Gorilla trekking has preserved Volcanoes National Park and even led to discussions about expanding it.
“When it comes to protecting gorillas, simply by virtue of our presence and by investing in Bisate Lodge, Wilderness Safaris and all our guests are helping to conserve them,” says Grant Woodrow, Chief Operating Officer of Wilderness Safaris.
“It is no exaggeration to say that, without tourism, the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Massif would be even more threatened today than they were before tourism to this region began,” he continues. “The Virunga Massif forms part of the oldest protected area in Africa, but even this was not enough to prevent half of the total area of land conserved on the Rwandan side being lost under the advance of settlement, deforestation, cattle grazing and industrial agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Similar threats appeared in the mid-1980s and it was only the promise of tourism and its ability to contribute to the national fiscus that prevented this. Tourism is now the biggest contributor to Rwanda’s GDP by some margin, and gorillas and gorilla tourism are acknowledged as critical parts of the national economy. It is now unthinkable that the park could be further reduced in size. On the contrary, expansion of the park and gorilla habitat is now contemplated. Every single gorilla trekking visitor to Rwanda is therefore contributing to this continued conservation of biodiversity.”
With an intense agricultural model in force, Rwanda has a limited number of indigenous trees outside its national parks. Bisate Lodge has thus embarked on a reforestation project of a core 42-hectare site, in close partnership with the Tuzamurane Cooperative. The project employs five community members and has already planted over 16 500 indigenous trees, utilising 10 species that could result in a natural recolonisation by birds, insects, reptile and mammals. Guests are encouraged to plant a tree during their stay.
Woodrow says, in contemplating its ecotourism model, the last thing Wilderness Safaris intended was simply to build a boutique lodge and sell gorilla treks. “We wanted to ensure that our brand of responsible ecotourism made a real difference to both rural Rwandan people and biodiversity conservation. Where wilderness and wildlife can prove a commercial or social value, they generally garner support for their existence. Nowhere is this maxim more apparent than around Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.”