A fundraiser organised by popular American TV personality and comedian Ellen DeGeners has raised some $5 million (about Rwf4.6 billion) as her efforts to raise funds for conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda kicks off in earnest.
Ellen DeGeneres was, over the weekend, joined by her wife Portia de Rossi and a host of other big names in the entertainment world for the 'Gorillapalooza' event in Los Angeles, California.
The proceeds were more than double the initial target, she said on her popular show, The Ellen Show, earlier this week.
"We were hoping to raise $2 million. That didn't happen. We raised $5 million. This is so important because there are only 1,000 mountain gorillas left," she said.
DeGeneres has initiated one of the world's largest gorilla conservation projects in Rwanda having visited the country in May last year. The comedian is building a campus in Rwanda, dubbed, The Ellen DeGeneres' Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, at the foot of Volcanoes National Park, a natural habitant of the endangered species, in Musanze District.
The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund will sit on 11 acres with 50,000 square feet, complete with laboratories, a library, meeting space, exhibits and classrooms.
The facility will include housing, and education and research centre, and a conservation gallery.
The ultimate goal is to provide tools to the Dian Fossey Fund to save the gorillas, she said.
At the event, A-listers in the entertainment industry graced the fundraiser, many making significant contributions toward DeGeneres' conservation work.
Some of the big names in attendance included Chris Martin, who staged a performance for the audience; James Corden who co-hosted a live auction, along with DeGeneres; as well as Julia Roberts and Sofía Vergara who tried to outbid each other for tickets at the "12 Days of Giveaways."
12 Days of Giveaways is an event where DeGeneres lavishes her audiences, for the period of 12 days, with increasingly exciting prize packages including electronics, gift cards, and Netflix subscriptions.
From the videos shared online, the live auction kicked off with James Corden asking participants on each table to point to the richest person sitting on every table.
The first bidder set $25,000 before Diane Keaton increased the value to $30,000 and Julia Roberts hiked the price to $50,000. But Sofía Vergara did not want Roberts to run away with the tickets so she hiked the amount to $55,000.
The bidding went on between Vergara and Roberts until Sofía Vergara had the final say with $85,000.
According to DeGeneres, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kendall Jenner, Sean Hayes, and Diane Keaton, among others, all donated towards the comedian's cause to save the endangered mountain gorillas.
The Rwanda DeGeneres campus
Last year, DeGeneres was gifted with a campus by her long-time partner de Rossi. That gift would later see DeGeneres embark on a first trip to Rwanda to witness the legacy of the late Dian Fossey, the American primatologist who dedicated her life to conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda before her murder in 1985.
DeGeneres, who's passionate about animal conservation, has since been raising awareness and mobilising resources to boost her conservation project in Rwanda.
The proposed campus, set to be the largest such facility of its kind, will mainly focus on research about conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas.
The campus will be home to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund which has been operating in Rwanda for more than 50 years through its Karisoke Research Centre in Musanze.
The Fossey Fund is the world's longest-running and largest organisation dedicated to the conservation of gorillas.
It particularly works in areas of conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat, scientific research on the gorillas and greater biodiversity of the region, educating the next generation of African scientists through working with Rwandan institutions of higher learning, and engaging local communities to increase their support for conservation.
When she visited Rwanda last year, she met several government leaders, including President Paul Kagame.
Kagame's government has over the years promoted gorilla conservation as part of broader efforts to harness the country's tourism potential and to position Rwanda as a top destination.
In a notable conservation effort, Rwanda has been naming baby gorillas - through the popular annual Kwita Izina (naming) ceremony - for the last 15 years attracting keen interest from conservationists globally. The Government has also rolled out hundreds of community initiatives as part of the 10 per cent of tourism proceeds it gives to communities surrounding national parks. This has helped eliminate poaching and win the support of residents around national parks in conservation efforts.
In terms of 'gorilla revenue', Rwanda generated $19.2 million from gorilla permits in 2018, up from $15 million in 2016, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
The proposed DeGeneres campus
Size - 50,000 square feet
Jobs to be created - 1500
Local labour - $2 million
Local raw materials - $2.5 million
2016 - $15 million (22,219 permits)
2018 - $19.2 million (15,132 permits)