When Rwanda’s bloody civil war broke out in the 1990’s, conservationist Eugène Rutagarama risked his life to ensure the safety of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. At that time, only about 650 mountain gorillas existed worldwide, over half of which lived in the Volcano National Park in the Virungas mountains straddling Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Thanks to Rutagarama’s work, the Virungas’ fragile mountain gorilla population survived Rwanda’s war and more recent conflicts in the DRC. Amazingly, the population has actually grown by more than 11 percent since 1989.
After the war, Rutagarama focused on rebuilding the national parks system to protect gorilla habitat. He was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2001 for his critical and courageous efforts.
Since 2001, Rutagarama has continued his conservation work, playing a major role in facilitating international collaboration efforts to protect the Central Albertine Rift, a biodiversity hotspot that includes the Virunga mountain gorillas’ habitat.
Two years after receiving the Goldman Prize, Rutagarama became director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a post he held for nine years. In 2012, Rutagarama took on the role of senior Technical Advisor to the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, an intergovernmental organization set up with the facilitation of IGCP by the DR of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Rutagarama commented about the impact the Goldman Prize has had on his work:
“The Goldman Prize enhanced the pride of my peers and colleagues in the conservation work we are doing together… The Goldman Prize has opened several doors for me, especially with media- for spreading the conservation objectives into the general public and to donors who have generously supported IGCP.
The result of media coverage has translated into political supports and general awareness in the region about the mountain gorilla population fragility and opportunity, a population whose growth trend is currently continuous.”