Story | 30 Mar, 2017

Bururi: the link between heaven and earth

The Bururi Forest Nature Reserve in Burundi was previously considered to be the link between heaven and earth. The ancient Burundians attached great importance to forest conservation, especially mountain forests. Several mountain forests were protected and used as a place of worship, while other forests served as a necropolis for Queen Mothers.

With an area of 3,300 ha, representing 0.1% of Burundi’s surface, the Bururi Forest Nature Reserve (RNFB) is the southernmost part of the forest system of the Congo-Nile Ridge. It is located in the Bururi commune, northwest of Bururi province, on a vast mountain that overlooks the urban center of Bururi.

Fauna and flora 

The natural vegetation, which occupies about 2600 ha, is very diverse. The floral composition of the RNFB comprises 268 species (Havyarimana 2015). Although small in size, the plant diversity of the RNFB represents about 9% of that of the country, considered a great wealth.

The most abundant plant species belong to the families of Asteraceae, Rubiaceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae, Euphorbiaceae and Lamiaceae. The different biodiversity indices calculated on this reserve show that plant diversity is moderately high.

The forest is also very rich in endemic species. RNFB includes five out of the 20 endemic plant species inventoried in

Bururi Forest map      
Burundi. The Bururi Forest Nature Reserve contributes to the conservation of endangered plant species in Burundi.

The mammalian fauna comprises about 22 species including five species of primates and six species of carnivores. The most common primates are the common chimpanzee Pan troglodytes schweinfurti , the Cercopithecus mitis, and the ascacus monkey Cercopithecus ascanius.  A few locals are reported to have seen a leopard but the reserve managers have no evidence of their presence in the area.

There are also 205 bird species, of which the most noteworthy are the ross touraco (Musophaga rossae), the gray-cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus) and many other forest birds. Its ornithological wealth has allowed BirdLife International to classify it as an important bird conservation area. This forest is home to many species of amphibians, including a very rare species, the small long finger frog Cardioglossa cyaneospila rediscovered in 2011 by a recent mission of the Universities of Texas and California after its first discovery in this forest in 1949.

Biodiversity and cultural values

This reserve is a great reservoir of wildlife. It still shelters a small population of chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, a species of great primates already in danger throughout Africa. It is also designated as an important Bird Conservation Area in Burundi because it is home to an important avifauna, including rare and endemic species in the Albertin Rift region, namely Zoothera tanganyicae and Apalis argentea.  Because of the isolation of this reserve from other similar forests, research into the speciation process may also prove fruitful, especially with insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds (Kakunze, 2014).

In addition to its important role in climate regulation, the RNFB is also providing other benefits, acting for example as a gigantic sponge absorbing water during the rainy season and releasing it during the dry season. Similarly, traditional healers harvest many medicinal species not encountered at the waterfront. It is also a carbon sink and plays an important role in climate regulation.

Interaction with local communities

The RNFB is surrounded by a large, very poor population that depends entirely on natural resources from the area. Local associations have been established to engage with communities, contributing to the protection of the reserve by sharing information with the reserve staff. They also support the activities of the reserve, for e.g. nursery management and tree planting for the rehabilitation of degraded sites in the reserve.

International Biodiversity Day in the reserve in 2015       Photo: Leonidas NZIGIYIMPA
In exchange, members of these associations are trained in different conservation techniques and learn about the importance of the reserve. They also benefit from support to improve their livelihoods and are involved in all the activities of the reserve that generate income. During the summer holidays, young people in school are involved in the protection of the reserve. They participate in early warning in the event of forest fires. The fight against bushfires that have become recurrent in the landscape of the RNFB requires a collaboration of all the stakeholders, namely the riverside communities, the administrative authorities at all levels, the associations involved in the protection of the environment, the young people working in environmental clubs and students on vacation.

Indigenous peoples like the Batwa are also involved in the reserve management. They are paid for their services which allows them to buy land. This innovative approach solved the crucial problem of land shortages faced by 28 Batwa households that were temporarily grouped on a small site in the urban center of Bururi.

Enhancing the management effectiveness: IMET

IUCN’s BIOPAMA programme  has supported the Burundi Office for the Protection of the Environment (OBPE) to improve the management effectiveness of the country’s protected areas. BIOPAMA developed a data collection and analysis tool called IMET (Integrated Management Effectiveness Tool).  The results of the implementation of the work plan are substantial, as are the impacts.


This article would not have been possible without the valuable contribution of Léonidas Nzigiyimpa, chief warden of protected areas of the South of Burundi (OBPE).