On Wednesday, January 10, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) received a property that will help increase the size of Africa’s oldest park – Volcanoes National Park. Established in 1925, the park is home to mountain gorillas, the world’s most endangered ape, and is situated in the north of Rwanda bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Mountain gorillas are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are only found in the Virunga Massif and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda). They represent one of the four great apes that live in Africa and are the only great ape increasing in population. Their recovery amid ecological pressures is extraordinary, and the Government of Rwanda has distinguished itself as a leader in conservation.
According to the 2010 census of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif, there were an estimated 880 individuals: 480 in the Virunga Massif and 400 in Bwindi. This represents an increase of 26.3 percent over the previous seven years or an average growth rate of 3.7 percent per annum.
However, the increase in mountain gorillas has led to a key challenge: adequate habitat. In 2017, African Wildlife Foundation purchased a 27.8-hectare property directly adjacent to the park. Today’s public handover of the property to the Government of Rwanda aims to help tackle this challenge.
“Today’s donation to Volcanoes National Park is a major step in the consolidation of Rwanda’s conservation gains for the benefit of communities today and future generations. Through gorilla conservation and tourism, we are directly benefitting from these wonderful animals,” said Clare Akamanzi, RDB Chief Executive Officer.
She said mountain gorillas and Volcanoes National Park are an economic engine for the country, supporting social and community development, infrastructure, and other important protected areas in Rwanda.
“Last year over USD 600,000 was distributed by RDB to more than 158 community-based projects through the Rwanda Revenue Share Program. This support will increase this year following the Government’s decision in 2017, to increase the Revenue Share Program from 5 percent to 10 percent of all tourism revenues. In addition, in partnership with fellow conservationists, over 700 community-based projects providing housing, schools, health clinics, and water tanks have been provided for the communities living in the 12 sectors and four districts surrounding Volcanoes National Park,” she added.
In 2016, Volcanoes National Park generated USD 16.4 million from park entry fees, supporting employment, community engagement and empowerment, livelihood development, social services, and infrastructure development. Visitor numbers have increased 82 percent since 2007, proving that there is an increasing demand to view mountain gorillas. Ensuring the park is viable in the long term is a priority for the Government of Rwanda.
AWF President Kaddu Sebunya said Rwanda had distinguished itself as a leader in conservation following the most remarkable great ape recovery on the continent.
“I am excited by the great strides Rwanda is taking to develop its natural heritage sustainably, and guarantee long-term socio-economic stability for its people. Through proactive government policies, community involvement, and open governance, Rwanda is demonstrating that development and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Such a win-win approach to conservation suggests that there is nothing inevitable about conservation challenges in Africa today,” Kaddu said.
He said Rwanda and RDB had provided a template for sustainable development.
“With support from the Annenberg Foundation, AWF bought 27.8 hectares of land directly adjacent to the park to donate to the Government of Rwanda to be incorporated into Volcanoes National Park. 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 RDB in this endeavor,” he said.