The land of a thousand hills and famous for its Mountain Gorilla populations, Rwanda has dramatic scenery formed by the geological process of plate tectonics that is slowly tearing Africa in two, creating the Great Rift Valley, which is easily visible from space. In places along the fissure, volcanic activity has broken through the weakened earth’s crust to form volcanic cones that punctuate the uplifted Virunga mountains, shared by The Congo, and Uganda. In between the mountain country are a ribbon of beautiful Rift valley lakes such as Lake Kivu.
Lush tropical rain forest, home to the Mountain Gorilla, gives way to extensive stands of bamboo forest. At the highest levels on the highest volcanoes one finds moorlands with endemic giant lobelia and groundsel.
World attention on the plight of the gorilla came from the pioneering work of the late American zoologist, Diane Fossey, who studied the animal and alerted a wider audience to its dwindling numbers. She wrote the book, Gorilla’s in The Mist, and a film of the same name was made in 1988. She started a research camp in 1967, high up in the volcanic mountains fringing the Albertine Rift Valley, and went on to discover much of what is known of gorilla behavior. She faced numerous challenges and her life ended abruptly. Ironically, she opposed tourism and close human contact with gorillas, fearing the animals would perish from human-carried pathogens. These fears were not unfounded and today care is taken to prevent infection.
After many earlier turbulent times, Rwanda has emerged as a progressive, safe and fast developing state, where tourism has become a major earner. The country boasts a variety of diverse attractions. In addition to gorillas, there are many other primates to see, as well as fantastic bird life, beautiful Rift Valley lakes and incomparable scenery, and friendly, welcoming people.
The Rwanda government has managed to foster and develop tourism in a way that benefits local communities around the parks and protected areas. So there is a local interest in the survival of the nearby wildlife. Modern, comfortable hotels and lodges serve the country’s growing tourism industry. Well-trained rangers and guides take enthusiasts to the habituated groups of gorilla families living on one of several volcanic mountains. The experience of being up close to a family of gorillas is unique and enriching - a must do for all who can visit Rwanda. Despite being endangered, the gorilla has become a significant magnet for tourism dollars, which in turn are helping to give hope for its survival. In other words, the tourist’s dollar is a contribution toward conservation and a means of helping to save Rwanda’s gentle giant.
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Gorillas a conversation with Francois Bigirimana
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