Sustainable Travel in Rwanda

Those who know anything about Rwanda will immediately think… gorillas. It is, indeed, one of the few places where the last of the wild mountain gorillas can be found. Volcanoes National Park is home to an estimated one-third of the worldwide population of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. But they are not Rwanda’s only primates. Nyungwe Forest National Park is Africa’s largest protected mountain forest and supports 13 species of primates that include chimpanzees, grey-cheeked mangabeys, golden monkeys, baboons and Ruwenzori colobus monkeys that can be found in groups up to 400 individuals, the largest troop size of any primate in Africa. In this park alone, some 300 species of birds have been identified, 27 of which are endemic. Akagera National Park has a savanna ecosystem dominated by acacia and including several rare or endangered plant species. The country overall includes more than 100 varieties of orchids as well as 670 avian species so far recorded. Rwanda possesses great beauty with dramatic mountain ranges, volcanoes and dense tropical forests as well as rolling hills, luxuriant valleys, lakes and savannas. But Rwanda is also its people. Hunter gatherers settled in the area during the stone and iron ages, followed later by Bantu peoples. Rwandans came from the Banyarwanda, a single cultural and linguistic group. Within this group, there are three subgroups: the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa, who are a forest-dwelling pygmy people descended from Rwanda's earliest inhabitants. Today, Rwanda’s mainly rural population is among the highest density in Africa. After years of struggle, Rwanda today is looking to the future with tourism playing a major role. It is already 25% of the national export, four times the world average, and provides eight percent of the GDP. Rwanda is eager to show travelers unique wildlife adventures.

What are they doing right?

Rwanda launched a Sustainable Tourism Master Plan in 2009 as a part of its overall Vision 2020 development plan for the country. As home to the iconic Mountain Gorilla, whose habitat ranges across Volcanoes National Park, shared with Uganda, the country is working to both protect this flagship species and its habitat, as well as ensure that the surrounding communities also benefit from tourism's economic benefits. While working to diversify its tourism attractions, including other national parks that are home to nearly a dozen species of primates, including wild chimpanzees, Rwanda also recognizes the unique attraction of visiting the Mountain Gorillas in their wild habitat, and is working on conservation strategies to ensure their long-term survival, as well as improving support for local communities so that they benefit more from tourism. Projects include creating larger buffer zones between the gorillas and nearby villages to avoid gorillas damaging villagers’ crops, increasing gorilla viewing permit fees to generate more revenue for better conservation of other protected areas in the country, establishing new national parks, reintroducing wildlife species, and fostering a campaign to encourage visitors to go gorilla trekking and stay longer in the country to also visit other national parks.

The Elephant Ranking

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The country has fully embarked on a national level sustainable tourism master plan incorporating the three main pillars of best practice: environmentally-friendly operations; support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage; and improving the special and economic well-being of local people.

Rubaya village in northern Rwanda has become a sustainable example that other communities can emulate. It endured serious soil erosion from heavy rains, which washed away the fertile top oil, houses and whole hillsides. The villagers were losing their ability to sustain their agricultural productivity, which, in turn, was leading them into poverty. Rwanda's Environment Management Authority (REMA) and partners, including a UN agency, launched an initiative that has transformed the village. They established initiatives that called on innovative technologies, including rainwater harvesting systems, use of biogas residue as fertilizer, tree planting for climate proofing and terracing. These techniques dramatically improved productivity to a point where excess production could be sold in the market, generating an annual income for the women-led cooperative that manages the initiatives.

Why the Elephant Ranking?