It was during the 2008 Rwanda’s annual gorilla-naming ceremony (called Kwita Izina), officials decided to name one baby gorilla Sacola, the namesake of a trust that owns and manages a new lodge in the Virunga heartland that aims to preserve the future of little Sacola and the region’s mountain gorillas.
The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, or SSL, opened officially on June 21 in the midst of this year’s Kwita Izina, and sits near the rarefied habitat of the highly endangered mountain gorilla. By channeling portions of guest fees toward both habitat and local community conservation, SSL hopes to create a “win-win” situation for a region plagued by riots, wars, corruption, and gorilla murders.
Not far from the Volcanoes National Park (infamous as a battlefield during Rwandan civil wars in the 1990s), SSL is projected to raise $200,000 in its first year. Already, it has provided jobs for locals, and all but one of the employees at the lodge are Rwandan, says Kathleen Goldstein of the African Wildlife Foundation, which is one of the project’s partners.
The only outside talent at the lodge is an amazing chef recruited from Kenya, Goldstein explains. Many of the staff were recruited from the local community and then trained by SSL.
The lodge practices eco-friendly and responsible tourism, she says, and provides opportunities for guests to get up close (but not too close) and personal with the park’s most endangered creature. SSL sets up day-long treks through the Virunga’s rough, heavily vegetated terrain to scout out mountain gorilla families and witness their everyday habits and behaviors. Anyone who watched National Geographic’s Gorilla Murders documentary, though, may remember that the mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human germs, and the lodge’s guides maintain the group’s distance of about 20 feet. No more than eight guests can go at a time.
The lodge used some of its most recently raised funds (about $30,000) to improve community road conditions, including the path that leads up to the lodge, which was previously rather difficult to access. The community chose to reinvest proceeds into ensuring that their lodge was of the highest quality, Goldstein says. They realized that their asset ”the lodge”was difficult to get to because of a badly deteriorated road. SACOLA trust determines how funds will be allocated, but all of the trust’s members have been elected by local community members themselves.