Gorilla spotted whilst trekking in Rwanda

Conservation and Sustainability in Rwanda

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Niarra Travel

In the realm of luxury travel, few destinations offer a unique blend of natural splendour and cultural richness quite like Rwanda. From the mist-covered slopes of its majestic volcanoes to the sprawling savannahs of its national parks, Rwanda's commitment to conservation and sustainability is evident at every turn.

Conservation in Rwanda is multifaceted, targeting various aspects of environmental protection and sustainability and is enforced by national policy and funding down to local community-based stewardship for the wildlife.

Intense gorilla trekking experience, a unique African safari activity.

A Brief History of Gorilla Conservation in Rwanda

Rwanda's conservation journey is deeply intertwined with challenges in preserving its diverse ecosystem.

At the heart of this narrative lies the iconic mountain gorilla. Gorilla conservation in Rwanda captured the world's attention in the latter half of the 20th century because decades of poaching, habitat destruction, and human encroachment had pushed these gentle giants to the brink of extinction, with their population dwindling to a mere handful.

The Volcanoes National Park, initially created in 1925 as a sanctuary to protect the mountain gorillas, served as a crucial bastion of hope for their survival. Yet, it was not until the pioneering work of conservationists like Dian Fossey, and her advocacy and groundbreaking research that brought international attention to the plight of the mountain gorillas, that any concerted conservation efforts were set in motion.

After public outcry in response to the death of several silverback gorillas, President Habyarimana challenged leading conservation NGOs in Africa to help with methods and funding to protect the gorillas. This resulted in the Mountain Gorilla Project, which focused on capacity-building, anti-poaching, and boosting awareness.

The project also worked to habituate mountain gorillas to tourist groups, training Rwandan rangers in new methods. Eventually the Mountain Gorilla Project moved under the control of the Rwandan government where it would stabilise the mountain gorilla population and protect their habitat.

While there are still challenges to be faced, such as continued poaching and habitat loss, the support of the government, local communities, and conservation organisations is critical to ensuring the long-term survival of the park’s wildlife and ecosystems.

The government of Rwanda recently announced plans to expand Volcanoes National Park due to its growing mountain gorilla population and vision for community livelihood improvement. This initiative will expand the park by approximately 23%, increasing its size by 37.4 sqkm.

Conservation focused vacations to Rwanda and taking part in gorilla trekking activities directly helps conservation and research, giving wildlife the best chance for survival in this ever-changing world.

Two gorillas seen on a gorilla trekking safari

Further Animal Conservation Efforts in Rwanda

Today, Rwanda's commitment to wildlife conservation extends far beyond the mountain gorillas.

The country boasts an impressive array of protected areas, including Akagera National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park, home to a diverse range of species, from elephants and lions to chimpanzees and rare bird species.

Just over 20 years ago, Akagera Park was only half its current size. In 1994, half the park’s area was reallocated to families who resettled in the area, bringing over 30,000 cattle with them. When lions began killing the cattle, furious cattle owners poisoned the lions in retaliation. At the turn of the millennium all the lions were gone from Akagera, and by 2007, so had all the rhinos.

Elephants had been wiped out by poaching, until an initial reintroduction returned a group of 26 in 1975. This founder population has grown to over 100. The endangered Masai giraffe, introduced to Akagera from Kenya in 1986, currently numbers an estimated 78 individuals.

More recently, in 2009, the Rwandan government enlisted support from Africa Parks – to reverse the decline of Africa’s biodiversity. After lions were hunted out in the 1990s, a founder population was reintroduced in 2015 and 2017, and lion numbers have since expanded today numbering around 58 individuals.

2017 also saw the historic return of 18 eastern black rhinos to Akagera after a 10-year absence. Five more were translocated from European zoos in June 2019 to boost genetic diversity. Since then, in a partnership with the RDB and &Beyond, 30 southern white rhinos were successfully translocated to Akagera to expand their range and provide a safe haven. This is the largest single rhino translocation to take place to date.

The park now has the full complement of the Big Five again. One of the reasons for the incredible renewal of Akagera National Park’s wildlife is an effective conservation law enforcement strategy and strong support from community members. Akagera’s team of over 100 rangers – mainly consisting of local community members – patrol, track and deter illegal activities. This has resulted in great success in reducing poaching to an all-time low.

Through innovative conservation strategies, governance and collaborative partnerships with local communities, Rwanda has emerged as a global leader in biodiversity preservation, setting a shining example for conservation efforts across the continent.

Lion spotted in Akagera National Park

What Efforts Are Being Made to Protect the Environment in Rwanda?

Rwanda's dedication to environmental stewardship goes hand in hand with its broader vision of sustainable development and economic prosperity.

The ‘Umuganda project’ is a mandatory community service held on the last Saturday of each month, where Rwandans across the country participate in various activities such as cleaning streets, planting trees, building infrastructure, and rehabilitating public spaces. This initiative fosters a sense of community, responsibility and stewardship over maintaining a clean and healthy environment.

At the forefront of Rwanda's environmental initiatives is the preservation of its precious forests and wetlands. As part of the Bonn Challenge, Rwanda aims to restore 2 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030. This ambitious target is pursued through various projects such as the Green Gicumbi Project, which focuses on restoring ecosystems in northern Rwanda.

These initiatives not only help to sequester carbon but also improve soil fertility, water quality, and biodiversity. The Rwandan government collaborates with local communities, international organisations, and NGOs to implement these projects, ensuring a comprehensive approach to land restoration.

Rwanda has developed a comprehensive National Strategy for Climate Change and Low Carbon Development to address the impacts of climate change. Rwanda aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 38% relative to business-as-usual levels by 2030. This target translates to a reduction of approximately 4.6 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent annually.

Rwanda is making significant investments in renewable energy to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and to promote sustainable development. This has predominantly been through harnessing natural resources to develop solar, hydro, and methane gas energy projects.

Most notably, the Gigawatt Global Solar Field, one of East Africa's largest solar power plants, exemplifies Rwanda's commitment to renewable energy. This solar plant provides clean energy to thousands of homes and businesses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fostering energy independence. By 2030, Rwanda aims to achieve 100% electrification, with 52% of the energy mix coming from renewable sources.

Environmental conservation in Rwanda is comprehensive and strategic, addressing both immediate and long-term challenges. Through land restoration and renewable energy initiatives, the country is paving the way for a sustainable and resilient future.

Virunga Lodge Volcanoes Rwanda 5

How Niarra is Helping Conservation Efforts in Rwanda?

Rwanda stands as a shining exemplar of conservation and sustainability in the realm of luxury travel. As travellers embark on their journey to this enchanting country, they not only indulge in unparalleled luxury but also contribute to the preservation of a precious natural legacy for generations to come.

Niarra Travel believes travel should be a transparent and meaningful experience that helps local people. Our collaborations with organisations such as The Long Run and Tourism Declares, along with our collection of accommodation partners, demonstrate the positive impact we aim to create through each and every one of our trips.

If you are interested in sustainable travel to Rwanda that helps to fund conservation and communities get in touch with our team on +44 (0) 20 3821 5994 (UK), +1 (833) 215 9353 (US) or at explore@niarratravel.com and start designing your perfect conservation vacation today.

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