On Saturday, September 19th, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium hosted the 21st annual Rwandan Fête, an event to raise funds for Partners in Conservation projects, such as Gorilla Doctors and other organizations working in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.

“Partners in Conservation was created by Columbus Zoo staff and docents in response to the dramatic force poachers were having on the gorilla population in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo” said Vice President of Community Relations Patty Peters in a press release. “Since PIC’s establishment in 1991, millions of privately raised dollars have been raised to fund both conservation and humanitarian projects. Such projects have included constructing facilities to help people with disabilities, providing education in computer technology, establishing a secondary school, and helping create jobs that are alternatives to hunting endangered animals.”

Gorilla Doctors Board Member Michael Halaiko represented our team at the Fête this year and shared his experience in this week’s blog:

“For the second time in three years, I had the privilege of attending Partners in Conservation’s Rwanda Fete at the beautiful Columbus Zoo.  This year again was a huge success.   I had the pleasure of being joined by former Regional Managers Drs. Jan Ramer and Dawn Zimmerman in representing the Gorilla Doctors.  The Fete helps raise money and awareness for conservation programs in Rwanda, including Gorilla Doctors.  The theme of the event was the connection between the people of Rwanda and the mountain gorillas. The Rwandan people and the gorillas are intrinsically linked; if the people thrive, the gorillas thrive.

Dr. Jan Ramer, Jack Hanna and Charlene Gendry at Rwanda Fete.

Dr. Jan Ramer, Jack Hanna and Charlene Gendry at Rwanda Fete.

[Gorilla Doctors Board Member] Jack Hanna was a masterful MC. Dr. Jan Ramer spoke eloquently of her time in Rwanda and of the great work that Gorilla Doctors is doing in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. There were vendors selling wears from Rwanda and other parts of East Africa and a silent auction filled with photographs, wood carving and other works of art from Africa.  The highlight was of course the excitement of the live action where everything from vacations to dinner with Jack Hanna were auctioned for charity.  The live auction featured a mountain gorilla photograph used by Dian Fossey during her time in Rwanda, which sold for over $25,000.  The photo still had the pin holes in each corner where it had been posted on the walls of Fossey’s cabin in the Virunga Mountains. Generosity of the people of Columbus and their passion for conservation was awe-inspiring.

While there was lots of fun to be had, and Jack Hanna was entertaining as always, the event was also filled with many other emotions: heartbreak over the horrors of a genocide just decades old; awe over the forgiveness and reconciliation of a wonderful people; and hope for the future of the mountain gorillas and Rwanda.

I was so proud to be able to represent our amazing organization at the Fete.  It was a great evening for a wonderful cause.”