Developing Species-Driven Conservation Tourism: Great Apes in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.
Only two populations of the iconic Mountain Gorilla remain. Each of the tourism initiatives developed by Conservation Capital is focused on one of those populations: Sabinyo Silverback Lodge in the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, and Clouds in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda. Habitat loss, poaching, disease and war have rendered these magnificent animals critically endangered. However, recent conservation efforts have been successful with overall populations growing over the last decade and these kinds of tourism intervention being widely acknowledged to have played a critical and positive role. Conservation Capital is also developing a conservation tourism strategy with WWF focused on the Bonobo population near Malebo in DRC.
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 the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (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$250,000 commercial development loan from a private investor – one of the first cases of a commercial loan ever being taken out by a local community in a conservation enterprise development context. The loan – which was structured at 0% interest but with rights to an escalating revenue based royalty was repaid in less than 5 years and generated an IRR of > 20%.
Outcomes: Since they opened in 2007, both these lodges have enjoyed considerable commercial success yielding significant returns to each of their host local communities – collectively more than US$ 2.5 million in less than 10 years, which has funded an impressive array of 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 DRC will target similar outcomes for the Bonobo.