Rwanda: Construction of U.S.$10 Million Gorilla Conservation Centre Nears Completion

15 January 2021

The construction of the Ellen DeGeneres campus which is close to Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi sector of Musanze district is at 50 percent.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Construction of campus, expected to boost mountain gorilla conservation efforts and promote Rwanda's tourism, started in February 2019 and was expected to open in early 2021.

However, the project which was supposed to be complete in early 2021 was disrupted by Covid-19 pandemic, Félix Ndagijimana, the Director of Rwanda programmes at Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Karisoke Research Center told The New Times adding that it is now set to open in late 2021.

Dubbed "Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund", it is the Ellen Fund's first $10 million project to supports Rwanda's conservation efforts for endangered species, starting with gorillas.

Gorillas' conservation in Rwanda was pioneered by Dian Fossey, an American primatologist and conservationist from 1966 until she was murdered in 1985.

The Ellen Fund aims to continue Dian Fossey's journey and help save mountain gorillas in the wild.

The construction of the campus is being carried out by MASS Build Design Group.

"Construction was suspended for approximately six weeks between March and May 2020, as the whole country went on lockdown to battle the pandemic," he said.

He also said that the project has experienced some delays in the delivery of construction materials, especially those that are outsourced from outside the country adding however that many of the necessary materials that are found in country reduced the chance of delivery problems.

He noted that when construction resumed, fewer than half of the workers initially returned due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

"We needed to ensure the health and safety of the workers on site. The number of workers has gradually increased since then, and we've been able to adhere closely to our original construction timeline," he said.

The Ellen Campus will enable us to move closer to the park and the communities we serve and also greatly enhance the quality of our science, education and community initiatives, Ndagijimana said.

The project has to create 1,500 jobs of which 40 per cent being female as $2million has to be spent on local labour according to officials.

In addition, an estimated $2.5m has to be spent on locally sourced materials.

Inside the campus features

Set on 12 acres, the Campus is comprised of three main buildings-the Research Center, Education Center, and Conservation Gallery-as well as housing for visiting students and scientists

When it is completed, he said, the multi-acre, eco-friendly facility will be the new home of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

The gallery will house an interactive public exhibit used to educate tourists and local communities about gorillas and their habitat, the importance of conservation, and the work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

"Our Education Center will be used for training the next generation of conservationists. It includes classrooms, a library and computer lab," he explained.

The Research Center will have flexible office and meeting space for the Fossey Fund staff as well as scientific resources, such as a herbarium and multiple laboratories.

There will also be on-site residences that will be available for students who are visiting for research or training.

250,000 native plant species

In addition, Ndagijimana said, the Campus will embody the Fossey Fund's mission to conserve and limit its impact on the environment, through rainwater harvesting and green roofs.

"It will also see the planting of over 250,000 native plant species and a constructed wetland to treat wastewater and promote biodiversity," he added.

The landscaping outside the campus will also serve as a living laboratory where concepts such as water conservation and reforestation can be taught.

The conservationist explained that is set to support Rwanda's conservation efforts by inspiring and educating the next generation of conservationists in Africa and beyond.

This, he said, will ensure the survival of gorillas and their biodiversity forest home.

"The Campus will allow the Fossey Fund to continue our crucial research work on mountain gorillas and the biodiversity of Virungas to help inform conservation policies in Rwanda," he noted

He added that it will serve as a key node in the government's Center of Excellence in Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management.

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