Rwanda: How Much Do You Know About the Gorilla, the Rose and Its Roots?
By Sam Kebongo, 5 April 2013
There is a South American poem to the effect that the flowers get all the glory and honour and the roots hardly get noticed yet it is the roots that enable the flowers, the stem and the leaves; the plant to stay so luxuriant and alive.
When we think of roses, most of us think of the beauty, the aroma and stuff like that. Very few of us think of all the trouble it takes to get the rose so rosy. This is the mirror image of the relationship between tourism and conservation in Rwanda. You and I are more likely more focused on the tourism figures and frills and I bet you very few of us think about the nature conservation side.
Sample the following:
The Roses: Facts and figures we could gather indicated that the projected revenue from tourism earnings for the year 2012 was US$ 277 million (that is over 180 Billion Rwandan Francs). In 2011 tourism earnings were US$ 251 million in 2011. Much of that money came courtesy of the mountain gorillas which remain one of the major attractions of tourists to Rwanda.
According Rica Rwigamba, head of Tourism and Conservation unit at Rwanda Development Board (RDB); gorilla receipts account for 90% of total national park receipts with the endangered primates attracting some 20,000 visitors in 2011.
Between 2005 and 2011, 160 gorillas were been born. There are an estimated 480 gorillas living around the Virunga Massif (Volcanoes National Park, Mgahinga in Uganda and Virunga in DR Congo). In fact, due to a booming demand to view these primates, RDB had to raise its fees.
A very rosy picture we have there. I’m sure that the current figures are even rosier; it is unfortunate that RDB does not have them at their finger tips.
The roots: One of the foremost gorilla habitat conservation organisations, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGFI) has been at it since 1967 when its founder, Dian Fossey, moved to the Massif. The current gorilla population of 480 plus doubling of the 1978 figures when there were 250 gorillas in a trend that represented a decline. As a matter of fact, the western gorilla, the Bonobo and the Orang Utang have had their populations decline to a point of extinction.
The Fund’s annual budget is $2 million (1.3 billion francs), all from private donors. About $2 million is invested and we get close to $300 million returns. Of course there are other investments but we cannot deny that this is still good business.
The mere fact that our gorilla populations are growing against a global decline and extinction should make us kiss the boots of conservationists. But before we do that, it is on record that gorilla receipts account for 90% of total national park receipts and Tourism accounts for over 25% of our revenues. What does this mean? In deed the gorilla is Rwanda’s unique selling point in tourism. It must be treated royally at all costs.
The gorilla is our cash cow. Only a fool would leave a cash cow without pasture. As we admire the rose, we should work harder to get it water and weed the flower lest it wilt and we end up killing our goose that lays golden eggs.
There are many efforts to do this and they should be encouraged. The problem is that they are not coordinated and the wider public is not well informed about them. How much do you know about the gorilla, for example? Did you know that to capture a baby gorilla, the poacher would have to kill its parents? They are very protective of their young.
It is with a view of bringing nature conservation partnerships such as these to the fore that DFGFI organised a workshop that brought together the academia, as well as members of the private and public sectors. The lively discussions brought out the fact that a platform is needed to keep nature conservation a key driver of the economy.
There is need for more networking among players in the different sectors. The interdependency and power that comes thereof is enormous. We tend to ‘overspecialise’ to the extent that communication even within same organisation becomes a problem. This has been counterproductive.
Information sharing is still a challenge. People in positions that require that they know facts and figures don’t have the fact at their finger tips. Such sharing is crucial to foster progress and avoid duplication of effort.
Nature conservation is serious business; it is the root of our tourism and related business. We should all sign up.