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On The Road: The Opening of the Dian Fossey Map Room at Virunga Lodge

On March 2nd, Volcanoes Safaris celebrated the opening of the Dian Fossey Map Room at Virunga Lodge. The celebration also marked the 50th anniversary of the Karisoke Research Center.

In 1967, placing her tents between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke in Rwanda, Dian Fossey created the Karisoke Research Center. While researching, she realized that the mountain gorillas’ survival was in extreme jeopardy, with only about 240 gorillas left at the time. The killing by poachers of Digit, her favorite gorilla, led Fossey to set up the Digit Fund to raise money for the gorillas’ protection.

Today, the total gorilla population is estimated to be around 900 gorillas and the Karisoke Research Center is a world-renowned center for gorilla protection and conservation. After Fossey’s death, the Digit Fund was renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

The exhibition in the Map Room explores the exploration and conservation of the Virunga Volcanoes from the 1860s through the death of Dian Fossey in 1985. It traces the journeys of the great explorers and local administrators in the colonial period.

Founder of Volcanoes Safaris, Praveen Moman, has been a pioneer in developing and promoting sustainable gorilla tourism in the region for twenty years. In the opening of this room, he wanted to pay tribute to the unique contributions of Dian Fossey and other conservationists.

Our sales manager and Africa aficionado, Kelly Berry, had the opportunity to attend the opening and go on another gorilla trek with Volcanoes Safaris. Her eighth trip to Africa included the momentous opening of the Dian Fossey Map Room at Virunga Lodge in Rwanda. We sat down with her to learn more about her experience:

What made this trip to Africa different from your others?

It was my fourth time to Rwanda and every time I go back, it gets better and better. I know more people, I have a better handle on how to get around and where to go. This trip was even more special because of the celebration of the Dian Fossey Map Room. It was a really nice event and the Map Room itself is beautiful. It was really nice to gather everyone together in celebration of that. It was more than just a safari; it was a celebration of something new.

Can you tell us more about the map room?

It’s actually phenomenal. It’s a very large, open space that offers Virunga Lodge’s guests a place to come and learn the history of the region. It’s also just a really beautiful space to sit and enjoy the view, even if you aren’t learning about the explorers. It has fantastic views, as does everywhere else in Virunga.

It’s a very multi-purpose space. It can be used for private dinners and celebrations or for lecturers or educators to come speak. I see a lot of different events and special moments happening there.

Did you know a lot about Dian Fossey before you went?

I knew a bit, but of course I learned a lot of new information as well. The director of the Karisoke Research Center, Felix Ndagijimana, gave a speech at the event. I learned more about the scientific side of Fossey’s research.

What struck you as most fascinating about Fossey?

It’s interesting that Fossey is from America. She’s not from Africa, not from the region. She got entangled in African conservation; she went over there, fell in love with the region, specifically the gorillas. She strove everyday to protect them and to learn more about them. She lived in the forest with the gorillas, she built a little house in the forest. She was absolutely dedicated to the gorillas, to the protection and study of them. She set the path for the gorilla conservation we have today.

What makes Volcanoes Safaris stand out?

I think the Map Room is just one of many ways that Volcanoes Safaris is special and is really emblematic of their central focus on conservation. They started as a conservation company. The environment has always been their number 1 priority.

Praveen does so much for the community and for conservation. No other lodge company has roots in that specific region like Praveen does. Of course there are other great lodges in the region with larger portfolios but Praveen specializes with only 4 small, eco-luxury lodges in Rwanda and Uganda. He is from Uganda so he is able to showcase it in a way that not many would be able to. He is all in.

What is the most beautiful part about Virunga Lodge?

The views.

Praveen has made it really difficult on himself in a way, he has picked the most remote locations for his lodges. Virunga Lodge in particular is located on top of a mountain. The lodge has to work extra hard to be able to provide clients with the accommodation level that they are used to, but it’s all worth it because of the 360-degree view from the top of that mountain. You can see two twin lakes, you can hear the voices rise up from the villages below, you can hear the cows mooing. It’s like you are on top of the world. You can see everything.

Thank you Kelly for sharing your insightful story with us from your trip to Rwanda! Your love for Volcanoes Safaris is tangible and we can’t wait to hear more about your future journeys.

-The JG Black Book Team