With the arrival of our gorillas and a brand new exhibit opening in May 2015, we are committed to ensuring gorillas are protected in the wild. Houston Zoo staff is currently visiting our gorilla conservation partners in Rwanda to see how we can continue to grow our partnerships to ensure mountain gorillas are protected. The Houston Zoo partners with Gorilla Doctors, GRACE, and Conservation Heritage-Turambe, all of which are based in Central Africa near mountain gorilla habitat.
After a quick 22-hour trip from Houston, I arrived in Musanze District, in the North Province of Rwanda. Rwanda is a very small country in Africa (about the size of Maryland), with a population of nearly 11 million people! The small land mass and high population causes humans to live very close to mountain gorillas located in Volcanoes National Park. Because humans and gorillas are so closely related, we can share diseases with one another. To alleviate this problem and ensure mountain gorillas are safe in the wild, the Houston Zoo partners with Gorilla Doctors and Conservation Heritage-Turambe, both Rwandan-based organizations dedicated to ensuring both humans and gorillas are healthy and thriving.
I am in Rwanda to assist Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) through capacity building. This is a local NGO, run entirely by Rwandan staff. Their goal is to ensure mountain gorillas, their habitat, and the communities nearby live peacefully together. This is done through a variety of educational programs they conduct.
The first 3 days of my time with CHT involved going with them to their classroom programs. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday CHT staff visit classes at schools bordering Volcanoes National Park. Each week, a new lesson is taught. These programs span the school year from January-October and children learn for the first half of the year the importance of leading healthy lives, and the second half of the year is spent learning about wildlife and conservation. Through all their lessons, kids utilize art, song and dance to make learning fun! The CHT team even let me teach a portion of their lessons, helping to translate my English into their local language, Kinyarwanda. The lesson I participated in focused on washing your hands to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs to others, including gorillas.
After classes concluded for the week, I attended a staff meeting and we planned what the CHT team would like to accomplish while I am here. We assigned a task to each day, and by the end of March we will have completed a lot! Some of the projects we are working on include:
- Strategic planning
- Outlining goals and objectives for the future of the program
- Planning evaluations of their classroom programs to measure success
- Creating codes of conduct and employee expectations for anyone affiliated with CHT, including interns and volunteers
- Creating a brochure to market the program locally and abroad
- Practice writing grants
And I am sure there will be more! We will check back in soon (when the electricity is working!) to give you more updates from the field.