A decade ago when Rwanda tourism authorities decided to launch “Kwita izina” (Gorillas naming ceremony), people jokingly said that gorillas had become more important than human beings. In the Rwandan culture this ceremony normally happens in a family after the birth of a newborn.
When this ceremony was launched back in 2004, the public was skeptical about the decision to value baby gorillas the way human beings babies are in the rwandan society. After decades of civil wars that had plagued gorilla’s natural habitat and exposed them to poachers, it was necessary to protect them from imminent extinction.
Communities around Volcanoes National`s Park consisting of 125 km2 of mountain forest where the world famous mountain gorillas live were against the government`s move to stop their poaching activities. Villagers were used to enter the forests of the volcanoes for hunting purposes or to collect wild honey thus interrupting the natural ecosystem that sustains the gorilla populations.
The sudden change could not wholeheartedly be welcomed. Ten years later the same communities have come to understand the sustainable value of protecting mountains gorillas. Not only they promote the image of the country at the international level thus growing tourism revenues but also communities are now directly benefiting from tourism revenues.
The government in 2005 launched the Shared Tourism Revenue Scheme whereby 5% of annual tourism park revenues would be channelled into community development projects. Since then a total of 360 initiatives have been funded by the scheme country-wide, including roads, water facilities, health centres, cooperatives and more according to a press release by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in June, 2014.
During the 10th anniversary of Kwita Izina (the annual gorilla naming ceremony) this year, a primary school was launched in Nyabihu District in north-western parts of Rwanda by RDB. The school consists of six classrooms and will be attended by over 380 students and was built with funding from the Shared Tourism Revenue Scheme that comes from 5% of annual tourism park revenues.
While speaking at its launch, RDB’s Head of Tourism and Conservation Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi said: “Conservation is not just about maintaining the parks, natural features and wildlife; it is also about empowering communities. Through this school, we hope to transform the lives of children in the area by enabling easy access to education facilities.”
Each initiative among the 360 that were funded since 2005 had a positive impact on community development. The livelihoods of communities around the park areas have been improving year by year as the country`s tourism revenues increase. In 2013, Rwanda hosted 1,137,000 visitors who generated $294m, up from $62m in 2000. Mountains gorillas have also registered a 26.3% growth since 2003 thanks to Kwita Izina that played a key role in this success.
The same people who used to threaten the parks and its biodiversity have come to conclude that gorillas constitute a key asset to their communities. They are now ones of strongest advocates for its conservation.