After four years of intensive construction of the mega project, the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is finally open and welcoming visitors in Rwanda. The campus is situated just outside Volcanoes National Park, a home to the endangered mountain gorillas of which the project aims to protect and enhance.
A gift to nature
The Ellen DeGeneres Campus was dedicated by talk show host Ellen Degeneres to be the permanent home of the Dian Fossey Fund which was created to continue Dian Fossey’s legacy of protecting mountain gorillas following her untimely death in 1985.
According to Ellen DeGeneres, the gorilla sanctuary is a gift from her wife Portia de Rossi for her 60th birthday four years ago. Portia narrated how she was moved by Ellen’s passion to emulate Fossey and her work which prompted her to give her this lifetime gift.
“Many years ago, my wife, Ellen, told me how as a little girl, in New Orleans, Louisiana, she came across the National Geographic with Dian Fossey on the cover. Seeing that brave American woman, a scientist, who left her comfortable life to set up a tent in the Rwandan forest to save a species on the brink of extinction, was transformative for Ellen. It made her see the world differently, and her place within it. Learning about this passionate, committed biologist, and the impact one person can have, was the catalyst for Ellen becoming who she is today—a trailblazer—just like her hero, Dian.
“I am here because it was my dream to link my wife, Ellen, to her hero in a significant and lasting way. My dream aligned with a 15 year dream of the Fossey Fund Leadership to build a permanent home in Rwanda. And so the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund will be Karisoke’s permanent home….
“…It is my hope that the campus will serve as a catalyst, to encourage us to dream bigger, to know that we too can make an impact and that all of us can become trailblazers—just like Ellen and Dian.” Said Portia de Rossi.
Upon the completion of the campus, Ellen expressed her amazement for fulfilling her dream of emulating Dian Fossey.
“Dian Fossey has always been a hero of mine, and so it’s been the honor of a lifetime to support this project. To see my name alongside hers on the walls of this beautiful campus, and to know I’m doing my part to protect endangered gorillas and continue Dian’s legacy, is simply amazing,” she said.
Ellen decided to offer the campus to the Dian Fossey Fund to fulfil the conservation organisation’s 20-year goal of building a permanent home. This was constructed with the bold vision of supporting;
The longterm health and care of the Dian Fossey Fund
Responsible tourism and
The needs of the local population
According to the Ellen Fund organisation, the goal of the campus is “to inspire everyone who visits, and the community members, to cherish gorillas and encourage a lifetime of conservation.”
Impact of the campus in the community
In addition to supporting conservation efforts in Rwanda, the Ellen DeGeneres Campus has become a huge investment in the local community. Over 2,000 workers have been employed of whom 21% are female as well as investing millions in local people and local materials.
The campus was designed by the award-winning MASS Design Group and before its completion was named among Africa’s 10 most anticipated architectural projects by CNN Style.
What makes up the campus
The campus sits on over 12 acres of land next to Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda with its building space occupying more than 50,000 square feet. The best in sustainable architecture, local resourcing, and environmentally-responsible practices,
State-of-the-art laboratories which increased laboratory space by 500%, a scientific conservation library, and meeting space for large groups,
An interactive exhibit that focuses on Dian Fossey’s story and the conservation of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda,
Indoor and outdoor classrooms with a range of experiences for everyone from young children to scientists to tourists, and
An extensive living laboratory housing 250,000 native plants.
Mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is part of the greater Virunga Conservation Area which straddle the borders of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. There are about 400 mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park according to the latest gorilla census in the park. The Park has 12 groups that have been successfully habituated by trackers who have made them get used to the presence of humans to facilitate tourism and ease their monitoring.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
The successful conservation of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park has boasted gorilla trekking safaris in the park. Thousands of travellers visit the park each year to meet these amazing endangered primates in their natural wild. Trekkers are charged $1,500 per person in order to visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The gorilla conservation regulations require that each group of mountain gorillas is visited once per day by group of 8 trekkers. Visitors are also encouraged to avoid getting so close to the gorillas as well maintaining silence while in their presence.