Africa distilled

I am currently in Rwanda with Paula Kahumbu from WildlifeDirect and Dr Craig Hatkoff, who together with his daughter co-authored a book about Owen and Mzee and more recently, on a baby gorilla. This has been an amazing trip and I don’t even know where to start. One of the main reasons for coming here was to look for new species of insects associated with the mountain gorillas and their precious habitats. This will be a long term project and I’m hoping to just help out right now with developing the preliminary butterfly checklist. The pictures in this post show the volcanoes of the Volcanoes National Park and some typical views of the countryside.

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Rwanda is an amazing, beautiful, green and peaceful country. The country is currently making huge strides in development, stability and a safe and secure place for investment and development. It is so different from the drylands of Kenya. The landscape is made up almost entirely of rolling hills that tumble down to beautiful lakes, with the spectacular Virunga volcanic range on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ugand in the northwest, and the vast, muggy Akagara swamp-savannah in the East towards the border with Tanzania.

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The Virunga volcano chain is one of Africa’s most spectacular massifs. They rise from the hilly plain high up into the sky, strewn with mist and cloud more than half the time. Their forested flanks are home to the incredible mountain gorillas, who along with the chimpanzee and bonobo are humankind’s closest surviving relatives on the planet. When the clouds shift, the steep volcanic cones are briefly visible, their mottled flanks farmed up to the very edge of the Parc des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park). This truly is ‘Africa distilled’ as the author Isak Dinesen summed up the equatorial highlands of Africa. It is bright and sunny, yet never hot, and crisply cool at night – just the most perfect weather in my opinion!

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From the little that I’ve seen of the countryside so far, what’s most impressive is the intensity and diversity of the cultivation. As a landlocked country in the heart of Central Africa with a population of over 9 million people, Rwanda needs to work very hard to feed its people. Basically every square inch of land that can be cultivated is. And the farms are incredible, perched on terraced slopes and carved out of rock and floodplains.

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So many different crops are grown in gorgeous mosaic of intensive cultivation. Beans, maize, rice, potatoes, cassava, wheat, tree tomatoes, passion fruits, papaya, mangoes… the list is endless. The combination of equatorial sunshine, fertile volcanic loam soils and industrious people make for an incredibly productive agrarian system, allowing both tropical and temperate crops to be cultivated side by side. (Both Paula and I have been gorging on the fruit, especially the extra-yummy tree tomato juice!).

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There’s lots and lots to write about, especially the wonderful insects and plants and of course the gorillas – more on that soon! So look out for my next post will highlight the amazing insects of this unique volcanic part of Africa

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