So many exciting things are happening at our new Ellen DeGeneres Campus in Rwanda, which opened in February. We had a joyous dedication ceremony in June, with Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Rwandan government officials, our architects from MASS Design Group, our board and many other partners, as well as staff.
But in addition to these formal activities, we are also seeing the campus come alive every day with visitors, students, teachers, and programs, as well as with plants, trees, birds, insects and more.
Summer camp at the campus
It wouldn’t be summer without camp, and our campus is an incredible venue for kids to come and learn about conservation. In July we hosted 80 students from four schools near the campus for a week of fun learning activities about gorillas, other wildlife and the environment. This program was created in partnership with the local groups Children in the Wilderness, Muhisimbi Voice of Youth in Conservation, and Conservation Heritage-Turambe.
“The Ellen Campus made a difference as we had almost everything we needed right here, from the conservation gallery to the beautiful landscapes,” said Valerie Akuredusenge, program director at Conservation Heritage-Turambe.
“We hope to keep expanding the summer camp at the campus,” says Maurice Ngiramahoro, the Fossey Fund’s conservation education officer. “This will help us maximize our impact on communities’ behavioral change toward conservation. Connecting kids to nature is a great opportunity for helping wild animals survive in the future.”
Visitors at the campus
In the first five months since opening, we have already had more than 11,000 visitors at the campus, with more than 50% from Rwanda and the rest from around the world. Our numbers are increasing each month, as word gets around that our campus is an incredible place to be, whether it’s for visiting our exhibits, being out in nature, or attending an educational or scientific program. Local families now often visit for a Saturday outing.
We’ve also started offering daily talks by our Rwandan research assistants, where visitors can get an update about the gorillas we monitor every day from those who know them so well. And we also now have our first visiting Ph.D. students onsite, as well as increased opportunities and facilities for our staff to purse their own higher education projects.
Studying the campus biodiversity
The Fossey Fund biodiversity team is already hard at work monitoring the growth of trees and other plants that we have at the campus, to make sure that they are growing well and to see what insects and birds they may be attracting. Our data shows that the campus is truly coming alive!
For example, we are checking 156 individual milkweed plants every week, not only for growth but for the presence of eggs laid by African queen butterflies, as well as the presence of caterpillars. In just one recent week, we found 177 eggs and 123 caterpillars!
We are also studying plant-pollinator interactions among various species around the campus and have recorded flies, bees, wasps and regal sunbirds among the common pollinators. And we’ve counted 15 bird species so far.