The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund constructed near Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda is set to open in the summer of 2021. The campus will serve as the headquarters of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) and its Karisoke Research Centre. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is a gorilla-conservation organisation in Rwanda with the major aim of helping people and saving gorillas. The organisation was established to enhance the the gorilla conservation work that was started by American primatologist Dian Fossey in 1967 at Karisoke Research Centre. Since then, Karisoke has gone to become the world’s leading centre for conducting scientific research on mountain gorillas.
The new campus is funded by Ellen DeGeneres, an American celebrity and conservationist through the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund established in 2018. Ellen’s mission is to establish a permanent institution and adopt the old Karisoke center and its programs for modern needs of gorilla research conservation. The two non-profit organizations are partnering together – building a future for gorillas.
The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund was constructed on 5 hectares of land and it is set to be completed by the end of 2021. It will be one of the eco-friendly properties in Rwanda evidenced by the use of among others, local materials in construction gathered within 250 km within Musanze, green roof buildings, rainwater harvesting methods, planting of over 250,000 natural plant species and a man-made wetland to treat water thus promoting sustainable conservation while limiting impact on the gorilla habitats.
The making of the green campus will benefit not only mountain gorillas but also the Rwandan economy and the local communities living around Volcanoes National Park.
The Rwandan Development Board (RDB), estimates that the construction of the Ellen campus employs about 1500 people including 40% women. The campus facilities include laboratories, library, offices, classrooms and accommodation for visiting students and scientists.
The Fossey Fund also supports local primary education in Musanze district. More than 6000 school children including their teachers are supplied with learning materials, courses and training. Involvement of the young generation is key for building a knowledge-based society mindful of the environment and natural resources conservation.
There’s also an interactive conservation education gallery to further teach visitors who visit Rwanda for gorilla tours. The gallery displays works of Dian Fossey, an American primatologist who lived in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park from 1966 until her murder December 26th, 1985.
Studying mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in 1967 to conduct scientific research on endangered apes. The name Karisoke is a combination of two dormant volcanoes Mt. Bisoke and Mt. Karisimbi within Volcanoes National Park. Visitors can combine gorilla trekking with Mt. Karisimbi hiking in Rwanda.
For the last 50 years, the center has been conducting extensive research not only on gorilla behavior but also on other flora and fauna within the Virunga region including golden monkeys and eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Beiga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Karisoke, however has faced challenges including limited facilities and workspace at the main offices in Musanze town which shall be solved with completion of the Ellen campus.
Scientific research helps people to learn about the ecology, health and genetics of mountain gorillas which is a critical strategy to ensure their survival for the next generation. More information and publications on gorillas and the new Ellen campus can be found at Fossey Gorilla Fund website.
Mountain gorillas are endangered species and there are about 1063 individuals living in Virunga area and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The great apes don’t survive in captive zoos which make their conservation critical.
There are many ways to help save the mountain gorillas including booking gorilla safaris in Uganda, Rwanda and Virunga National Park. You can also be part of the World Gorilla Day celebrated annually on September 24 by donating funds towards gorilla conservation. Rwanda commemorates the day with a gorilla-naming ceremony in which baby gorillas born within the year in Volcanoes National Park are given names. The giving of names to these infant gorillas helps in easing their monitoring in the wild on a daily basis as they roam the forests within their natal families.
There population of mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing over the past few decades thanks to the intensive conservation efforts undertaken by governments and non-profit organisations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Results from the 2018 gorilla census indicated that there were 1,063 mountain gorillas in the wild, rising from about 250 individuals that were estimated to be remaining in 1970s. This steady increase led to the upgrade of mountain gorillas from critically endangered species to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
As a result, there’s an ongoing plan to expand Volcanoes National Park by additional 40 square miles. The plan is meant to create more habitat for increasing gorilla population, promote gorilla tourism and create opportunities for local economic development.
Gorilla tourism accounts for the biggest economic growth and development of Rwanda. For instance, the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) shows that the country received $438 million in tourism revenues in 2019 which is about 15% of the the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP)