The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) took part in a ground-breaking ceremony on February 12 for the multimillion-dollar Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Kinigi, Musanze District, highlighting that gorillas significantly support Rwanda’s eco-tourism.  

Rwanda Development Board joins Portia de Rossi in ground-breaking of the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Credits: RDB.

The ceremony signalled the start of construction on a new science and education campus covering five hectares in Kinigi, which will support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International’s on-going conservation and education work in Rwanda.

The work is expected to take two years, and it is estimated that it will create 1 500 jobs, with 40% of the workforce being female. In addition, $2 million will be spent on local labour and an estimated $2.5m will be spent on locally sourced materials.

In her keynote speech, RDB Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kariza, reiterated that gorilla conservation was the backbone of Rwanda’s eco-tourism strategy.

“The success of this strategy has been proved by the fact that both gorilla numbers and gorilla tourism receipts have increased. The 2016 gorilla census in the Virunga Massif revealed a 26% increase in the number of individual gorillas from 480 to 604 in a span of five years. In 2017, Volcanoes National Park received more than 35 000 visitors who directly generated US$16.75 million,” explained Kariza. “Gorilla conservation and tourism have not only benefited hoteliers, tour operators, guides and the entire economy, but they have played a significant role in bettering the lives of the communities living adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park.”

RDB is also focused on increasing the capacity of its workforce. “That is why we are particularly pleased by the fact that this campus will not only be training the next generation of Rwandan conservationists, but there will also be skills transfer during the actual construction of this campus,” commented Kariza.

“We would like to reiterate RDB’s wholehearted support for this project, as it demonstrates both the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund’s ongoing commitments to conservation and education in Rwanda, helping people and saving mountain gorillas in Rwanda,” she concluded.

In 2005 the government of Rwanda instituted the Revenue Sharing Programme where 10% of all parks revenues are invested back into the community, resulting in 647 community-based projects with an estimated value of over $6 million. The programme has provided housing, schools, health clinics and clean water for communities living in the four districts surrounding Volcanoes National Park.