This file photo shows a rhino seen in Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda on Nov. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Lyu Tianran)
Rwanda, a landlocked East African country with limited resources, has struggled to find its place in the development of the local economy.
KIGALI, March 8 (Xinhua) — Innovative new conservation efforts are underway in Rwanda to protect white rhinos and mountain gorillas from extinction while empowering local communities through ecotourism and boosting wildlife economy of this landlocked country.
Rwanda, nicknamed the African country of a thousand hills, is located in the Great Rift Valley, where the African Great Lakes region and East Africa converge. Its natural assets include four national parks, namely Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, Gishwati-Mukura National Park and Volcanoes National Park, as well as 23 lakes and rare species such as mountain gorillas. Mountain.
The new conservation efforts have proven to be sustainable in terms of generating long-term benefits for local communities and ensuring the survival of wildlife species in the future.
This file photo shows gorillas seen at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Oct. 8, 2016. (Xinhua/Yang Mengxi)
ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY IN THE MANAGEMENT OF AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK IN EASTERN RWANDA
Game viewing in Akagera National Park, Central Africa’s largest protected wetland and the last remaining refuge for the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo – in the country, was a key tourist activity.
This was not always the case. In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than a million people were massacred by ethnic Hutu extremists in just 100 days, in addition to a devastating impact on the environment, the park was about to be lost forever.
New conservation efforts are being made with the aim of generating long-term benefits for local communities in Rwanda. Thirty white rhinos were introduced to Akagera National Park from a private game reserve in South Africa in November 2021, through a collaboration between partners such as the Rwanda Development Board and African Parks, with a funding provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
The relocation was the largest ever undertaken and aimed to ensure their survival into the future.
“Akagera National Park is a Rwandan treasure. It is one of the four national parks we have in Rwanda and the most visited attraction in the country,” said Jean Paul Karinganire, deputy director of tourism and of Akagera Management Company (AMC). Xinhua in his office inside the park. “Last year, our figures showed that 51% of all visitors were Rwandans. It’s really an important asset for the country. Economically, Akagera contributes to the community, it’s really essential We must involve them in our actions, they must be decision-makers and our partners to understand the management of the park and how they can benefit from it.”
“Ten percent of tourism revenue is returned to the community through a revenue sharing system. And 5% of tourism revenue is also returned to the community in what we call a special guarantee fund. C It’s a national fund that compensates for wildlife-related losses,” Karinganire said.
The park currently employs 286 people, 95% of whom come from the community. The 2021 aerial census counted more than 12,000 animals, compared to less than 6,000 in 2010.
“The park is an incredible gem that Rwanda has. It is a huge boost for the economy of the country and a huge boost for us, the citizens of the country and the people who surround the park itself” , said the tourist guide Bachu Abdallah. .
An African fish eagle stands on a branch in Akagera National Park, Rwanda, March 1, 2022. (Xinhua/Huang Wanqing)
Akagera National Park, located along the border with Tanzania, is about a three-hour drive from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. He was not immune to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As countries went into lockdown and international flights were blocked to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the tourism sector has become one of the hardest hit sectors in Rwanda. Tour operators, hotel and lodge owners, food and transport providers have all suffered significant losses.
“Before COVID in 2019, we had 50,000 visitors and around $2.6 million in revenue. In 2020, we had 15,000 visitors and around $1.2 million in revenue. But we were happy that in 2021 the trend is up again,” Karinganire pointed out. “Tourism is the number one source of trade for the country, helping people find jobs, opportunities for lodge and hotel owners, and marketing Rwanda to the world. Because Rwanda was only known than for the genocide. Now it’s a country where you can see gorillas, you can see the Big Five, you can see chimpanzees.”
Rwanda is now also aiming to establish itself as a regional and global hub for conferences and events and is set to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) during the week of June 20 in Kigali.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Rwandan economy rebounded strongly in 2021 and the recovery is expected to continue in 2022.
An impala stands in Akagera National Park, Rwanda, March 2, 2022. (Xinhua/Huang Wanqing)
SAVE THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
Elsewhere, Musanze Volcanoes National Park in the misty volcanic range of the Virunga Mountains is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which only a thousand remain in the wild. The park located in the northwestern part of the country and covering an area of 16,000 hectares, is home to 364 mountain gorillas or 20 families according to the last census in 2018.
Protecting primates and their habitat is a top priority, as they are at the heart of Rwanda’s tourism industry after decades of habitat encroachment and existence-threatening poaching. Mountain gorilla tourism is also a key driver of economic growth and conservation.
The park has attracted tourists from all over the world to trek and hike the gorillas in the Misty Mountains in hopes of encountering the silverbacks and their families up close. Due to the pandemic, tourists have been required to wear face masks to prevent a transmission of COVID from humans to gorillas.
After a dramatic decline in numbers following their scientific discovery in 1902, new conservation initiatives ensure that mountain gorilla numbers are now slowly increasing.
“Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are so important to us as tour operators, and they are so important to the country because they bring in foreign currency,” Olivier Kanyabikali, director of Countryside Tours-Rwanda, told Xinhua. “The money paid by tourists helps a lot with mountain gorilla conservation and many other aspects of tourism and wildlife in Rwanda, and it also benefits local communities. They receive a certain percentage of mountain gorilla income and tourism.”
The area is also home to the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which aims to address conservation challenges and ensure the survival of gorillas and their biodiversity-rich forest habitat.
Mountain gorillas are only found in three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to WWF International, the mountain gorilla population currently stands at around 1,004 individuals and its status is still in danger.
Tour guide Abdallah thinks otherwise. “For the future of Rwanda, I wish that this country can do better and better to develop other parts of tourist attraction areas because we have several of them, not only national parks,” he said. . ■