Perching on the edge of fortune


Hands up if any of you knew that 15% of the global bird species are found in East Africa.  This is certainly not a widely published fact and unless you are a bird researcher or bird-watching buff, most people in Rwanda would not have been aware of this. Bird-watching, like mountain gorilla trekking, is a specialty form of tourism attracting tourists willing to pay large amounts of money to enjoy the company of birds through the lens of binoculars or a camera.  

On October 19th, the Rwanda Tourism Office (ORTPN) launched bird-watching in Rwanda in a bid to diversify its attractions as a destination. The aim of introducing bird-watching is to extend the stay of visitors to the country. They can experience the bird varieties in Rwanda after they have gone gorilla trekking.  

Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to over 650 species of birds while Akagera National Park has some 525 different types of birds. Of these, 44 are endemic to Rwanda. “They probably speak Kinyarwanda”, quipped Minister of State for Commerce, Cooperatives, Investment and Export Promotion, Vincent Karega.  

The launch of bird-watching took place at Akagera national park. During the game drive alongside the archetypical gazelles common to the savannah, several different bird species were observed, including the fish eagle, the sun bird and the forktailed drongo. These were all observed without the help of binoculars by watchers who were by no means experts on birds. The real dyed in blue bird watchers are likely to see many more species.  

Bird-watchers are highly desirable as a class of tourists because they are willing to spend a lot of money for longer periods than your average tourist. In addition, as an elite class of tourist, they are few, compared to those who want to spot big game. Bird-watching as an activity is very specialized. Previously, bird-watching had barely been promoted as an activity for visitors who were heading to Nyungwe to view the 13 species of primates found in that forest. ORTPN has since recognized that there is a real opening for this form of tourism. 

The target is to attract 70,000 visitors to Rwanda each year by 2010.   It is hoped that this will generate 100 million US dollars.   Diversification of the country’s appeal is critical. The Tourism Office is diversifying to promote new attractions such as mountain climbing, cultural tourism, and soon, cave exploration. With the introduction of bird watching, Rwanda appears to have hopped its way to perch on a limb overlooking fortune.  

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