On Saturday, September 23rd, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium hosted the 22nd annual Rwandan Fête, an event to raise funds for Partners in Conservation projects, such as Gorilla Doctors and other organizations working in Rwanda 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 Development and Communications Officer Jess Burbridge attended the Fête on behalf of our organization this year. Also in attendance was Gorilla Doctors Science Advisory Board Member and former Regional Veterinary Manager Dr. Jan Ramer, as well as Gorilla Doctors Board Member and Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Jack Hanna. 

Dr. Jan Ramer, Dr. Amy Vedder and Gorilla Doctors Development & Communications Officer Jess Burbridge at Rwandan Fete

The evening brought together over 550 people under a beautifully lit tent to enjoy the festivities and raise funds for conservation. The featured speaker of the evening, Dr. Amy Vedder, co-founder of the Mountain Gorilla Project and co-author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas, was a special treat for Fête attendees as she recounted stories from her field work in Rwanda, living and working at Dr. Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center in Volcanoes National Park.

Other highlights of the evening were talks made by Zachary Dusingizimana and Frederick Ndabaramiye, Director and Assistant Director of the Ubumwe Community Center in Gisenyi, Rwanda. The Ubumwe Community Center, another organization supported by Partners in Conservation, was created as a place where Rwandans with disabilities can learn skills that allow them to build a sustainable life. Frederick, who endured unimaginable suffering during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, shared his story with the rapt audience and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. As a young 15-year-old boy, Frederick was dragged from a bus bound for Gisenyi by Interhamwe rebels. When he refused to kill his fellow 18 passengers, the rebels cut his hands off with a machetes and left him for dead. Incredibly, Frederick survived this horrific ordeal and with the help of Partners in Conservation’s Charlene Gendry, received prosthetic hands and is thriving now as a community leader for disabled people in Rwanda. 

Frederick and Zacharie in front of the Ubumwe Community Center in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

“While many conservation programs come from the perspective of saving endangered animals and habitats first, PIC approaches conservation in these areas holistically, educating local people about the importance of conservation and giving them alternative means to earn wages that are conservation friendly” says the PIC website. With a focus on supporting the human population in order to help endangered gorillas, PIC’s Rwandan Fête split the spotlight between Rwandan people and gorillas – an idea that Gorilla Doctors can certainly get behind with our emphasis on One Health. The Gorilla Doctors team would like to thank Partners In Conservation for their continued support of our work and our mission. Partners in Conservation’s dedicated support covers three Gorilla Doctors field vets’ salaries every year – which translates to countless gorilla lives saved. Thank you to Jeff Ramsey, Charlene Gendry, and all of the folks at Partners in Conservation and the Columbus Zoo!