President Paul Kagame on Friday applauded citizens of Musanze District and neighbouring areas for their role in conservation and encouraged them to continue the good work towards conservation of the environment, gorillas and other species.
He was officiating at the Kwita Izina ceremony, the annual gorilla naming tradition, which took place in Kinigi, Musanze District of the Northern Province - home to the Volcanoes National Park.
"Thank you to all the residents of Musanze for preserving our environment. Even though it is clear that we all stand to win from conservation, there are times when people don't realise the value of what they have. But for Musanze residents, I can't thank you enough," he told thousands of local citizens who had gathered in the Northern Province.
Kagame said he personally had an opportunity 15 years ago to name twin baby gorillas, whom he said he has been taking care of, and that "one of those children has become an important leader - a silverback."
Since the President took the lead to name the gorillas during the first edition, there has been remarkable progress with the gorilla population increasing, numbers of tourists growing, and the industry thriving.
In the 2003 Census, there were 380 gorillas in the Virunga Massif.
By the 2016 Census, the number had increased to 604 gorillas.
The Head of State said that such success stories could not have happened without the cooperation of the citizens, especially those surrounding the parks, as well as the support of the entire local communities.
Kagame highlighted that this cooperation has benefitted the citizens themselves through the revenue sharing programme.
Currently, 10 per cent of the revenue collected from gorilla conservation goes back to local communities.
According to the President, this has helped in advancing the cause of conservation, as well as development.
Rwanda Development Board indicates that as a result of the revenue sharing scheme, over Rwf5.2 billion has been disbursed to 647 community-based projects since the scheme was put in place in 2015.
Clare Akamanzi, the chief executive of RDB, said Kwita Izina today forms part of an ambitious strategy to preserve the natural heritage and expand the role of tourism in the country's transformation.
"We have set the lofty target of increasing tourism revenue to $800 million over the next five years - roughly double what it is today. Achieving the vision we have set for ourselves requires thinking big and being bolder," she said.
"That's why Rwanda is investing heavily in a range of foundational drivers of conservation, tourism and community development from research and partnerships to training, promotion, quality assurance and infrastructure development," she added.
According to Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at RDB, conservation has helped community development.
Last year, investments worth $1.7 million were directed in 37 projects - an increase of 51 per cent on the previous year.
"We are confident this trend will only continue as we welcome more and more visitors every year," she noted.
On the other hand, Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi, the Governor of Northern Province in which the Kwita Izina ceremony took place, highlighted that tourism was thriving in the region leading to an increase in other socio-economic activities.
"Citizens have received clean water, clinics, schools, roads and other income-generating activities," he said.
So far, he added, 58 hotels have been established in the region.