Developing species-driven conservation tourism: great apes in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC


Context: Only two populations of the iconic Mountain Gorilla remain. The two tourism initiatives developed by Conservation Capital are each focused on one of these 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 this type 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 lodges are owned by host local communities through collective trust vehicles that we designed. Working with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), we managed a tendering process to secure private sector operating partners before negotiating and executing the associated development, operating and US$.2.4 million financing contracts. In Sabinyo’s case, we also structured a US$250,000 loan from a private investor – probably the first example of a commercial debt ever being taken out by a local community in a conservation enterprise development context. The loan was structured at zero interest but with revenue based royalties in lieu. It was repaid in less than 5 years and generated an IRR of over 20%. 

Outcomes: In less than 10 years, these two lodges have collectively yielded more than US$ 2.5 million to their host local communities. This has funded an impressive array of health, education, infrastructure and economic empowerment projects. The lodges also generate important revenues to fund the conservation of these gorilla habitats and have played a further role in educating the wider world on the plight of the mountain gorilla.