The birth of a baby is always something to celebrate – especially when that baby is a mountain gorilla. So just imagine my delight when I received an official invitation to be part of the annual Rwandan celebration Kwita Izina, where this year 22 baby gorillas were named.
Rwanda, a diamond in the rough on the rise from it’s horrific past, is getting many things right post-genocide. And when it comes to conserving it’s wildlife, Rwanda shines. It is reported that that when Dian Fossey, the primatologist who dedicated her life to the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda, was murdered in 1985 less than 300 of these gentle giants remained in the wild. Today, an estimated 880 gorillas can be found in the forested mountains bordering Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I feel Dian smiling down on us today.
Kwitza Izina – meaning “to give a name” – was launched in 2005 with the aim of creating an awareness of the importance of Gorilla conservation. And clearly the initiatives taken by Rwanda in this regard are working – over the past 12 years 238 babies have been named. This year was extra special because we celebrated twins.
Held in Kinigi, Musanze, at the foothills of the Virunga Mountains and close to the gorillas home in Volcanoes National Park, Kwita Izina is a very special day indeed. The small rural town bursts into life, with an electric buzz of excitement everywhere, as thousands of locals make the most of the holiday and gather to welcome HE The President Paul Kagame and other guests and dignitaries, and enjoy a day of music, dance and celebration.
The impressive centre stage creates a memorable backdrop – a massive 5 m raised bamboo structure representing a Silverback Gorilla, set amidst fields teeming with flag flying, cheering locals. Security is tight and we have to hand in our cell phones and have our cameras cleared by sniffer dogs before entering the invited guests VIP area. Local musicians, acrobats and school children entertain the estimated 20,000 locals, as well as important players from both the conservation and tourism industries. To name a baby gorilla is a great honour and namers are carefully selected – this year they included individuals who have made a great contribution to conservation efforts, local band Urban Boys and Sir David Attenborough, whose message was delivered on the big screen. Names are important, and much thought and attention is given to their meaning. The babies of 2016 include Umuhate (Bravery), Ntibisanzwe (Remarkable), Tunganirwa (Prosper), Ndizihiw (I’m Happy) and Ukwiyunga (Reconciliation/to Unite)
Since the birth of the Gorilla Naming Ceremony, the Rwandan government has adopted a tourism revenue-sharing scheme which sees local communities surrounding national parks get a five percent share of annual revenue generated from the parks. Addressing the people, President Kagame highlighted that conversation is not just a job for the Government, but a responsibility for each and every Rwandan.
During my 10 days in Rwanda I explored breath-taking scenery around Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu and Akagera National Park, and met the most humble, welcoming people. The mountain gorillas are, of course, the absolute highlight for any tourist. My gorilla trekking certificate is spot on with it’s “A lifetime experience” and Rwanda truly is a most remarkable destination. By Jennifer Cole