Sunday, July 10, 2011

Welcome to Agahozo-Shalom Nature Park!

Murakaza neza ku Parike Y'Umutungo Kamere W'Agahozo! What in the world does that mean? It means that you are about to enter a brand new nature park.

The Environment Club poses by the sign marking the park. Students have
worked on every aspect of the park, including making these signs,
surveying flora and fauna, and removing invasive species. 

This will be the first of several posts about a special project: a student club has adopted a piece of land and turned it into the Parike Y'Umutungo Kamere W'Agahozo.

What is Parike Y'Umutungo Kamere W'Agahozo?

The name translates to Agahozo-Shalom Nature Park. At the very top of the hill we call home, which is part of ASYV's property, the Environment Club envisioned a place where people could protect and enjoy trees.

This map shows the trees of Parike W'Agahozo. Icons are color-coded for tree type and sized relative to the actual tree size. All of these species are native to East Africa except for the mango. As we explore and find new trees (sometimes hidden from view of the trail), we will add them to our map. Earlier this week, we found a second umusenge tree that we had not yet seen! 

The park features a 600 meter trail that surrounds the 1.72 hectare (4.26 acres) natural area. The mix of trees, tall grasses, and wildflowers provide a glimpse of what wild Rwanda looks like.

How did this park come to be?

Students of the Environment Club wanted to plant trees, teach others about nature, and help people appreciate the environment. In creating this park, the club can accomplish these aims at one beautiful place.

The park is a place for people to learn and enjoy. Here club members
survey the future park site for the first time (February). 

Site selection took several months. We had to identify an area that had desired natural features (such as native trees) but that also was not slated for some other use. On the master plan of Agahozo, there is a large area behind the school listed as a future reforestation site. Much of this land is now being cultivated, but the Environment Club successfully proposed that a small section of it be set aside for a park.

Students transport rocks to fill holes and set trail posts.

Every week, students participate in "Saturday Service" to help the village by working at the farm, in the kitchen, in their yards, or on special projects. In May, June, and July, over 200 students have worked on the park as a special village project. The Environment Club members have also spent several Saturdays working on the park and studying park management on Monday nights.

Students made the 600 meter trail that surrounds the park. The trail makes
it easy to see the whole of the park.

 How will the park be maintained?

The Environment Club is responsible for taking care of the park. Short-term projects include planting native trees, making interpretive signs, and completing a perimeter fence. This short wood fence lines the trail and helps protect the trees from grazing and trampling.

Students plant a native acacia tree in the park on Environment Day.

Long-term projects include removal of non-native invasive species (lantana, eucalyptus), monitoring the existing trees, and educating the village about the importance of conservation and native species. As students take care of the park, they will learn about botany, wildlife conservation, and eco-tourism.

What can be seen at Parike?

We have at least 8 species of native trees inside the park, and we are still trying to assess the other non-tree native plants we have.

The flower of the umuko tree, Erithrina abyssinica, inspired its English
name of "flame tree." Parike W'Agahozo has at least 7 of these native
East African trees. 

More than 100 species of birds have been seen inside the park boundaries, including some of ASYV's top birds, like Ross's Turaco, African Pygmy Kingfisher, and Bateleur eagle.

The native igicumucumu flower or Lion's Ear (Leonotis nepetifolia) is an
important source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and sunbirds.
They are generally cut as a weed, as most wildflowers are, but are given a
home inside the park.

Lizards and toads have been spotted, but we have yet to see a snake in the park. Yellow, white, red, green, and black butterflies and moths dazzle by as you walk the trail.

This colorful bird, the green-winged pytilia (Pytilia melba), is small
enough that it is easily overlooked, but it is common inside our park.

There are two Ichneumon mongooses that live either inside or just outside the park; they are the biggest mammal we have. Spotting the mongoose and its long tail with a fluffy tip is not easy, and we are still trying to understand their needs so we can protect them. 

Can I visit Parike Y'Umutungo Kamere W'Agahozo?

If you visit Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, you can visit our park! The trail is always open. Early mornings are great for birds, but walking the trail from 4-6 pm is also good for birds and provides excellent sunset views. Students are happy to give tours; they are proud of their project. 

Future professional guides? Environment Club members give the first
tour of the nature park on June 25 to visiting donors.

Thanks for visiting the park- see you on the trail!

1 comment:

  1. So glad I found this post. It would be wonderful to see pictures of the native Rwandan plants and learn of their traditional uses. Which of the trees is used for the milk containers? Which to guard the entry to the king's hut? Very happy to see this happening at asyv.