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Press Release- Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund enters new era in conservation with dedication of its Ellen DeGeneres Campus

February 1, 2022 (KIGALI) – Today Ellen DeGeneres marks the four-year anniversary of the creation of The Ellen Fund with the official opening of the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  The campus is located just outside Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. 

The Virunga mountains as seen from our outdoor patio.

When DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, announced the creation of The Ellen Fund, a nonprofit that works to protect endangered animals, they also named the first recipient—the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Ellen and Portia’s lead gift enabled the Fossey Fund to move forward on an ambitious, 20-year dream project to build a permanent home in Rwanda aimed at accelerating their science and conservation work. The Ellen Campus, which is now open to the public, is the vision of the award-winning MASS Design Group and has been named one of Africa’s 10 most anticipated architectural projects and featured on 60 Minutes.

 “Dian Fossey has always been a hero of mine, and so it’s been the honor of a lifetime to support this project,” says Ellen DeGeneres. “To see my name alongside hers on the walls of this beautiful campus, and to know I’m doing my part to protect endangered gorillas and continue Dian’s legacy, is simply amazing.”

Founded by the legendary Dian Fossey, whose life and ultimately death were portrayed in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist,” the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the world’s largest and longest-running organization dedicated entirely to gorilla conservation. Their work combines daily, boots-on-the ground protection and study of individual gorillas with people-centered programs aimed at training the next generation of African conservationists and addressing the basic needs of the people who share the gorillas’ forest home through food and water security, livelihood and education programs. Feared by Dian Fossey to be extinct by the year 2000, mountain gorillas represent a rare conservation success story, with the population in the region growing from a low of 250 in the 1980s to more than 600 today.

“From the outset, the mission of this project has focused on creating a space to engage the many stakeholders in conservation—students, scientists, tourists, conservation partners, community members—to advance our collective goal of saving gorillas and, more broadly, the planet,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, the Fossey Fund’s president and chief scientific officer. “It is our hope that people who visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus will leave inspired to make a difference, just as Dian Fossey did.”

Inside the Rob and Melani Walton Education Center.

The multi-acre, eco-friendly facility adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park 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. An extensive ‘living laboratory’ has been created on the former agricultural site through the planting of more than 250,000 native plants and the inclusion of green roofs, water harvesting and a constructed wetland for wastewater treatment.  

Hands-on learning at the science table in the Cindy Broder Conservation Gallery.

“The Ellen Campus represents a huge expansion of our teaching and laboratory spaces, enabling us to not just increase but transform our programs to study gorillas and their critical forest habitat and bring educational opportunities to early career African scientists and members of the local community,” says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of Rwanda programs. 

The Ellen Campus is also designed to support Rwanda’s ecotourism sector. Managed by the Rwandan government, tourism to see the gorillas plays a critical role in providing revenue for the park as well as supporting local communities through employment and revenue sharing.   Visitors to the Ellen Campus can immerse themselves in an interactive, educational exhibit located in the Cindy Broder Conservation Gallery. Designed to tell the story of mountain gorilla research and conservation from Fossey’s time to modern day, it includes original, never before displayed artifacts from Dian Fossey’s almost two decades of living amongst the gorillas, stunning visual effects through a 360 degree immersive experience, as well as augmented and virtual reality and numerous engaging, edutainment opportunities to learn more about the science and, most importantly, people behind the conservation success of mountain gorillas. Support from numerous generous donors contributed to the project, including actor and conservationist, Leonardo DiCaprio, who named the 360 degree theater for his mother, Irmelin DiCaprio, and a computer lab for his father, George DiCaprio. 

“The Ellen Campus demonstrates how new infrastructure can be a boon for conservation and species protection,” said Michael Murphy, founder and executive director of MASS Design Group. “With prioritization of local labor for construction, furniture created by Rwandan artisans, and environmental stewardship, the campus will inspire a generation of conservation activists in Rwanda. It also signals to global conservationists new ways to bind ecosystems and communities to one another.”

Other partners contributing to the overall experience of the campus include: 

  • Azizi Life
  • Bob Campbell Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
  • Falcon’s Creative Group
  • Food and Stuff
  • Formula D
  • Habitat XR
  • Internet of Elephants
  • National Geographic Society

The Ellen Campus is open to visitors starting February 1, 2022. For more information or to book a private tour, contact info@gorillafund.orgFor more, visit: gorillafund.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @savinggorillas. 

About the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

About The Ellen Fund

About MASS Design Group

Media contacts: 

For Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – Donna Gorman (dgorman@gorillafund.org)

For Ellen DeGeneres – Christy Welder (cwelder@fullpic.com)