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Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Dedicates the New Ellen DeGeneres Campus

$15 million project represents investment in conservation, capacity building, equity and tourism

Pictured left to right: MASS Design CEO - Michael Murphy, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund President and CEO - Dr. Tara Stoinski, and Philanthropists Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Photo Credit: Chris Schwagga, MASS Media

(KIGALI, Rwanda, June 8, 2022) – The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, with partners The Ellen Fund and MASS Design Group, celebrated the dedication of its new $15 million Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The Ellen Campus, nestled in the foothills of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, showcases environmentally conscious design, investments in local livelihoods and scientific capacity building, and support for Rwanda’s ecotourism sector.

“The Ellen Campus realizes a 20-year dream to create a purpose-built facility to accelerate scientific research and on-the-ground conservation work,” said Dr. Tara Stoinski, CEO, president and chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. “It is a place for students, researchers, tourists and community members to learn and become inspired to a lifetime of conservation.”   

President and CEO, Dr. Tara Stoinski, speaking with Prime Minister of Rwanda Édouard Ngirente. Photo Credit: Chris Schwagga, MASS Media

On Tuesday, supporters and dignitaries gathered to unveil a plaque and officially dedicate the Ellen Campus. Speakers included global icon and philanthropist Ellen DeGeneres, whose lead gift from The Ellen Fund kick started the project; Dr. Stoinski of the Fossey Fund; Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board; Michael Murphy, founding principal of MASS Design; and Rt. Hon. Edouard Ngirente, Prime Minister of Rwanda.

“The last time I was here I ended my speech by saying ‘Well… let’s get started.’ And I guess you did… this is incredible,” DeGeneres said. “When I was a kid, I used to dream of coming here. Dian Fossey was my hero, and her dedication to gorillas changed the world. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has been here for over 50 years. Thanks to their work, the commitment of the Rwandan government and the efforts of many conservation groups here today, the mountain gorilla population has gone from 300 in the entire world to over 1000. This campus is so important for gorillas, but it’s also more than that. It’s teaching school children about conservation. It’s educating a future generation of scientists. It’s a model for others to follow, from the sustainable architecture to the community’s involvement.”

Pictured from left to right: President and CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Dr. Tara Stoinski, Prime Minister of Rwanda Édouard Ngirente, and Philanthropists Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi Photo Credit: Elsemieke de Boer, MASS Media

The Ellen Campus features classrooms, laboratories, exhibits, meeting space and student housing in 4,100 m2 of building space over 12 acres. Construction began in 2019 and provided jobs and training for 2,400 local construction workers, nearly a quarter of whom were women. It opened its doors in February, and since that time has hosted more than 5,000 visitors, including almost 2,000 primary and secondary school students and teachers from nearby schools.

The Ellen Campus’ eco-friendly design takes inspiration from Dian Fossey’s original tent camp at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda more than 50 years ago. It includes three main buildings – the Sandy and Harold Price Research Center, the Cindy Broder Conservation Gallery and the Rob and Melani Walton Education Center – as well as housing for visiting students and researchers. Support from numerous generous donors contributed to the project, including actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio, who supported the creation of a 360-degree theater and computer lab. Formerly an agricultural site, the Ellen Campus features a regenerative, biodiverse landscape of 250,000 plants from 120 different species.

“This campus is not just an investment in architecture but is a testament to the need for new infrastructures and institutions that change the way we operate in the world. This is one of those places,” said Michael Murphy, MASS Design Group founding principal and CEO. “Conservation will change because of this campus. Our partners have made the impossible possible.”

President and CEO, Dr. Tara Stoinski, showing visitors the skeleton of historic silverback gorilla Cantsbee. Photo Credit: Chris Schwagga, MASS Media

The Ellen Campus has been named one of Africa’s 10 most anticipated architectural projects and featured on 60 Minutes and in Architectural Digest. Find more on the campus, its innovative design and its local impact here.

For images from the dedication ceremony, visit: here.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is on the ground, in the forest, every single day, studying and protecting gorillas. It is a force behind one of conservation’s rare success stories: the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. The Fossey Fund also works to protect the critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and strives to improve the human communities near the gorilla habitat through food and water security, education and livelihood initiatives.

You can visit gorillafund.org for news, the latest research, photos and videos.

Or follow the Fossey Fund on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @savinggorillas.

For media questions, contact Melissa Mathews at mmathews@gorillafund.org.

About the Fossey Fund

Founded in 1967, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the world’s longest-running and largest organization dedicated entirely to gorilla conservation. The Fossey Fund has 300 staff in Rwanda and eastern DRC working to conserve the region’s biodiversity using gorillas as an iconic, flagship species. The organization now protects almost 600,000 acres of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, which also contain an estimated quarter billion tons of carbon and are critical in the fight against climate change.

The Fossey Fund’s motto is “Helping People, Saving Gorillas,” and its four-pillared approach includes:

  • Protecting individual gorillas and their families as well as more than 2400 km2 of their biodiverse rich habitat, through daily, boots-on-the-ground protection;
  • Conducting the cutting-edge science needed to develop effective conservation strategies;
  • Training the next generation of conservationists in Africa and beyond;
  • Addressing human needs related to food security, livelihoods and education for communities near the gorilla habitat.

About the Ellen Fund

The Ellen Fund supports global conservation efforts for endangered species.

Founded in 2018 by Portia de Rossi as a gift for Ellen DeGeneres, its first project was to support a 12-acre science and education campus for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, helping them save the wild mountain gorillas. In 2021, the Endangered campaign raised and awarded $1 million to support the seven species and their communities that were featured in Ellen’s first documentary, Endangered.

The Ellen Fund also supports people, uplifting women and conservationists of color, and inspiring the hope that anyone can make a difference. More about The Ellen Fund.

About MASS

A Model of Architecture for Society (MASS) Design Group was founded in 2008 as a non-profit organization with the mission to research, design, build and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. MASS grew to include many colleagues and contributors who worked together to design and build the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, a project of Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health. Since then, the organization has grown to a team of 250 architects, landscape architects, engineers, builders, furniture designers, writers, filmmakers and researchers representing 20 countries across the globe. With headquarters in Boston and Kigali, Rwanda, MASS received the American Institute of Architecture’s 2022 Architecture Firm Award and the 2020 Wall Street Journal´s Architecture Innovator Award