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INTERVIEW

“Gorilla conservation is everybody’s responsibility”

Rosette Chantal Rugamba

Deputy CEO, Rwanda Development Board, in charge of tourism and conservation in Rwanda

When we heard that 2009 was to be the year of the gorilla, we were very, very excited. It fitted in very well with the Rwanda strategy and policy. Yes, the gorilla is endangered but we want to say that there is some fragile success in Rwanda, that it is not all gloomy, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel with what we are doing here. The gorilla population is growing, we have seen changes in habits, we have seen community involvement – and all aided by government involvement that has created a very con- ducive environment – not only for the people of Rwanda, but also for the wildlife and the natural habitat. And you really cannot talk about gorilla conservation without talking about its habitat.

Kwita Izina is a Kinyarwandan name which means ‘naming’, and for the past five years, we chose to use this platform of gorilla naming by making it a public event to highlight to the world that, yes, gorilla conservation is everybody’s responsibility. Rwan- da and the other countries like Congo and DRC are privileged to be the custodians of these wonderful creatures but the responsibil- ity to conserve them is everybody’s.

Since we started gorilla tourism, over 95 nationalities of the world have visited Rwanda for the gorillas. So that goes to say,

that the gorilla transcends boundaries. That it is a species that is not only a wonderful species, but a species we can use to really create peace and stability in the world, to protect our environment.

Take the case study of the mountain gorillas in the Virunga eco- system – gorillas have no passports and they don’t know any boundaries so the three countries, Uganda, DRC and Rwanda, chose to work together, united by the gorilla. We created the trans-boundary collaboration, which has been very, very success- ful partly because it had a bottom-up approach. Our people on the ground were already collaborating, they were sharing the monitoring system, and they understood that every country can- not do it alone, you cannot talk about successful gorilla conser- vation in Rwanda without thinking what’s happening in the other places. It’s been endorsed by our governments, our minis- ters signed a Memorandum of Understanding and we now have a Trans-boundary Collaboration Office which is based in Kigali. This was an area that really was full of conflict, but even amidst the conflict, we all agreed on one principle, that this flagship species has got to be protected, its habitat has got to be protected – and if we can do it, then anybody else can do it.

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