NASA photos reveal destruction of 99% of rainforest park in Rwanda

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.


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."

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.

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