The Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB) and University of Rwanda BSc programs in conservation biology are collaborating with Bisate Lodge, a luxury lodge in northern Rwanda on research and monitoring projects to help build research capacity in students and staff and contribute to tropical forest restoration.
Bisate Lodge is located in a natural amphitheatre created from an eroded volcanic cone along the edge of Volcanoes National Park boundary. The word ‘bisate’ means ‘pieces’ in Kinyarwanda, which refers to the fragmentation of the cone through natural erosion. The peaks of the volcanoes Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno can be seen from the lodge above the afroalpine forests of Volcanoes National Park. The lodge consists of six en-suite rooms that maximize comfort, warmth and scenery while retaining environmental principles and culture of the surrounding rural communities of Rwanda (https://www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/bisate-lodge).
Among the environmental projects at Bisate Lodge is habitat restoration. The lodge is working to reforest 43 hectares of land by planting Hagenia and Dombeya trees, indigenous trees in Rwanda. Agriculture on the reforestation site ceased in 2016 and active and passive reforestation and revegetation of the site was initiated. The objectives of the project are 1) to create a nature experience outside the national park for guests, 2) to create a natural environment around the lodge, 3) to attract mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian species that will hopefully establish populations on the property, with an emphasis on Albertine Rift endemics, and 4) to use this effort as a ‘proof of concept project’ for more ambitious reforestation projects in the future. Bisate Lodge has planted around 15,000 trees to date and has established an indigenous tree nursery.
Figure 1. Bisate Lodge, northern Rwanda Photo: Internet
This year the CoEB and University of Rwanda Conservation Biology Programs collaborated with Bisate Lodge on a unique approach to building capacity for tropical forest restoration. BSc students will develop and implement research and monitoring projects with Bisate Lodge staff to evaluate the progress of the restoration efforts on the Lodge property. Student participation in these projects will provide an excellent learning opportunity in how to conduct research, how to implement environmental restoration projects and how to monitor impacts of management actions on biodiversity and the ecosystem. Two top performing students will be selected each year to collect data on the forest restoration project for their final research projects. Bisate Lodge will provide these two students with lodging and food while they are completing their projects as well as transportation costs.
The first two students to be selected, Ellene Mukankusi and Alice Mukase from the University of Rwanda Biology Department, started their field work in March 2018 under CoEB supervision and Bisate Lodge sponsorship.
Ellene Mukankusi, studying Botany and Conservation, is working on a project entitled ‘Designing a long-term, repeatable measure of tree growth rates for key reforestation species.’ She focused her research on Hagenia abyssinica. Ellene will collect data on tree growth parameters including diameter at breast height, tree height and canopy spread of planted trees of known ages. Data will help provide insights about reforestation approaches in this region.
Figure 2. Ellene Mukankusi, Botany and Zoology student at UR in the field at Bisate Lodge. Photo: CoEB
Alice Mukase, studying Zoology and Conservation, is working on a research project entitled ‘Designing a repeatable bird survey at Bisate Lodge.’ She conducted bird surveys on the Bisate property to begin a baseline assessment of bird diversity in the reforested areas.
Figure3.Alice Mukase, Zoology and Conservation student at UR, identifying birds at Bisate Lodge. Photo: CoEB
Both Ellene and Alice are working under the supervision of Prof. Beth A. Kaplin, Acting Director of the CoEB. The mission of the CoEB is to enhance the knowledge of biodiversity conservation and natural resources management for sustainable development. The CoEB hopes to continue this relationship with Bisate Lodge and Wilderness Safaris in order to train students in field sampling techniques and biodiversity monitoring, and contribute to the restoration of biodiversity on the Bisate property. Much appreciation to Wilderness Safaris and Chris Roche, and Bisate Lodge especially Ingrid and Rob Bass, for supporting this endeavour.