On Wednesday, January 10, a wildlife conservation organization donated nearly thirty hectares of land to Rwanda’s largest national park to help the country grow their habitat for mountain gorillas. It seems a small donation, against the 16,000 hectares already invested in Volcanoes National Park, but the new territory is an established home to some of the rare gorillas, and the park has been shrinking, not growing, in its 93 years of existence. According to the Rwandan Development Board, it is only 46 percent of its original acreage.
African Wildlife Foundation, the organization who donated the land, bought it last year from local developers with this donation in mind. They handed it over on Wednesday morning in the town of Kinigi, in the foothills of the volcano mountains in northern Rwanda. The ceremony attracted thousands of attendees, including Benjamin Mkapa, the former President of nearby Tanzania.
There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas known to be left today, with a little more than 60 percent of those in the Rwandan borders. That represents a significant rise in their population in recent years, which the Rwandan Development Board attributes to “stringent conservation measures.”
“Rwanda has taken great steps in gorilla conservation. Its most notable gorilla naming event has led to an increase in the number of gorillas hence becoming a major tourism attraction to the country,” said African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya at the event.
“AWF recognizes that if mountain gorillas are going to survive in the long term, this park must be strategically protected, and we are committed to supporting Rwanda in conserving these endangered species,” Sebunya also said, adding that Rwanda is proof that conservation and development do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Gorilla tourism is a major part of Rwanda’s development, making the crux of their tourism industry. Nearly 30,000 people a year visit the Volcanoes National Park alone just to see them, and gorilla tourism has produced over 100 million USD in Rwanda in the last nine years.