Nature Park
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Thank you to Jared Cole, for the visions, goals and history of the Nature Park. Thank you to the 2012 Environment club for the research on plants and animals of the ASYV Nature Park. Compiled by Melissa Flint 2012.

Nature Hut

In 2012 a nature hut was built, go here for more information.

The History of the Nature Park

The ASYV Nature Park was formed in 2011 by over 300 ASYV students and staff. All 24 families helped to make the park trail, remove lantana, and plant trees over the course of May-October 2011 during Saturday Service events.

The Nature Park is 1.7 hectares and is 1558 to 1597 meters above sea level. There are over 72 established native and fruit trees in the park, not including those planted in 2011-2012. Around 90 species of birds have been observed in the Park as well as toads, skinks, striped mouse species, bats, mongoose and different types of insects.

Park Goals

  • To provide a space for the Environment Club to explore, enjoy and educate others about the environment.
  • To provide a space for students, staff, and volunteers to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
  • To provide a training opportunity for skills in forestry, wildlife management, ecotourism, park management, and other fields.
Grewia similis, a shrub that has orange berries that attract birds
The 2012 Environment Club creating a new walking trail

Ecological Vision for the Park

In 10-20 years, the Nature Park could be home to cavity and tree nesting birds such as hornbills, woodpeckers, turacos, barbets, and parrots. Bird species can be good indicators of ecosystem health. In order to attract regionally important birds, like Ross's Turaco, the Double-toothed Barbet, and the Spot-flanked Barbet, the park needs tree species similar to those in remaining native woodland areas, including the Akagera National Park hills, scattered forest remnants in the Kibungo Valley and perhaps the lower areas of Nyungwe National Park. With places to live and eat, native birds will return to live in the Nature Park. These native trees need to be planted and protected so they grow to maturity. If the local biodiversity returns, people would get a chance to view and enjoy these iconic birds. Other trees, such as avocado and mango trees, are important parts of the nature park because they provide fruit and shade to people.
Spot-flanked Barbet (Tricholaema lacrymosa), Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011
Double-toothed Barbet (Lybius bidentatus), Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011, taken at Mabamba Swamp, Uganda
Ross's Turaco (Musophaga rossae), Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011

Social Vision for the Park

To get people involved! The park has many opportunities for learning, enjoying (art, relaxation, walks, eating fruits) and doing Saturday service.

Students enjoying the sitting area in the park

"You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own. That they must protect them." Wangari Maathai

Students planting trees 2012

Park To Do

  • Maintain the trail and living fence around the park to prevent the park from being cultivated or grazed. A living fence was planted in September 2012 because the fence from 2011 was stolen.
  • Maintain the walking trail inside the park and the trail to the Nature Hut.
  • Maintain native trees and fruit trees (and plant more where necessary).
  • Remove lantana. Lantana is a very aggresive invasive species and decreases biodiversity by forming thickets where nothing else can grow.
  • Make park accessible to people (sign, benches, trails). Get people to enjoy it!
  • Get more people to use the Nature Hut as a meeting space, relaxation place and education centre for the Nature Park.
  • Bring visitors on guided walks in the Nature Park. This not only gets more people to see the park, but it gives students from the environment club ecotourism skills.
Natural Building team creating a trail from the Nature Park to the Nature Hut 2012
Umusasa, Sand Olive (Dodonaea angustifolia) seed pods in the ASYV Nature Park
Students planting trees 2012


Ecology is the study of relationships between living organisms and the environment. In natural systems, everything is connected. For example, you cannot study the Bronzy Sunbird (Nectarinia kilimensis) without also studying the Flame tree (Erythrina abyssinica, Umuko), because the bird drinks nectar from the red flowers.
Bronzy Sunbird (Nectarinia kilimensis) at ASYV, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011
Flame tree (Umuko, Erythrina abyssinica) in the Nature Park

When you change one part of an ecosystem for example, by hunting a certain species, or removing a certain tree, you affect many relationships in that ecosystem. You need all parts of an ecosystem: insects, bacteria, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, plants, trees, for it to be healthy. If you start taking away some of those components, the ecosytem will become sick.

Creating protected natural areas, like the ASYV Nature Park, is important in conserving biodiversity and maintaining a healthy environment. By protecting their habitat, living organims are able thrive and become part of a resilient web of life.

Umunyinya - Acacia - Vachellia or Senegalia sp.

Acacia is a tree that is found in savanna woodland like in the ASYV Nature Park. Acacia trees have adaptations to live in dry, hot environments. Acacia trees have long roots which help to get water from the soil. Many Acacia trees have tiny leaves that help regulate water loss. The small surface area of the leaves reduces loss of water by transpiraton. Acacia trees have sharp thorns to protect from herbivores. Acacia trees are used for making furniture, live fences, soil improvement, firewood, medicine, shade, and bee forage.

The genus of Acacia has recently (2005) been split due to phylogenetic research. Scientists found that some species of Acacia were different enough to merit the creation of new genera. The genus of Acacia still refers to most of the trees species in Australia, whereas many species from Africa, South America and Asia are classified under Vachiella, Senegalia, Acaciella or Mariosousa.
Small leaves to regulate water loss, long thorns to protect from herbivores
Flowers of Umunyinya provide good food for bees
Young Umunyinya tree in ASYV Nature Park

Umuhengeri - Lantana - Lantana camara

Lantana is a bush that has thorns along the branches. The thorns are short compared to Umunyinya. Lantana bushes can dominate in an area so that no other vegetation can grow there. Lantana is native to tropical America and is a serious weed in East Africa. During maintenance activites in the Nature Park, students and staff remove the lantana from the Nature Park by cutting and digging up the roots. It is important to remove the lantana because lantana makes it difficult for other species of trees and plants to grow, reducing the biodiversity of the area.
Lantana forming a dense vegetative cover of the land
Lantana flowers

Inuma - Red-eyed dove - Streptopelia semitorquata

Red-eyed dove, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011

The Red-eyed dove has a rounded head with a small beak. This bird has white, red, purple, grey and black feathers. The Red-eyed dove has red markings around its eyes. It has a loud 'coo' voice. The Red-eyed dove is common in many habitats in Africa. It lives in forest, bushes, open areas and around villages.

Umuserebanya - Striped skink - Trachylepis striata

Skinks are lizards belonging to the family Scincidae. Skinks are mainly insectivores. They eat flies, bugs, butterflies, and worms. Some skinks have the ability to lose their tail if a predator catches them by the tail. This allows them to escape relatively unharmed.

Striped Skink in the Nature Park, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011

Igikeri -Toad/Frog- Order Anura

Toads are common in ASYV. Toads are amphibians and have semi-permeable skin, which allows them to breath through their skin. Toads and frogs are similar. Generally, frogs that have warty, dry skin and live in drier habitats are called toads.

Frogs typically live near water, as most species require water to complete their breeding cycle. Frogs usually lay eggs in water. The eggs hatch into tadpoles. The tadpoles are aquatic and have tails and gills for breathing. The tadpoles will metamorphose into adults by growing arms and legs and losing their tails.

Frogs are considered indicator species for ecosystem health. Frogs are sensitive to pollutants and changes in their ecosystem because of their semi-permeable skin, and reliance on aquatic habitat. In recent history there has been a world wide decline in amphibian species due to habitat destruction, pollution and disease.
Frog life cycle
Columbia Spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) eating a dragon fly in Canada
Toad (Amietophrynus sp.) in ASYV Nature Park

Umusange - Tree entada - Entada abyssinica

This tree has a wide crown that provides shade. It is a deciduous trees, which means it looses its leaves one time during the year, usually in the dry season. It is used for wood, soil conservation (nitrogen fixation), bee food, shade, and as an ornamental. It is widespread in East Africa, and grows in grasslands, woodlands and wetter forests.

Umusange in the ASYV Nature Park

Umuhari - Egyptian mongoose - Herpestes ichneumon

Egyptian mongoose Photo courtesy of B.Stanley,

Mongooses have short legs, small ears, long tails, and a long body. The Egyptian mongoose has grey to brown fur, with a black tipped tail. Egyptian mongoose eat rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fruit and eggs. The Egyptian mongoose is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. This animal has been seen in ASYV and the Nature Park.

Isawoi - Southern Red Bishop - Euplectes orix

Isawoi at ASYV, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011
Isawoi is found in wetlands, grasslands and around farms. Isawoi is sexually dimorphic. Sexual dimorphism means that the males and females look different. For example, male Isawoi are very brightly coloured with red, orange and black feathers. The females have brown, beige and white feathers.

Sexual dimorphism is often the result of sexual selection. Sexual selection is a force where individuals evolve traits over time that maximize their reproductive success. In some species like Isawoi, females tend to choose more brightly coloured males to mate with.

Umuvumu - Wild Fig - Ficus thonningii

Leaves of Umuvumu

This is a large tree that often has more than one trunk and grows aerial roots. It can be found in both wet and dry forest, grassland and river areas. The small yellow or red fruit attract many birds and small mammals when ripe.

African Tulip Tree - Spathodea campanulata

African Tulip Tree planted in the ASYV Nature Park

This is an indigenous tree with bright red flowers and compound leaves. It can be found in forests in East Africa, and is commonly used as an ornamental tree in cities, parks and villages. This tree is widely planted in ASYV village, and many were planted in the Nature Park in 2011.

Umusure- Speckled Mousebird - Colius striatus

Umusure has a long tail and a crest of feathers on its head. Umusure lives in shrubs and woodlands. They get their name, Speckled Mousebird, because when they climb in bushes looking for food their behaviour is like a mouse. They mostly eat fruit, but will also eat leaves, seeds and nectar. Umusure are often found in groups and rest at night in big groups for protection from predators.

Umusure in ASYV, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011

Umuko - Flame Tree - Erythrina abyssinica

Umuko flowers

Umuko is a tree with bright red flowers and thorns on the bark. The wood of this tree is used for carvings, drums and beehives. The flowers provide good food for bees and birds. In Rwandan culture, Umuko is used to protect shamans. It was also used to make the King's stool. Some people also prayed to the Umuko tree and used it as a totem to symbolize their clan.

The story of the Umuko tree

There was a certain man called Ryangombe, and he was considered a shaman. One day he went in the forest to hunt. He wanted to kill a buffalo. However when he found the buffalo, the buffalo was strong and dangerous and killed his dogs. Afterwards the buffalo hit him and stepped on him. The buffalo tossed Ryangombe in the air and in flew into a Umuko tree. He died in the tree. As such, the Umuko became a holy tree because the shaman, Ryangombe, died in that tree.

Agacurama - Bat - Order Chiroptera

Bats look like a mouse in the face but have wings. Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight. Bats are mostly insectivores, but some eat fruit. Very few species of bats eat other animals or fish.

Greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx) in Sri Lanka, Picture by Anton Croos 2012, Creative Commons License

Bats are nocturnal. Bats have special adaptations to be able to fly and find food in the dark. They use echolocation. Echolocation involves sending out a sound and then this sound comes back to the bat as it rebounds off objects in the environment. The bat's nervous system can interpret these echos and allow them to 'see' in the dark.

Umusave - Markhamia - Markhamia lutea

This is a native tree of East Africa that grows straight, hard wood that is useful for timber. People use this wood for making benches, tables, boats, tool handles, dishes and posts. Thes tree grows 10-15m high. It has yellow flowers and long thin seed capsules.

Yellow flowers of Umusave in ASYV Nature Park

Imisamanzuki - Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater - Merops oreobates

Imisamanzuki in ASYV, Photo courtesy of Jared Cole 2011

Imisamanzuki are found in wooded hill sides and forest edges. They like to sit high in trees. Imisamanzuki are insectivores and eat bees, butterflies and other insects.

Umubilizi - Bitter-leaf vernonia - Vernonia amygdalina

Umubilizi grows between 3m to 10m tall. It is found in wooded savanna, forest edge and near rivers. It has white flowers that smell sweet at night. In Rwanda, this tree is used for medicine to treat stomach problems for people and for cows and goats. It is also used to treat malaria. Umubilizi can also be used as fuelwood, for soil improvement and as an ornamental.

White flowers of Umubilizi