President Paul Kagame meets Ellen Degeneres over Gorilla Fund

Popular TV host Ellen Degeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi are in Rwanda to oversee the initial stages of the construction of the Ellen DeGeneres Campus that will be dedicated to the late Dian Fossey’s work in Rwanda. DeGeneres met with President Paul Kagame at Village Urugwiro in Kigali.

Dian Fossey was an American primatologist and conservationist who studied gorillas in Rwanda and the wider Virunga region from 1966 until her death in 1985. Since Dian Fossey started her work in 1967, the mountain population of Rwanda has doubled—although the total population is still threatened, with only 880 mountain gorillas alive in the world today. They are listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN red list.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is dedicated to the conservation, protection and study of gorillas; to the training of the next generation of African conservationists; and to building the conservation capacity of local communities.

President Kagame meets with Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi | Kigali, 29 May 2018. Credit: Paul Kagame/Flickr

DeGeneres first revealed her intention to put up the campus on her 60th birthday anniversary when Portia de Rossi made a surprise appearance at her show, The Ellen Show. De Rossi, also an American and Australian actor and philanthropist, presented the facility as a gift to DeGeneres, who is a renowned supporter of the work by late Dian Fossey, an American scientist who studied gorillas in Africa.

“It’s your sixtieth birthday,” said de Rossi, “and this gift had to be really special, and it had to represent who you are and what you really care about.” Inspired by Ellen’s personal hero Dian Fossey, de Rossi  set up a fund and campus in Ellen DeGeneres’ name at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

According to the information from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the campus, which will be located in Musanze District, will help expand science, research and conservation activities, enhance educational programmes, and engage people from Rwanda and the rest of the world to join the effort.

Its design will include laboratories, classrooms, meeting space, an interactive exhibit focusing on Fossey’s work, and housing for visiting researchers and students. The organisation has been extensively working to protect the endangered mountain gorillas for the past 50 years.

Dian & Digit May 1977

After trekking up the Virunga mountains during her visit, Degeneres shared a video of her experience. “I can’t begin to describe what this experience was like, or how much it means to me. I’m so grateful,” she said.

“Spending time with these gorillas changed my life. Thank you to everyone who is helping Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund,” Ellen wrote on Twitter.

After meeting with President Kagame, Ellen DeGeneres and her delegation headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Site in Gisozi where they paid their respects to the over one million victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The President and CEO of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Tara Stoinski, said the campus will serve as a brilliant focal point for their efforts to protect wild gorillas over the next decades.