as well as relict populations of habitat-tolerant species such as buffalo and elephant. The latter two species are extinct in Nyungwe, but this vast forest still supports one of Africa’s richest varieties of forest specialists, ranging from 13 types of primate to golden cat, duiker and giant forest hog. Despite the retreat of most large mammals into reserves, Rwanda remains a rewarding destination for game viewing: the volcanoes park is the best place in the world to track mountain gorillas, while Nyungwe offers visitors a good chance of seeing Chimpanzees and 400-strong troops of Angola colobus monkeys — the largest arboreal primate troops in Africa today. Rwanda is a wonderful destination for birdwatchers, with an incredible 700 species recorded in an area smaller than Belgium and half the size of Scotland. Greater detail si supplied in regional chapters, but prime birdwatching destinations includes Nyungwe (310 species including numerous forest rarities and 27 Albetine Rift endemics) and Akagera (480 species of savannah bird, raptor and water bird). Almost anywhere in the country can, however. prove rewarding to birderss: an hour in the garden of one of the capital’s larger hotels is likely to throw up a variety of colourful robin-chats, weavers, finches, flycatchers and sunbirds.

These were the Geographical facts about Rwanda. We hope that you come and visit us soon.

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