Rwanda's geographical location along the Albertine Rift confers a rich biological diversity [1], which ranges from volcanic mountains in the west, to lowland forests, woods and grasslands in the east, hence Rwanda’s name “the Land of a Thousand Hills”.  Rwanda's national parks, natural forests and wetlands cover almost 10% of the national territory [1].

Rwanda represents 40% of the mammal species across Africa [2], and is a paradise for primatologists [1][2]. The country is home to the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), an important threatened species that generates tourist income [2], and the chimpanzee (Pan troglodyte), a critically endangered species with only around 500 individuals remaining.

Despite Rwanda’s relatively stable Red List Index over the last 25 years, large mammals (including elephants, giraffes and buffaloes) have experienced significant declines due to pressure from poaching and habitat loss [3]. For example, Rwanda’s black rhino population, previously extinct and reintroduced in 2016, has faced serious declines (from 16 individuals in 2016, to 5 in 2018).


Threats to biodiversity in Rwanda include habitat loss due to encroachment of agricultural activities, overexploitation of natural resources through poaching and deforestation, and increased socio-economic activities such as mining, energy and tourism. In addition, climate change is also a potential threat of unknown magnitude, which induces habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, and accelerates biodiversity loss in Rwanda [4].

As Rwanda’s rural population is heavily dependent on agriculture, and many agricultural practices in Rwanda focus on increasing agricultural production at the expense of conserving natural resources, agriculture is a key factor leading to intensive loss of biodiversity [5].

In addition, Rwanda’s continued heavy dependence on wood and other biomass for the country’s energy needs poses a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability. Approximately 86% of primary energy use is from biomass in the form of wood that is used directly as fuel (57%) or is converted into charcoal (23%) and other uses (6%) [4].

Tourism is an important source of income in Rwanda. However, tourism and development activities can have a negative impact on biodiversity [4]. For example, Akagera National Park had healthy populations of a wide range of wild animal species; these have been depleted due to significant habitat loss, and intensive illegal hunting, which is still a serious threat to all species, especially the Shoebill, Hyena and Sitatunga [3].


Key policies and governance approach

Rwanda has endeavored to develop a legal and institutional framework favorable to the implementation of the environment. Regarding biodiversity, the two most direct policy statements are the National Biodiversity Policy (2011) and the revised National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2016) [4].

Major objectives of the NBSAP include: improve environmental stability for natural ecosystems and their biodiversity; restore degraded ecosystems and maintain equilibrium among biological communities; establish an appropriate framework for access to genetic resources and equitable sharing of benefits arising from biodiversity use and ecosystems services; improve policy, legal and institutional framework for a better management and conservation of national biodiversity; and mainstream gender issues into biodiversity planning and capacity building activities [6].

Responsibility for the implementation of biodiversity policy rests with REMA, acting as the regulatory authority for the environment and the focal point responsible for reporting to the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol [4]. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is responsible for conserving biodiversity in Rwanda's protected areas and developing sustainable tourism. Other public institutions are also concerned with biodiversity conservation through integration activities, public education, and research and development [7]. In addition, since 2007, Rwanda has created a Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management (CoEB) [7].


Successes and Remaining Challenges

Although the mandate to protect and conserve biodiversity overlaps several government ministries and agencies [4], there is no central government agency whose primary mandate is to protect and conserve biodiversity in Rwanda [3]. As such, there is no single government institution where it can be assumed that most of their programs directly target biodiversity objectives. The Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management is only mandated to undertake research on biodiversity and knowledge management, but even so, it lacks adequate funding [4].

In general, Rwanda continues to be heavily dependent on foreign aid and this is no exception for biodiversity budgets, where grants and external loans account for 39 to 72% of total government spending on biodiversity (on average 56%) [7]. This dependence on aid, the fluctuations in spending on biodiversity and the poor integration of biodiversity into the natural resources sector, create great uncertainty about the future management of biodiversity in Rwanda [7].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Rwanda has recently created one of Africa’s newest national parks, Gishwati-Mukura, to protect ancient rainforests and chimpanzees. It is made up of two separate forests - the larger Mukura and smaller Gishwati. The creation of the park was made possible by the support of GEF and World Bank through the Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) project implemented by REMA in close collaboration with Rwanda Forestry Authority, Rwanda Development Board and Districts.

The Rwanda Development Board is now working on a multi-phased conservation and tourism management programme for Gishwati-Mukura focused on ecology and conservation initiatives including ranger presence, law enforcement, science, engagement with community cooperatives, human-wildlife conflict resolution, research, environmental monitoring and responsible tourism promotion. The programme is being developed in partnership with the local government and Imizi, a subsidiary of Wilderness Safaris [8].

In addition, Rwanda is embarking on an ambitious project to expand Volcanoes National Park and ensure a bright future for the mountain gorillas. This initiative will expand the park by approximately 23%, increasing its size by 37.4 square kilometres (3,740 hectares). A larger park will improve the mountain gorilla habitat and support a 15-20% increase in the population size and a 50% reduction in infant gorilla mortality [8].

  • Despite the country's conservation efforts, its biodiversity remains under pressure. Rwanda needs investments in the biodiversity sector and to ensure that the value of biodiversity is reflected in broader national policies and in the pricing of the benefits associated with the use of biodiversity (Ms. Madeleine Nyiratuza, Head of Sustainable Growth unit at UNDP).
  • Rwanda should continue to support research on biodiversity and environmental statistics relevant to changes in biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Integrate local knowledge into biodiversity conservation policies and plans.
  • Diversify the economy beyond agriculture and dependence on the exploitation of natural resources.
  • Strengthen the capacities of institutions for the planning and implementation of biodiversity and ecosystem management.
  • Continue support for ecotourism and raising awareness on maintaining high tourism ecological and social safeguards.


[2] [Online]. Available:

[3] GoR, "Rwanda 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity," Government of Rwanda (GoR), 2020.

[4] Rwanda BIOFIN, "Biodiversity Finance Policy and Institutional review," Rwanda Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), 2017.

[5] GoR, "Rwanda 5th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity," Government of Rwanda (GoR), 2014.

[6] [Online]. Available:

[7] Rwanda BIOFIN, "Biodiversity Expenditure Review," Rwanda Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), 2017.

[8] [Online]. Available: