President of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) Kaddu Sebunya (L) hands over a land's map as a symbol of the land donated by AWF to Clare Akamanzi (R), CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), during an event of handing over the land in Musanze district, Northern Province, Rwanda, on Jan. 10, 2018. African Wildlife Foundation on Wednesday donated 27.8 hectares of land to Rwanda's national park in a bid to help the country expand habitat for the endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife. (Xinhua/Gabriel Dusabe)
MUSANZE, Rwanda, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on Wednesday donated 27.8 hectares of land to Rwanda's national park in a bid to help the country expand habitat for the endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife.
The land directly adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze district, Northern Province, was purchased by AWF last year as part of the foundation's efforts to protect mountain gorillas and boost wildlife conservation in Africa.
According to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the 27.8 hectares will be added to the existing 16,000 hectares that is the current size of the park.
Lying along the Virunga mountains with 8 ancient volcanoes shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the park is home to mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and other wildlife. Mountain gorilla is a critically endangered species, which has the population of 880, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They are found in the Virunga mountains and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, said WWF.
Of those in the Virunga massif, Rwanda accounts for 62 percent of the mountain gorilla population, RDB said last May, adding that stringent conservation measures have significantly contributed to a rise in gorilla numbers.
The event to officially hand over the land was held in Kinigi at the foothills of the volcano mountains in northern Rwanda, which attracted thousands of people from surrounding communities including conservation enthusiasts, tourism operators, members of AWF and Rwandan officials.
Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa also attended the event.
Rwanda has taken great steps in gorilla conservation. Its most notable gorilla naming event has led to an increase in the number of gorillas hence becoming a major tourism attraction to the country, said AWF President Kaddu Sebunya at the vent.
"AWF recognizes that if mountain gorillas are going to survive in the long term, this park must be strategically protected, and we are committed to supporting Rwanda in conserving these endangered species," he said.
Sebunya added through proactive government policies, community involvement and open governance, Rwanda is demonstrating that development and conservation are not mutually exclusive.
According to RDB, through conservation efforts mountain gorilla numbers in Volcanoes National Park have increased from 285 in 1978 to 480 in 2010. Between 2003 and 2010 gorilla numbers increased by 26.3 percent, it said.
"The increase in the gorilla population has led to a decreased adequate habitat. This donation is a major step in the consolidation of conservation gains, " said Clare Akamanzi, CEO of RDB.
The Volcanoes National Park has decreased by 54 percent since its establishment in 1925, according to RDB.
According to her, the survival of the rare mountain gorillas in the longer term would depend on adequate habitat, intensified protection and conservation, sustained monitoring and community engagement.
Gorilla tourism remains the backbone of Rwanda's tourism and conservation industry. In the last nine years, gorilla tourism has generated 107 million U.S dollars to Rwanda, said Akamanzi on Wednesday.
From 2006 to 2017, over 298,000 tourists have visited the Volcanoes National Park, said RDB. Some 29,000 tourists visited the park every year on average between 2011 and 2016, statistics from RDB showed.