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Gishwati U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy

Gishwati Area Conservation Program

GishwatiOne hundred years ago, Gishwati was Rwanda’s second largest indigenous forest. It extended 1,000 square kilometers or approximately a quarter million acres (100,000 hectares). The Gishwati Forest was reduced to about one fourth that size by the late 1980s due to human encroachment, deforestation and small-scale farming. The aftermath of the civil war and genocide in the mid-90s resulted in the resettlement of refugees to the area and further encroachment. Today, Gishwati has about 2,500 acres of forest and a small population of 14 chimpanzees.

But for Gishwati…like the people of Rwanda, there is a bright future. In the fall of 2007, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and Ted Townsend, founder of Great Ape Trust of Iowa and Earthpark, unveiled at the Clinton Global Initiative, Rwanda’s first national conservation park. In December, Gishwati was selected as the site for the project – setting into motion one of Africa’s most ambitious forest restoration and ecological research efforts.

Developing a chimpanzee field study site at Gishwati and restoring the forest are two significant goals of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program.  But the effort goes well beyond great apes and reforestation. It is about the people of Rwanda and improving their lives and livelihoods. This collaborative effort will reduce poverty’s threat to conservation by improving water quality, controlling floods, promoting ecotourism and enhancing local employment.

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In a 10-part journal, Dr. Ben Beck offers a personal account of experiences in Rwanda that will lead to the establishment of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program in the Gishwati Forest Reserve.

Ted Townsend, founder and president of Townsend Vision, has created three complementary educational and social programs designed to meet the many challenges facing the 21st century. Great Ape Trust of Iowa, Earthpark and the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy resulted from his lifelong interest in conservation, sustainability and restoration. Each program is grounded in science and infuses Townsend’s passion to facilitate respectful collaborations with other cultures.