When Popular American Comedian-turned-Presenter Ellen DeGeneres and herpartner, Portia De Rossi landed in Rwanda on 27 May 2018, they didn’t just come as an adventure tourist who wanted to trek the famous mountain gorillas. They came as part of a legacy that wants to save the primates. In her childhood, DeGeneres says she was an admirer of Dian Fossey. And she had always wanted to follow her footprints and settle in Africa to conserve the gorillas.
But now, she’s doing something different that will immortalize her role model, Dian Fossey. She came to oversee the construction of Ellen DeGeneres Campus that will support the conservation of the mountain gorillas.
The campus is dedicated to the late Dian Fossey’s work in Rwanda, and will be based in Musanze. Dian Fossey was an American primatologist and conservationist who studied gorillas in Rwanda and the wider Virunga region from 1966 until her death in 1985.The campus was a surprise gift presented to her by her husband on her “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” during her 60 birthday.
According to the information from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the campus will help expand science, research and conservation activities, enhance educational programmes, and engage people from Rwanda and the rest of the world to join the conservation effort. Its design will include laboratories, classrooms, meeting space, an interactive exhibit focusing on Fossey’s work, and housing for visiting researchers and students.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund was founded 50 years ago to ensure the survival of the mountain gorillas. According to information from the Fund, they work in four ways to achieve this: providing daily boots-on-the-ground protection to individual gorilla families, cutting-edge scientific study on the gorillas and their ecosystems, training the next generation of African conservationists, and helping with basic needs for people living near the gorillas’ habitats.
And their efforts appear to be bearing fruits, as the increasing population of the mountain gorilla shows. The Volcanoes National Park now has 20 gorilla families while the number in 2008 was a paltry 7 gorilla families. Rampant poaching of the mountain gorillas threatened the existence of these primates, and this even led to Dian Fossey’s mysterious murder. In the mid 1990, there were only 320 mountain gorillas living in Rwanda. The population today is more than 640.
Even though tourism is an important source of revenue for Rwanda, the conservation of the mountain gorillas has seen the government very closely regulate it. For instance, only a limited number of permits are available each day for visitors to trek to see the gorillas. Tourism also pays for the protection not only of Volcanoes National Park but also the nation’s three other national parks. In addition, 10 percent of tourism money is shared with the local communities to improve the lives of those living near the parks. Thus, tourism is a very key component of conservation in Rwanda.
In 2017, gorilla trekking permit was hiked from $750 to $1,500 in further efforts to conserve the gorillas.Virunga Community Programs salute the efforts by Ellen DeGeneres, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Rwanda government to conserve these endangered primates. We would like further to stress that conservation efforts shouldn’t just be left in the hands of a few individuals and organizations. This should be a collaborative effort that should involve everyone.
Granted, Virunga community programs are also doing its part ensuring the protection of the flora and fauna. We believe that when the community is involved in conservation efforts, then we are all going to succeed in our endeavors.According to John Murphy in an article titled “Does Community Involvement in Conservation Provide an Alternative to Fortress Conservation?” that appeared in an online journal ALERT, “over the last two decades one type of initiative in particular that has captured the imagination of conservationists has been based on the concept of incorporating the communities themselves into formal structures for regulating and managing wildlife and habitat.
The Virunga Community Programs projects are involved in conservation efforts in the wider Virunga massif straddling Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. Our programs include Conservation Education, Charity Work, Water Conservation, Field Study Education programs and Agroforestry Development among many others.
You too can be part of the wider conservation efforts. Let us all join hand to ensure that we preserve our nature at its pristine for now and our future generation.