The other day a friend from the 1980s, when we lived in Kenya, was telling me about an idea he wanted to try out in Kigali in 1998 and how he shelved it, when it met resistance.
Seeing as it was a brilliant idea but also that it was at a time this country was grappling with so messy a situation, I personally thought his, at the time, was an idea whose time had not come.
His intention was to give tourists and other interested parties a mini-taste of our national parks. He wanted to create an animal sanctuary; a small home to a diversity of wild animals.
Today, that idea is an opportunity that has urgently been crying out for seizure.
Already, somebody has an ‘animal garden’ in Rwesero, near Kigali. And, on top of other tourist attractions, Kigali is host to a snake park.
In 1998 the urgency of settling all Rwandans after the effects of a calamitous 1994 overrode everything so much so that, if you’d suggested a snake park, we’d all have hissed in your face!
For info, an animal sanctuary is not like a zoo, where animals – bought, captured or poached from the wild, especially from other countries – are kept in prison-like conditions for public viewing. Nor is it like a zoo-like animal shelter under the charge of an individual or groups of individuals.
It’s a safe haven where animals receive the best care.
Our friend’s idea was therefore to create a mini park where resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild, but in a protective environment.
Having worked in the wildlife and tourism sector in Kenya at a time when their tourism industry was booming, our friend knows best what he has in mind. But, listening to his enthusiasm, you’d be persuaded to give him all the support he needs, however sceptical you may be of the practicability of carving out such a facility in this city.
The idea is compellingly appealing.
Most of you, especially senior citizens who’ve ever been refugees, hate hyenas I am sure. And who wouldn’t, knowing how they used to stealthily poach us out of our makeshift grass-tents, in our sleep?
If it were not for their cowardly foolishness, some of us wouldn’t be here to tell the story. It’s thanks to their frightened haste that they picked whatever their fangs caught and ran away, only to find themselves chewing sleeping grass-mats, on settling down for a meal!
Still, however cold-hearted against these innocent creatures you may be, I’m sure you’ll feel a pang of pain when you see a desolate wounded young one limping on its own, perhaps abandoned, if not orphaned, and easy prey to predators, sometimes from its own family.
Wouldn’t you be happy to see such a poor thing in that kind of facility, which would act as its orphanage?
Now think of all the animals that used to be our constant companions, in the old days when we led lives of little Tarzans. Unfortunately, these seem to be facing extinction.
Take ‘urukwavu’, wild rabbit or hare (not domestic ones that are for your avaricious palate pleasure!) I am made to understand that rabbit and hare are vastly different but in Rwanda they are all considered ‘inkwavu’ (plural), anyway – unless ‘bakame’ is not strictly for folklore.
Then there is ‘isha’, ‘little gazelle’ according to my inept dictionary. ‘Agasamunyiga’, skunk/polecat, that little animal that fends off impending attack by letting off one hell of a nostril-choking stink.
‘Umutereri’, a kind of chicken-chomping squirrel. ‘Ikinyogote’, the porcupine that’ll shower you with its poisonous quills, if you are a greenhorn hunter. Etc.
Does anyone see these little darlings anymore?
We have not talked about the birds that seem to be gone for good. Crested crane, guinea-fowl (‘inkanga’), partridge-bird (‘inkware’) and more.
We can also acquire exotic animals and birds for introduction into our game parks so that the sanctuary will also have served conservation and nursery purposes.
The endangered ones will be protected and others can be tended until they are of age for release into the wild.
Exotic animals and birds that immediately come to mind are: rhino, okapi, ostrich and peacock, without forgetting the existing but rare shoebill. These can be nursed in the sanctuary and then tested for fitness in our park conditions before a suitable home for them is decided.
To all the above and more, add samples of the usual birds as well as land and water animals in our game parks and you’ll see how we’ll be among the world’s most visited countries.
I can bet my last ‘franc rwandais’ that a passing visitor, say a conference delegate, once given that short tour of the sanctuary instead of only the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, will make it a point to return for longer tour of the true game parks and the other Genocide sites of Rwanda.
In this cutthroat world competition to attract tourists, every small idea will count.
So, individuals who’ve been harbouring such ideas should be encouraged to try them out.