The new plot of land donated to government is a timely boost to the ongoing effort to expand the habitat of the rare mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the Volcanoes National Park, officials and conservationists have said.
The remarks were made at an event to donate 27.8 hectares of land to the Government of Rwanda as part of the expansion programme of Volcanoes National Park.
The land, donated by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), adds to the 16,000 hectares that comprised the national park.
The park had lost 54 per cent of its size in 1925 as a result of encroachment.
The event, held in Kinigi sector, Musanze District at the edge of Volcanoes National Park, attracted several conservationists, government officials, members of diplomatic corps, as well as thousands of local residents.
Speaking at the event, former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa commended Rwanda’s unwavering commitment to conservation.
The former Head State said that in an era, where Africa and the world are facing enormous conservation challenges, such as poaching, human encroachment on natural habitat, Rwanda has stood firm on the need to protect and preserve biodiversity.
“As a former Head of State, I appreciate the challenges one faces when leading a country. Too often African leaders make decisions that lead to the degradation of our natural heritage and priceless assets because they lack conservation vision and commitment,” Mkapa said.
“What President Kagame has done demonstrates that a country can support a robust economy and good development of infrastructure, while simultaneously protecting the environment. He has shown that communities can thrive as a result of conservation.”
Mkapa is the Co-Chair of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).
“I am proud, as the Co-Chair of AWF, to donate this property today to a Government that has demonstrated a bold commitment to – and leadership in – conservation,” Mkapa said, shortly after Kaddu Sebunya, president of AWF, had handed over a replica of the title deed to Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
The African Wildlife Foundation is the largest pan-African international conservation organisation with a mission to ensure that wildlife and wild lands thrive in modern Africa.
Operating in sixteen countries in sub-saharan Africa, AWF has been supporting mountain gorillas in Rwanda for close to four decades.
AWF was a founding member of the Mountain Gorilla Project, and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and pioneered community-ownership of high-end ecotourism lodges through the creation of Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.
Since opening in 2007, the lodge has generated over US$2.9 million for the community, according to AWF.
Through conservation efforts by the government and several stakeholders, mountain gorilla numbers in Volcanoes National Park increased from 285 in 1978 to 480 in 2010.
Between 2003 and 2010 gorilla numbers increased by 26.3 per cent, according to RDB.
However, the increase in the gorilla population has led to a major challenge, including adequate habitat, hence the proposal to expand the park through relocating some households to new model settlements an idea that is still undergoing feasibility study.
Akamanzi is upbeat that the donation is a major step toward the consolidation of conservation gains Rwanda has registered in the recent past.
“Through gorilla conservation we are directly benefitting as a people,” Akamanzi said, adding that over the last nine years, revenues from mountain gorilla conservation and the resulting tourism has brought US $ 107 million to the national coffers.
Since 2006, over 220,000 tourists have visited the Volcanoes National Park. These numbers have increased 82 per cent since 2007, proving that there is an increasing demand to view mountain gorillas, according to Akamanzi.
Trade and Industry minister Vincent Munyeshyaka observed that Rwanda has given priority to tourism and conservation because it significantly contributes to sustainable development.
“Green Growth is a core component of Rwanda’s Vision 2050 and the tourism sector will play a key role in achieving this vision....conservation is life, let’s undertake it for life,” Munyeshyaka said.
Sebunya said Rwanda had distinguished itself as a leader in conservation following the most remarkable great ape recovery, hence the reason his organisation donated the land to expand these apes habitat.
“With support from the Annenburg Foundation, AWF bought 27.8 hectares of land directly adjacent to the park to donate to the Government of Rwanda to be incorporated into the Volcanoes National Park. AWF recognises that if mountain gorillas are going to survive in the long-term, this park must be strategically protected and we are committed to supporting RDB in this endeavour,” Sebunya said.
The New Times understands that initially, Serena had acquired that, specific piece of land for purposes of developing a hotel on it. Given its proximity to the park, their development plan flopped. Instead, AWF purchased the land from Serena Hotels in 2017 with the intention of donating it to the Government of Rwanda to be incorporated into Volcanoes National Park.
The AWF donation was approved on May 26, 2017 by the Cabinet.
And the transfer of the title to RDB, marked the completion of the process of incorporating the land into the park.
Rwanda is one of the three countries ( including Uganda and DR Congo) in the world that are a haven to the mountain gorillas—considered one of the world’s most critically endangered ape species.
“The fact that people travel from all over the world and are willing to pay US$1,500 to see mountain gorillas demonstrates the extraordinary value of these awesome mammals,” Mkapa noted
Last year, Rwanda collected US$ 404 million from tourists and aims to generate US$ 444 million in 2017.
According to RDB, over Rwf 531,466, 921 was distributed last year to more than 158 community-based projects through the revenue sharing programme.
About the Park
Volcanoes National Park (PNV) was established in 1925. It is Africa’s oldest national park and lies in northwestern Rwanda. It borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The national park is home to the rare and endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. It straddles five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Massif (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), spanning 160km (16000 hecatres) covered in rainforest and bamboo.