Highway for Apes: Using NASA EOS for wildlife corridor planning in Rwanda

EarthzineOriginal, Spring 2013 VPS

Map of Rwanda. Image Credit: DEVELOP

Map of Rwanda. Image Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Merna Saad, Joe Regan, Jessica Chen, Emmanuel Muzungu, Faith Mwiza,

Carol Paulson, Justin Weiser, Angelica Willis

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Kenton Ross (Langley Research Center, LaRC)

Team Location: Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

Abstract: The Republic of Rwanda, though relatively small in size, is a highly populated country of 11 million people in the east-central region of Africa. Today, one of the most important challenges facing Rwanda is forest conservation. After more than a decade of mass deforestation, Rwanda’s native forests were reduced to a mere 5 percent of the nation’s territory by 2005. The Gishwati Forest alone, once a 250,000 acre forest in the western part of Rwanda, shrank to only 1,500 acres by 2001. Because 91 percent of Rwandans make their living as subsistence farmers, Rwanda’s deforestation is largely attributed to the land clearing caused by the nation’s agriculture-based economy. Chimpanzees along with many other species experienced severe habitat fragmentation. Biodiversity in the Gishwati Forest, though already damaged, is a national treasure to Rwanda and conservation groups. In order to protect the forest’s biodiversity and genetic diversity from further damage, a 30-mile corridor connecting the native forest between Gishwati and the Nyungwe Forest National Park has been proposed. This corridor would connect isolated populations in the heavily deforested Gishwati Forest to the larger protected Nyungwe Forest. Based on past DEVELOP work which created tools for monitoring deforestation/reforestation and comprehensive land classification maps, this project aimed to use data provided by NASA Earth Observing Systems (EOS) to create a reforestation suitability map for the proposed corridor area. This product pointed out areas that are most suitable for reforestation efforts based on factors such as elevation, slope, hydrology, human settlement, and land composition. This product has been sent to the Rwandan Embassy along with The Forest of Hope Association to assist with conservation efforts throughout Rwanda.