40 per cent of fresh water in the country, the furthest source of River Nile and contributor of 30 per cent of national tourism revenue and you get Nyungwe National Park.
But all this is now threatened by poverty, say officials and conservationists. According to the two groups, it is poverty that is pushing members of the communities around the park into poaching and illegal mining.
Such unauthorised activities are a risk to biodiversity conservation in the natural forest, which plays a key ecological and economic role not just to the country but also to the region.
Now an anti-poaching campaign has been launched to sensitise the communities surrounding the park to get involved in conservation efforts.
One such member of the community is Bosco Nkezahayo, a former poacher from Nyamasheke district, who told Rwanda Today that poaching was his main source of income for 13 years.
“I used to make money out of poaching to buy cooking oil and salt,” he said after an anti-campaign launch, where 150kg of elephant tusks, weapons used in poaching and equipment used for illegal mining were burnt in a symbolic event to fight poaching.
According to Nyungwe park manager Louis Rugerinyange, 1kg of elephant tusks is sold at $2,500 on the black market.
Most animals targeted are boars and duikers but the forest also hosted elephants which have been extinct, the last was seen in 1999. Elephant tusks were seized as they were trafficked through the country.
Mr Nkezahayo said many poachers have formed co-operatives for income generating projects but there are still others who are involved in illegal wildlife activities.
“Because when he easily gets around Rwf7,000($9) per week, he stays and attracts others,” he said.
The 1,020-square kilometre Nyungwe Forest stretches across five districts and Burundi (where it’s called Kibira).
Experts root for economic empowerment in ending poaching and other illegal wildlife activities.
According to the tourism revenue sharing programme, five per cent of tourism revenues goes to community development around parks.
Nyungwe receives 30 per cent, Akagera 30 per cent and Virunga, the biggest attraction, receives 40 per cent.
“Five per cent is not enough but it helps the communities around the park,” said Mr Rugerinyange.
Funds from the revenue sharing programme are invested in income generating projects such as bee keeping and community development initiatives such as education and clean water access.
“The key conservation challenge around the park is the high population density and poverty levels that is why we put our efforts a lot to try to help them get out of that,” said Mr Rugerinyange.
Lest year, 9,560 tourists visited Nyungwe park, a number the authorities hope will increase this year the number will increase as last year total number is about to be reached before the high season which is December holidays.