In the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, tourists pay top dollar for the privilege of tracking mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are a majestic but critically endangered species that are threatened by poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict. When local communities benefit from this tourism, however, they have more incentive to protect gorillas and other wildlife.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge provides the setting for a unique and exciting tourism experience where visitors can experience local wildlife and see African conservation in action. Sabyinyo was constructed through a partnership facilitated by African Wildlife Foundation between the local communities—represented by Sabyinyo Community Livelihoods Association (also known as SACOLA)—and a private-sector operator.
Almost US$1 million was invested, comprising a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative (CARPE), debt funds from a venture capital company, and equity participation from the private-sector partner. Sabyinyo opened for operations in 2007 and is now operated by Governors’ Camp Rwanda.
This lodge is based on gorilla tourism and supports conservation of the Parc National Virunga by providing employment and other benefits to surrounding community members. In 2009, the lodge provided about US$350,000 in financial benefits to the community and employed 50 people. Availability of exclusive accommodations attracts more guests to national parks, encourages longer stays, provides communities with a marketable tourism product, and contributes to management funds for protected area authorities through increased gate collections and fees from gorilla permits.
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