The Virunga Massif, lush cloud forest covered slopes is divided by the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which form a 46,000ha transfrontier conservation area rich with plant and animal life. The chain of eight volcanoes – six dormant and two active forms the natural habitat for around 600 of the world’s remaining 1004 mountain gorillas, which have nearly been poached to the brink of extinction and interestingly cannot survive in captivity.
The impact made by Singita together with a few other companies, who are able to support local government and communities by investing in impactful ecotourism projects in the region, is vital to the success of Rwanda’s conservation efforts. The conservation efforts of these gentle giants will be bolstered by the opening of Singita Kwitonda Lodge on the edge of Volcanoes National Park in August 2019.
More than half of Volcanoes National Park had been converted to agricultural plots before 1960, drawing the spotlight to the work of the late Dian Fossey which gained international attention on the vulnerability of mountain gorillas and further paved the way for the boom in gorilla trekking some 20 years later.
By the late 1980s, the sale of gorilla trekking permits was the country’s third-largest revenue stream, which saw local communities reaping the economic benefits of the new tourism industry. This enabled education and community involvement to aid conservation.
The tragic 1994 genocide, which brought Rwanda to its knees, also put a halt to gorilla trekking for nearly a decade, but the resilience and compassion of the Rwandan people saved their culture and their natural heritage from further destruction. Volcanoes National Park officially reopened to tourists in 1999 and has since become one of the most popular wildlife destinations in Africa.
The Rwandan government is undertaking an ambitious project to restore over 7,000 acres of land to the protected area of which Singita Kwitonda will sit on a 178-acre section. This epitomises the sense of hope, optimism and perseverance inherent in Rwanda’s wonderful people and is reflected in Singita’s commitment to conservation. Rwanda is truly a forward-thinking community focused on the upliftment of the whole.
A large part of the land which needs rehabilitation and reforestation to be included in the park has been under agricultural work for many years. To support this initiative, Singita has established an on-site nursery that already holds more than 60,000 indigenous plants.
Many of these plants have been purchased from Singita's neighbouring communities. This includes a co-operative of 71 people running a nursery that Singita helped to establish and continues to support through the sharing of skills and knowledge. These plants will initially be used to rehabilitate the area around the newly built Singita Kwitonda Lodge, but there is a bigger plan for the reforestation of the park at large.
The enormous scale of this reforestation initiative will ensure that the co-operative and other businesses and initiatives like it will be able to exist for a long time to come, as there are also plans to extend the park in the future, creating a larger habitat for mountain gorillas.
Sustainability in all aspects of construction and operation is another critical element of the establishment of Singita Kwitonda Lodge. This includes the plant nursery, growing mostly indigenous plants, as well as the creation of an irrigation system for the nursery which will use a significant amount of wastewater from the lodge.
Singita’s 100-year vision is built on three pillars one of which is the harmonious relationship between sustainability and its counterpoints of biodiversity and community which are all elegantly encapsulated in the reforestation of this important ecosystem.
Kwitonda Lodge is fulfilling Singita’s purpose to preserve and protect Africa’s precious wilderness areas for future generations by working closely with local communities to restore and maintain the biological integrity of the land in a sustainable way.
Sustainability is at the core of this project which means treading lightly on the land is fundamental to the design of Singita Kwitonda Lodge. The architects and interior designers are selecting locally sourced and produced materials for interior aspects of the lodge.
Set within a landscape of wetlands and lush meadows, there will be eight suites and a four-bedroom villa linked by volcanic rock pathways to a central lodge.
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