It was a cloudy morning, and the neighborhood and roads surrounding Nyandungu Eco-Tourism Park in Rwanda’s capital Kigali were quiet.
Inside, however, it was quite a different story. There it was breakfast time, as birds went about finding food in their own natural ways.
At one end, some birds plunged their necks into the pond water, reemerging within seconds after filling their beaks.
Others stood still at the water's edge, probably waiting for their turn.
But other birds looked less excited, standing leisurely on the pond’s boundaries with their necks bent.
Six years ago, this was a degraded wetland. But it is now reborn as a world-class nature reserve.
The new designation is the culmination of years of an effort initiated by the Rwandan government.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Elias Bizuru, a researcher at the University of Rwanda, said the wetland had been completely degraded, reduced to grazing land whose restoration is very significant and offers important lessons for nature conservation in an urban setting.
“It is an amazing project ecologically speaking,” he said, referring to the restoration work.
“The wetland has an extremely rich ecosystem with different animal, bird, and plant species. There are reptiles, snakes, dragonflies, amphibians...I’m happy to have it as an eco-park in the city.”
The ecotourism park, measuring 121.7 hectares (300.7 acres), including 70 hectares of wetland and 50 hectares of forest, is home to more than 62 local plant species and over 100 bird species.
Some green initiatives in the restoration process involved the planting of 17,000 trees made up of 55 indigenous species, according to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).
Bizuru underlined that the eco-park provides the potential for the introduction of more species of animals, insects, fish, and amphibians for conservation purposes and tourism.
He, however, cautioned against introducing harmful aquatic species.
Juliet Kabera, the director-general of REMA, said the new eco-park illustrates the value of restoring urban ecosystems and would serve as “a blueprint” for wetland rehabilitation across the country.
“We will rehabilitate additional wetlands in Kigali, and work is already underway. In doing so, wetlands in the city can fulfill their proper function and benefit both our environment and people,” she said.
The creation of Nyandungu Eco-Park represents the single largest addition to public green space in Kigali city’s history.
The park provides a space for residents and visitors to the city to explore and learn from nature and is part of Rwanda’s efforts to harness ecotourism to restore biodiversity and conserve urban wetland ecosystems, according to officials.
Those years of restoration offer some important lessons on managing the environment.
It highlighted the management techniques and green technologies that can be used in Rwanda’s secondary cities, thereby demonstrating its scalability as a model for other wetlands and increasing its potential legacy, according to REMA.
From a degraded wetland, Nyandungu Eco-Park now acts as an educational and recreational eco-park in the heart of Rwanda’s capital city.
The park features a medicinal garden, what is called a Pope’s Garden, five catchment ponds, three recreation ponds, an information center, and an eatery as well as 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) of walkways and bike lanes.
The Rwandan government has signed a deal with a private contractor, QA Venue Solutions, to manage the eco-park.
Kabera underlined that besides being home to unique biodiversity, urban wetlands play a vital role in preventing floods and addressing pollution.
“As we face the impacts of climate change, wetlands will be a key ally to protect lives and livelihoods. We look forward to working with our partners to replicate the success of restoring Nyandungu in other urban wetlands in Kigali and across the country,” she said.
Besides restoring the wetland ecosystem and promoting the sustainable management of natural resources, the initiative has also created approximately 4,000 green jobs, according to the government.
The restoration, REMA said, is partly in response to significant pressure on the wetlands presented by the rapid growth of Kigali and the associated human activities which led to their degradation and biodiversity loss.
Encroachment has also resulted in downstream flooding as well as increased pollution due to sewage outflows.
Kabera believes the restoration of the Nyandungu wetland would reduce the risk of flooding and pollution in urban areas.
Nyandungu Eco-Park is the first public recreational and touristic facility of its kind in Kigali.
Kyle Schofield, managing director of QA Venue Solutions, said preserving the space will allow the community to benefit from it through educational and recreational activities.