Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills. With three national parks and several forest reserves it is an amazing landscape rich with mountains, lakes and savannahs. Although landlocked, this small nation – just over the size of Wales – has a very varied range of habitats, supporting more than 700 different species of birds. Other species include giant forest hogs, hippos and golden monkeys. But Rwanda’s undisputed king, and greatest visitor attraction, is the critically endangered mountain gorilla: almost 500 live here.
Top wildlife to see in Rwanda
In this section, we take a look at some of the species to watch out for in Rwanda:
1. Mountain gorilla
Rwanda is of only two countries in the world where tourists can see mountain gorillas in all their glory. There are seven families that tourists are able to visit, with one group of 41 gorillas which includes rare twins. These stunning creatures can weigh up to 200 kilograms, but their powerful appearance belies their gentle nature. Mountain gorillas are primates which eat plants, tree bark, fruit and leaves, as well as occasionally ants.
Photo Credit: Muzamiru Kiyaga
2. Hamlyn’s monkey
The Hamlyn’s monkey – also known as the owl-faced monkey – is one of the star attractions of Rwanda’s wildlife. This species is only found in Rwanda and its neighbouring countries, and its typical habitat is bamboo forest high up in the hills and mountains. Their distinctive face is characterised by a stripe which runs from the lip to the centre of the brow, as well as another running horizontally across the brow. These stripes can be found in a number of colours, adding to the intrigue of the Hamlyn’s Monkey.
The peculiar shoebill ( also known as the shoebilled stork and whalehead) is a large bird with a considerable population in Rwanda. It was once thought to be related to the storks, but the latest genetic evidence places it closer to pelican. At up to 140 cm tall, with a grey plumage and that distinctive clog-shaped bill, the shoebill is easy to identify but can be hard to find in its swampland habitat.
4. The Black Mamba
As one of the largest, deadliest and fastest snakes in the world, the Black Mamba is a worthy inclusion in this list of the wildlife of Rwanda. Its average length is around 2.5 metres, but specimens can grow as long as 4.3 metres. The ‘black’ part of its name is actually attributable to its fearsome black mouth, rather than its body, which typically includes a range of tones from grey to yellow. Allied to its venom, is the distinction of being the world’s fastest snake, able to move at up to 20km per hour.
At one stage Lions were wiped off the map in Rwanda, by people who poisoned them to protect livestock. But now, a group of seven has been reintroduced to the country in the North East’s Akagera National Park. These are the first wild lions in the country for 15 years, and are now believed to be thriving.
Photo Credit: Muzamiru Kiyaga
6. Tree hyrax
The tree hyrax is a curious creature. This small nocturnal mammal is believed to be loosely related to sea cows and elephants, and is known for its distinctive call. This is then followed by a series of screams and shrieks, so if a tree hyrax disrupts your sleep in Rwanda, you could soon be having nightmares!
Best sites to see wildlife in Rwanda
Where are the best places to see wildlife in Rwanda? Many of these are contained within the three national parks, where there are plenty of opportunities for visitors who want to see animals on a safari trip. At Akagera National Park you can see huge numbers of hippos, up to 400 species of birds, as well as leopards, hyenas and giraffes. Nyungwe Forest National Park is the largest protected rainforest in all of Africa and offers the chance to go chimpanzee trekking. As the name suggests, Volcanoes National Park includes the five volcanoes Bisoke, Gahinga, Karisimbi, Muhabura and Sabyinyo – and is a great place to see the famous mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Best time to visit Rwanda
The dry season in Rwanda runs from June to mid-September, and is the best time for wildlife enthusiasts to visit. There is another, shorter, dry season which runs from December to February. Due to its higher elevation, Rwanda enjoys a cooler temperature than some other equatorial countries.