Rwanda pledges to save the environment

Rwanda has vowed to protect its environment The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “Year of the Forests” as it continues to work to encourage nations across the globe to take sustainable actions to protect the planet’s woodlands. One of the first countries to answer the call to action is Rwanda, which has laid out an ambitious plan to protect its jungles, even as it struggles to develop economically.

As most people know, Rwanda was devastated by civil war and genocide during the 1990′s. That struggle extended throughout the country and caused untold damage to its natural resources, including the rainforests that are home to a host of amazing creatures – not the least of which are the endangered mountain gorillas. Since that time, Rwanda has been experiencing plenty of growth and prosperity however, with the economy making strides forward in recent years and the population expanding at a rapid pace. Those conditions have put demands on the country’s natural resources, including the jungles. One report says that the Gishwati rainforest, for example, has shrunk in size by as much as 90% since 1960.

Earlier this week the Rwandan government vowed to change that pattern. Minister of Land and Environment Stanislas Kamanzi has pledged that “By the year 2035, Rwanda will have achieved a country-wide reversal of the current degradation of soil, land, water and forest resources.” A bold statement indeed for a country that faces many challenges to its continued growth.

The pledge was met with applause by environmentalists across the planet, who say that the commitment to protecting the environment is the first of its kind from a developing country. The plan is to not only re-plant and replenish forests, but to also build an infrastructure to improve water, work on soil conservation and build more sustainable agriculture as well.

One area that may aid Rwanda in their efforts is tourism. The country is already seen as a model for how ecotourism can be put to great use, as it is viewed as one reason why the population of mountain gorillas is increasing. Visitors to their protected habitat are willing to pay a hefty sum to spend a few hours with the creatures, and that money goes directly to preserving the forests that they call home. That same approach may be extended to protecting other regions and species in the country as well.

Rwanda’s landmark pledge to protect the environment is a good thing and hopefully they’ll be able to put it into action. In the long run, it will be an important piece to the country’s continued development and its ability to support its population. As an eco-conscious traveler, that’s just the kind of place that I want to support with my dollars.

[Photo credit: d_proffer via WikiMedia Commons]


Troubled baby gorilla at Disney World being treated like a kid

Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park often spot a tiny baby gorilla along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. What most of them don’t know is that she’s much tinier than she should be. Lilly was born last year at Walt Disney World, one of only 10 to 15 gorilla births each year in the United States. And she’s not growing and developing the way she should.

Lilly depends on her mother for many things that a gorilla of her age should be doing independently, and her left side seems to be weaker than her right.

Disney World scrambled for months to solve the mystery of what is wrong with Lilly, according to the Orlando Sentinel. She’s even been seen by doctors who specialize in treating human kids, and gone to a local hospital for an MRI. But, while they have ruled out many serious things that could have been ailing the baby gorilla, her caretakers haven’t found the problem.

So Disney has innovated and switched the focus from diagnosing Lilly to treating her. An occupational therapist who usually works with autistic kids comes to treat the baby gorilla once a week, and she gets therapy sessions twice daily from her trainers.

Everyone involved with Lilly attests that she’s making progress. She remains along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, where you can probably see her on your next visit to Orlando. Here’s video from the Orlando Sentinel of Lilly and the progress she’s making:

Mountain gorillas making a comeback

gorilla, gorillas, mountain gorilla, mountain gorillas
In the latest in a spate of good news about wildlife conservation in Africa, BBC Earth reports that mountain gorillas have increased their numbers on Virunga Massif, their core habitat stretching across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a population of only 250 thirty years ago, their population has almost doubled to 480 today. Another 302 live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park .

The rise is attributed to increased cooperation between the three countries to protect the gorillas and stop poachers.

Safaris to see mountain gorillas have become increasingly popular with adventure travelers. Uganda has expanded its gorilla safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwanda is also offering safaris to see the gentle giants.

African nations are getting better at preserving their wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe are clamping down on poaching and last year we reported how Niger has pulled a unique subspecies of giraffe from extinction.

[Photo courtesy user KMRA via Wikimedia Commons]

Uganda hotels to charge less for locals

Uganda’s hotels are facing tough times. Despite their country having top attractions such as Nile rafting trips, the Great Rift Valley, and safaris in the many national parks filled with wildlife, the average hotel is running at only 50 percent capacity. Adding to this problem is that wealthy Ugandans don’t go for internal tourism, preferring to jet off to more exotic destinations like Europe. Well, exotic to the Ugandans anyway.

Hoteliers in Uganda have decided to change that by offering a 40 percent discount to Ugandan citizens at certain times of the year. So if you decide to head on over to East Africa to see Lake Victoria, elephants, mountain gorillas, and all the other sights Uganda has to offer, you’ll have a chance to meet more locals than ever. Travelers to Africa tell me the capital Kampala is a lush town full of energy and interest, and it even made it into the list of 15 green cities. Uganda has a lot to offer, and they deserve a healthy tourism industry after they thumbed their collective noses at the terrorists.

[Photo courtesy K. Stefanova via Wikimedia Commons]

Daily Pampering: Seven chances to try a new job around the world

Do you feel a bit confined by your gig? Sure, the cash is great, but you are held hostage by it. You can’t throw it all away and chase your low-paying dream. Well, now you have a chance to turn the paycheck that keeps you in the office 14 hours a day into the chance to try something new, even if only briefly. Cox & King is offering several packages designed to give you a once-in-a-lifetime shot at living your dream.

1. The Textile Expert
The “Textiles of India” tour takes you to some of the most famous weaving centers in the country, including Varanasi (known for Benarsi silk wedding sarees), Kanchipuram (zardozi embroidery work on Mysore silks) and Jaipur (handmade block printed cotton fabrics). This experience lasts 22 days and comes at a cost of $12,735 per person (based on double occupancy).

2. Painting Papyrus
With the “Splendors of Egypt” and “Discover Egypt” tours from Cox & King, you can satisfy your jones for Egyptology and learn to paint, draw and write under the tutelage of one of the masters. Participate in the rare and fine art that dates back thousands of years (trips start at $4,075).3. Fine Wine … in Lebanon?
The Phoenicians sold wine to Lebanon more than 4,000 years ago, and it’s believed that the Lebanese brought it to Spain and Italy. The fertile soil of the Bekaa Valley is the secret behind Lebanese wine, and you can get all the details on the “Lebanon & Syria: Empires Past” tour. Spend a day at Chateau Ksara, the oldest running winery in Lebanon, and learn the intricacies of the process of making Lebanese wine. This 15-night tour starts at $6,585.

4. South American Shutterbug
Click like crazy in Argentina on the Cox & King “A Photographic Journey: Buenos Aires & Northern Patagonia” tour. You’ll travel with Diego Ortiz Mugica, known as the Ansel Adams of Argentina, and pick up some tips and tricks, against the backdrop of the Argentinean culture. This unique opportunity is only available from November 6 – 13, 2010 and starts at $5,894.

5. Study Primates in the Wild
Startin Kigali, Rwanda on the “Gorillas in the Mist” tour, and you’ll climb into the world of gorillas. After a briefing, you’ll enter Parc National des Volcans, where you’ll enter their habitat and get great views of these massive creatures. The experience lasts four days and starts at $4,195.

6. Jewelry Craftsman
You could make jewelry in your living room … but wouldn’t be more interesting to try it in Mozambique? Go to Ibo Island, and experience classes with traditional silversmiths. You can even bring your old jewelry to melt down and use as a starting point (creating a bridge between old and new) or buy materials from the locals. This trip starts at only $1,585 a person.

7. The Origami Master
Put your fingers to work on an art form that dates back to the seventeenth century. You’ll learn to fold paper into amazing creations and gain an appreciation for the history behind origami on the “Treasures of Japan” tour, which starts at $12,525 per person.

For more Daily Pampering, click here.