The past few months have marked high season in Rwanda, with Kwita Izina, the gorilla-naming ceremony, bringing several well-known visitors to the country, as well as media and travel agents from all over the world. Bisate Lodge and Magashi experienced months with happy guests, good wildlife sightings and beautiful cultural encounters. Meanwhile, the exciting involvement of Wilderness Safaris in Gishwati-Mukura National Park, in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), is ongoing, and Children in the Wilderness (CITW) is assisting with the setup of Eco-Clubs at three more primary schools. We believe it is time for our next update from Wilderness Safaris in Rwanda!
Wilderness Safaris and Gishwati-Mukura National Park
In partnership with Wilderness Safaris, the RDB is working on a multi-phased conservation and tourism management programme to develop and operate an exclusive chimpanzee and primate trekking experience under the Wilderness Safaris banner.
Wilderness Safaris, together with the RDB and the Forest of Hope Association (FHA is a national Rwandan Non-Government Organisation), is dedicated to restoring Gishwati-Mukura National Park after large parts were cleared before and after the 1994 Genocide – a result of human settlement, agricultural practices and illegal mining. We expect this new project in Gishwati-Mukura National Park to offer another unique, world-class tourist experience and draw even more visitors to Rwanda.
Today the Gishwati-Mukura National Park is composed of the Gishwati Natural Forest, with an area of 1,439.72 hectares and Mukura Natural Forest, with an area of 1,987.74 hectares, as well as a buffer zone of 992.48 hectares.
Meet Jason Glanville and Allison Bauer – New Managers of Bisate Lodge
We would like to introduce you to Jason Glanville and Allison Bauer – Jason and Ally – who are the new managers of Bisate Lodge. Jason and Ally joined Wilderness Safaris Rwanda in March 2019 and since that time have been assisting with management and guiding at Bisate Lodge and Magashi. Since the 1st October they are the full-time managers of Bisate Lodge. We believe that they have all the qualities and the personality needed to welcome our guests and offer them the real Bisate experience.
The soon-to-be-married couple grew up in South Africa and have always had a great love for the outdoors. Their love and passion for the African wildlife and its natural heritage allowed them to pursue their dream to become safari guides. After working for several years as safari guides in southern and East Africa they moved into management positions.
They are very keen to maintain the success of Bisate Lodge and improve the guest experience even further, whilst at the same time support the various community and conservation projects that Bisate is involved in.
Wildlife at Magashi
The guest experience at Magashi has been exceptional. The different activities, like boat cruises, night drives and game drives on offer, the fantastic level of guiding, habituation of leopards by our trackers from the SACT Tracker Academy, the cultural exchange with the Magashi team, all contribute to a fantastic and once-in-a-lifetime safari experience.
To date 16 different leopards have been identified on the private Magashi Concession, and are getting more and more relaxed. Our guests have witnessed leopards hunting, resting, mating and playing.
Hyaena sightings have been very good, with big numbers seen feeding on buffalo and hippo carcasses, but also two curious juvenile hyaenas approaching a sundowner stop, and getting so close that the guide decided to pack up the sundowner and get back in to the vehicle.
The lions have been in the spotlight over the last few months with very good sightings of the full pride, including all the cubs. With so many youngsters to feed, the lions have to hunt regularly, providing very good sightings for our Magashi guests.
The birding at Magashi is excellent too, with sightings of a leucistic dark-capped bulbul, Ross’s turaco, double-toothed barbet, red-faced barbet, papyrus gonolek, swamp flycatcher, Ruaha chat, red-capped robin-chat, grey-capped warblers, red-chested sunbirds, and many more.
Reforestation at Bisate
At Bisate, reforestation efforts continue. We harvest seeds from the indigenous trees on the property and these are planted in the seedbeds in our ever-growing nursery. With roughly 20 000 saplings in the nursery, as well as countless seedlings, the next season of reforestation on the property is sure to be a busy one. Both dombeya and hagenia seeds have been harvested in bulk. The below pictures show Volcanoes National Park Warden, Prosper Uwingeli, planting a sapling, and roughly a year later with the same sapling at the Bisate gate. If all of our trees continue to grow at this rate the habitat will surely look completely different within the next few years!
We continue to notice the changing environment, not just aesthetically, but also in the species that are being discovered more frequently on the property. Golden monkey have been spotted several times during the last months, and we have had some buffalo use Bisate as their grazing grounds during the night. Luckily, these buffalo normally only come to graze during the night before disappearing into the park again before the sun rises.
Flocks of slender-billed starlings were seen flying overhead regularly throughout July, while the Rwenzori nightjar has been extremely vocal on most evenings.
Access to Clean Water for Bisate Communities
With generous donations from Bisate Lodge guests, Wilderness Safaris, in partnership with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (The Fossey Fund) and Rwanda Development Board (RDB), is rehabilitating the existing water infrastructure at Bunyenyeri and Bushokoro, both situated close to Bisate Lodge and Bisate Primary School, in Rwanda’s Musanze District. The project, which started in late September and is scheduled to finish in November 2019, will benefit a population of nearly 5 000 people from Bunyenyeri, Karambi Kazi, Kumazi, Myase and Nyarusizi villages, with improved access to clean water.
Wilderness Safaris Rwanda and The Fossey Fund teams have worked tirelessly to secure sufficient funds to enable us to confirm the project plans. In addition, the RDB and Volcanoes National Park (VNP) Warden Prosper Uwingeli’s continued support and assistance have been crucial in the success of the project. Finally, we also thank those Bisate Lodge guests who believed in our vision to conserve and restore this area and donated to the project; their contributions total an amazing USD24 500 in resources for the construction and management of the project.
Chimpanzee and Primate Habituation in Gishwati
In partnership with the Forest of Hope Association (FHA) Wilderness Safaris has employed six chimpanzee trackers for the habituation of chimpanzees in Giswhati-Mukuru National Park.
The trackers are in the park every day, spending as much time with the chimpanzees as possible. They record data such as GPS coordinates, numbers in the groups, and their behaviour. Over the months of July, August and September we noticed an increase in the sightings, and especially in the duration of the sightings, meaning that the chimpanzees have started to relax.
Besides the chimpanzees it is possible to track golden monkeys and L’Hoest’s monkeys in the park (on our daily expeditions we encounter both species of monkeys on a regular basis).
Bisate and Magashi’s Photography Experience
Guests staying at Bisate can now look forward to using a new camera, the Olympus Tough! TG 5, during their stay at the lodge (we have one camera available per villa).
On arrival guests will be offered the Tough! TG-5 and receive a complimentary SD card. The Tough! TG-5 camera features 4K video and RAW capture, and is the ultimate partner for the most challenging adventures – ideal for exploring Volcanoes National Park and gorilla trekking.
The guides at Magashi are fully trained in the operation of the Olympus OM-D-EM1 Mark II camera and accessories. There is a complete camera set available for use by guests whilst on safari or in camp, and our guides are able to explain the best camera settings to use. This allows our guests to enjoy capturing images while our guides assist with sharing tips on how best to capture those powerful wilderness moments.
Chef Training at Bisate and Magashi
Over the last three months Jennifer du Toit, an executive chef trainer from Cape Town, has been spending her time between the Bisate and Magashi kitchens, implementing new recipes and providing training to the kitchen teams. Her commitment to improving the already impressive standards has been an inspiration to us all. Looking at our guest feedback from both Bisate and Magashi, the food and service has never been better!
Guest feedback – Bisate
‘An experience far beyond imagination and expectations. Bisate captures one of the most unique and majestic locations in the world, with adventures and treks to match. Spending time with the gorillas and learning about conservation efforts has been a remarkable experience that will live with me forever. Thank you to the Bisate staff for the warm hospitality and making this camp an unforgettable stay’.
‘Thank you for an incredible couple of days. The memories you have created for us I will treasure forever. It’s been an absolute privilege to experience such an amazing experience, create memories and be a part of this wonderful project’.
‘We absolutely loved our stay at Bisate! We couldn’t imagine a better place to kick off our honeymoon adventure: Every member of the staff blew us away with kindness and attentiveness. We will never forget our trekking experience to see the gorillas and golden monkeys in their beautiful home of Rwanda. Thank you for making us feel so welcome here!’
‘Paradise! An incredible experience. The best example of hospitality, team work and professionalism I have ever experienced. Thank you’.
Guest feedback – Magashi
‘Simply amazing! we thoroughly enjoyed our time here, the food is fresh, easily fully prepared and simply mouthwatering, our room is cozy and comfy, the game drives are simply awesome with sightings of interesting animal actions, the staff here are just the bes,t very accommodating, friendly, to top things off we had one of the most passionate guides that one has ever met, thanks for the warm hospitality will definitely revisit this amazing place in the near future’.
‘We have met the most beautiful and authentic people on the planet earth, we have fallen in love with people first, the land and animals after. Magashi was an unreal experience!! So much love attention, you are doing Rwanda a wonderful justice. Team Magashi we have only love in our hearts for you! Murakoze God bless!’
‘We loved every second at Magashi – it was simply beautiful and outstanding with friendly and passionate staff throughout the day, food was excellent, the location and setting outstanding. Our guide is very knowledgeable on land and water, we were deeply impressed and learned a lot about African wildlife. Thank you very much’.
New Departure and Arrival Times for Magashi Shuttle
Due to newly set speed limits, the departure time for the Magashi shuttle from the Serena Hotel has been amended to 7:30 am. Please ensure your guests are present at 7:20 am to ensure a smooth departure from Kigali.
After their stay at Magashi your guests will return to Kigali Serena Hotel at 3:00 pm. The new times will be implemented from the 1st November 2019.
Children in the Wilderness in Rwanda
Children in the Wilderness (CITW) is a non-profit organisation supported by Wilderness Safaris, which aims to facilitate sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of children in Africa.
CITW started in Rwanda in March 2018 with Eco-Clubs at Bisate Primary School. Since then, the partnership with Bisate Primary School has been very strong. Through CITW and the kind support of Bisate Lodge guests, CITW has been able to support the school with the lesson materials needed to run successful Eco-Clubs, as well as teacher training, internet at the school to support the computer learning program, installation and repair of the solar power system, scholarships to continue secondary schooling for eight learners, and many other smaller projects.
CITW Conservation Camp in Rwanda
Children in the Wilderness, in partnership with Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Muhisimbi Voice of Youth and Conservation Heritage Turambe, organised their very first Conservation Camp in the Volcanoes National Park area in Rwanda. The Conservation Camp 2019 hosted 40 children from the environmental clubs of four schools (including Bisate Primary School) for four days, starting on the 23rd July 2019.
During the 4 days of the Conservation Camp the children learned about all four National Parks in Rwanda: Volcanoes, Akagera, Nyungwe and Gishwati-Mukuru.
New CITW Partnerships in Rwanda
CITW is assisting with the setup of Eco-Clubs at two more primary schools, making a total of three in Rwanda. In the last few months they have established a partnership with Akayange Primary School in Nyagartare District, just outside Akagera National Park’s North Gate. From Magashi this is the first school guests reach when leaving the National Park.
CITW has also established a partnership with Gisunzu Primary School, situated close to Gishwati-Mukuru National Park in the Rutsiro District.
CITW is organising a teacher training workshop for all three schools, to take place at the end of October. The training will focus on the successful running of the Eco-Clubs at the school, including provision of the Eco-Club curriculum, lesson materials and lesson plans.
By: Ingrid Baas
Post courtesy of Wilderness Safaris