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US stars to visit ‘birthday’ gorilla research centre in Rwanda

United States talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and her wife, actor Portia de Rossi, will visit Rwanda in June to look at the site of a proposed gorilla research centre given to DeGeneres by De Rossi as a birthday present.

DeGeneres divulged the travel plans during a 23 March interview on her show. Ironically, the guest was Sigourney Weaver, who famously portrayed iconic primatologist Dian Fossey in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist.

“Just seeing them [the gorillas] is going to make me so happy,” DeGeneres said.

The donation will give the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund a permanent base in Rwanda close to the Volcanoes National Park, where Fossey worked. The fund’s staff currently works in rented offices close to the park.

According to the fund, the facility, officially the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, will be worth US$16m, of which $10m comes from the celebrity couple.

The campus will eventually cover 4,700 square metres and include a “living laboratory”. It will contain other labs, classrooms, a library, facilities for hosting researchers and a public exhibition space. The fund says it hopes the campus will open in 2020.

The fund says that the campus will collaborate with the Rwandan government as well as the Centre for Excellence in Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management at the University of Rwanda.

De Rossi gave DeGeneres the surprise gift on the latter’s show on 1 February. She said that the donation was inspired by DeGeneres’ lifelong admiration for Fossey and passion for conservation.