Developing species-driven conservation tourism enterprises: Great Apes in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.
Only two populations of Mountain Gorilla remain anywhere in the world and each of the two conservation tourism facilities already developed by Conservation Capital, together with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), are focused on one of those populations – Sabinyo Silverback Lodge in the Parc National des Volcans in Uganda, and Clouds in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda.
Habitat loss, poaching, disease and war have rendered these magnificent animals critically endangered and less than a thousand individuals survive. However, while their status remains extremely fragile, recent conservation efforts have been successful with the overall populations growing on a sustained basis over the last decade. Ecotourism efforts, particularly those like these that are community-based, have been a critical part of this process – indeed growth rates among those groups that have been habituated for tourism are said to be higher than those that have not. Conservation Capital is now also working with WWF and its Bonobo Conservation Project in the DR Congo developing a conservation tourism strategy focused on the Bonobo populations near Malebo.
Our Role: Both the existing lodges are wholly owned by their host local communities - through collective trust vehicles we designed on their behalf. Working with AWF and the IGCP, we managed a tendering process to secure private sector operating partners for each of these vehicles before negotiating and executing the development, operating and financing contracts that would underpin these partnerships. We structured a total is US$ 2.4 million to develop both facilities which in the case of Sabinyo included a US$250,000 commercial development loan from a private investor – one of the first cases of a commercial loan ever being taken out by a local community in a conservation enterprise development context. The loan – which was structured at 0% interest but with rights to an escalating revenue based royalty was repaid in less than 5 years and generated an IRR of > 20%.
Outcomes: Since they opened in 2007, both these lodges have enjoyed considerable commercial success yielding significant returns to each of their host local communities – collectively nearly US$ 1 million to date, which has been spent on an impressive array of local community health, education, infrastructure and economic empowerment projects. The lodges also generate important revenues for the national protected area authorities responsible for these gorilla habitats and have played a further role in educating the wider world on the plight of the mountain gorilla. Our new project with WWF in the DR Congo will work to target similar outcomes for the Bonobo.