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Smart conservation saves endangered rhino and gorillas in Rwanda

In the same week that Sir David Attenborough declared that global warming could lead to the extinction of “much of the natural world”, the cheering tale of Olmoti, the Eastern black rhino due to make an epic journey from England to Rwanda, shows the power of positive action to protect endangered species when nations have the will to do so.

Olmoti, a three-year-old Eastern black rhino, is leaving Flamingo Land zoo in North Yorkshire for her new home in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, where she’ll play a key role in the latest phase of a breeding programme that has already begun to pull the species back from the brink.

Rwanda has made astonishing progress in protecting and growing the populations of endangered species. The reintroduction of rhino into Akagera National Park after a 10-year absence was headline news in 2017, when the Rwanda Development Board first collaborated with conservation agency, African Parks, to bring a founder population of 20 Eastern black rhinos over from South Africa. Reports this year on the future welfare of the rhino herd are extremely promising, and the new arrivals (three rhinos are also coming from a zoo in the Czech Republic) are set to further boost the population in the next few years.

At The PC Agency, we’re enormously proud to be the UK’s official PR and tourism representative for Rwanda. Our integrated consumer and trade relations activities firmly focus on campaigns to educate, inspire and change perceptions of this remarkable country. Wildlife and conservation are, of course, one our key areas of interest, and this year we’ve been celebrating a series of good news stories that are helping to put Rwanda firmly on the tourism map.

News of the great apes is greatly inspiring: The gorilla population in the Virunga Massif, of which Rwanda is part, has grown from 480 in 2010 to 604 in 2018 – prompting conservationists to declare that the mountain gorilla is no longer on the critically endangered species list. Long-term protection will be aided by the Rwanda Development Board and the African Wildlife Foundation’s joint project to expand the Volcanoes National Park and to increase the habitat for mountain gorillas by 27.8 hectares. An increase in fees for gorilla permits to $1500 is set to provide more funds for conservation and community support.

Big cat numbers are also on the up. The lion population re-introduced back in 2015 after a 15-year absence has also proved to be a great success, with funding and investment now coming in from the new safari tours operating in the Akagera National Park.

Such positive developments have fuelled our messaging to the trade that, in terms of infrastructure, quality of accommodation and breadth of experiences, Rwanda is emerging as a serious safari holiday destination, where visitors can experience and support conservation in action.

Luxury lodges, including the newly refurbished Virunga Lodge, Five Volcanoes and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge have added wow factor to the range of accommodation options . New hotel properties due to open in 2019 include One&Only’s second property, Gorillas Nest, Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi Camp in Akagera National Park and Singita Kwitonda.

2019 will also see the opening of the new Gishwati-Mukura National Park, which will further expand Rwanda’s adventure tourism offering. Located in the north-west of the country, the park is on the highest-ridges of the Congo-Nile Divide along the incredibly biodiverse Albertine Rift.  Visitors will be able to go bird-watching, hiking and trek to see chimpanzees and colobus monkeys.

Since launching our ‘Changing Perceptions’ campaign in May 2017 – timed to celebrate the launch of the first direct flight from London Gatwick to Kigali with RwandAir – visitor numbers are up 21%.

If anyone was in any doubt about the power of effective PR and travel trade representation as a means of changing perceptions, as well as driving revenue, then the rise of Rwanda makes for a cheering case study in point.

With so much to offer from an abundance of natural resources to unique landscapes and now thriving wildlife, Rwanda is finally starting to seriously reap the success it deserves. Investment is coming in as a result of several hard-won accolades, notably that Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and the Number 1 country in East Africa to do business. The latter has been a key reason behind the opening of luxury tour operator Abercrombie and Kent’s new office in Kigali.

The fact that Rwanda has recently become a member of Atta, (the Africa travel and tourism association) will also help to garner more awareness amongst the UK travel trade, building on previous activities with the trade.

The UK consumer travel media has been watching with interest with many leading travel editors tipping Rwanda as a new must-see. This week, Telegraph Travel’s feature on how Rwanda became one of Africa’s most luxurious and safest destinations, marks another milestone in the destination’s transformation.

We’re looking forward to sharing updates on these ventures next year.