Come August this year, the high-end conservation brand Singita opens Kwitonda -Lodge and Kataza House on the slopes of Volcanoes National Park, home to endangered mountain gorillas.
According to Luke Bailes, the founder of Singita, the opening of the lodges presents an invaluable opportunity for Singita to contribute to the conservation of the gentle giants by expanding their habitat, through increasing the forest cover of the area.
Bailes alluded to the ongoing challenge of conserving Africa’s most vulnerable landscapes.
“No matter how much work we do, there is always more to be done because wildlife areas continue to be under threat.”
He described this as the biggest conservation issue faced by the company, with poaching and the pressure caused by rapid population growth as contributing factors to the security of Africa’s biodiversity.
The 178-acre piece of land on which Singita Kwitonda and Kataza House will sit was once part of the park itself, and now forms part of an ambitious undertaking by the Rwandan government to restore over 7,000 acres of land to the protected area.
As the land in question has been under agriculture for many years, one of the priorities for its inclusion in the park is for it to be rehabilitated and reforested with appropriate local vegetation.
Claudine Tuyishime runs the conservation programme at Singita Kwitonda and is responsible for building and managing strong relationships with key stakeholders and community members.
She is also working on the implementation of projects that will fulfil Singita’s conservation vision, her days involve environmental monitoring on and around the site, following up on the plant nursery and landscape reforestation, working closely with contractors to ensure that sustainable practices are followed, and organising community consultation meetings and regular communication with local authorities.
“We’re thinking about the next generation of conservation leaders.”
Natural forests which cover 11.9 % of Rwanda’s total national land area are endowed with the ecological role such as biodiversity conservation.
Unfortunately, the area of natural forests in Rwanda has declined since 1990s, due to the high demand for agricultural land and settlements, according to the Ministry of Environment.
However, various efforts to halt forest loss and increase forest cover have been underway since 2007. Some of these efforts include gazetting the Gishwati-Mukura natural forest into a national park, rehabilitation of degraded forests and intensive tree planting campaigns.
With the conservation efforts, Rwanda has set a target to increase its forest cover to 30% of the total country land area through afforestation and reforestation by 2020.
To achieve this, the government is partnering with companies like Singita, who are able to support local government and communities by investing in impactful ecotourism projects in the region.
Singita has established an on-site nursery, called Akarabo, that already holds more than 60,000 plants – since construction started. Singita has added160,000 plants to the site.
Many of these plants have been purchased from the neighboring communities, including a co-operative of 71 people running a nursery that Singita helped to establish, and continue to support through the sharing of skills and knowledge.
Whilst large numbers of plants will be used to rehabilitate the land around the lodge, the next phase will require exponentially more specimens, as Singita will scale up to reforest the entire property as well as support the government in the greater park expansion programme.
The enormous scale of this reforestation initiative will ensure that the co-operative, and others like it, will be in business for a long time to come, whilst the ultimate success of the programme will be an expanded range and increasing population of mountain gorillas in the park.
This further supports Singita’s 100-year vision to protect large areas of Africa for future generations.