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Qatar Airways and Wilderness Safaris Take Reforrestation to New Heights

Forests are the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet and hold eighty per cent of all terrestrial flora and fauna. They are the earth’s lungs and are responsible for at least a third of the world’s oxygen supply. Unfortunately, they are also one of our planet’s most plundered resources. One forest particularly hard hit by agricultural clearing and the use of trees for firewood and building material lies on the hillsides of the Virunga Massif, a range of active and inactive volcanoes in northern Rwanda and home to the Volcanoes National Park and the famed mountain gorilla.

In 2020, as part of its commitment to a more sustainable future for the planet, Qatar Airways formed an agreement with Wilderness Safaris in which, for each air ticket booked to Rwanda by an overseas guest, 40 indigenous saplings would be planted - enough to reforest 100m2 of former agricultural land in the critical buffer zone of the park, and help give these great apes additional protection, an extended range, and a replenished food supply.

To date, the partnership has resulted in over 3 000 trees being added to the forest.

Thanks to close cooperation between the Rwandan government and eco-tourism companies such as Wilderness; the decline of poaching and the growing global appreciation for these gentle giants, the global mountain gorilla population has grown from250 at its lowest point in the 1980’s to over one thousand currently - with more on the way. Included in this number are twelve groups that can be tracked and observed near Bisate Lodge. But as their population increases, so too does the pressure due to lack of space and available habitat. Hence the reforestation project.

Before Bisate Lodge was even built, an on-site nursery was created, which today nurtures over 100 000 seedlings per annum of indigenous tree species. The sourcing, care, maintenance, and transplantation of which is completely managed by Rwandans from nearby communities - while Wilderness Safaris provides all the necessary training, equipment, and support.

Because of the favorable climate and fertile volcanic soil, planting is possible through most of the year, and already upwards of 50 000 Hagenia, Dombeya, Neuboutonia, Hypericum, Lobelia and bamboo saplings have been transplanted and achieved sufficient maturity that they no longer require human attention. 

As a result, many different wildlife species have returned and are now resident on the property.

These include golden monkey, tree hyrax, serval, side-striped jackal, Egyptian mongoose, and numerous bird and butterfly species.

Last June, as further testament to the success of the project, a camera trap caught a mountain gorilla strolling along one of the camp’s nature trails.

Recently American photographer and Qatar ambassador, Andrew Ling was flown to Rwanda for a seven-day safari on his first trip to Africa. Here he was hosted by Wilderness Safaris, first at Magashi in the rehabilitated Akagera National Park, then at Bisate Lodge at the foot of the Volcanoes National Park.

In the words of Andrew himself, “It's a challenge to verbalize what seeing gorillas in the wild for the first time is like. To know that we share 98 percent of the same DNA as gorillas is mind-blowing. I saw one lying on his back relaxing, with his hands supporting his head, and I thought to myself, 'Hey, I do the same thing at home on my couch! In another instance, I saw a mother cradling her baby. It was a moment so special, I almost forgot to take the photo.”

While he was at Bisate Lodge, Andrew visited the nursery, spoke to the local agronomists, and planted a sapling of his own - and like all guests at Bisate, received a certificate with the coordinates of his tree as a memento of the trip. 

At the end of the day, the Bisate reforestation is good for Wilderness Safaris, good for Qatar Airlines good for the Rwandan Development Board, good for the African Wildlife Foundation, good for the guests, and good for the local communities. 

But most importantly of all, it’s good for the gorillas.

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