Launched in 2005, Kwita Izina, a uniquely Rwandan event the hallmark of which is the nam- ing of newly born mountain gorilla babies and also serves to raise awareness of the importance of the protection of the species and their habitats at community, national, regional and international levels, has grown to become the country’s biggest tourism attraction event.
The 2017 edition of Kwita Izina celebration of Rwanda’s conservation was held at the foot of the Virunga Mountains to mark the 13th year of success. Thousands of visitors from all over the world including Nollywood and Hollywood stars, and media graced the occasion. The gorilla naming ritual draws inspiration from the ancient Rwandan tradition and culture of naming babies soon after they are born.
Nineteen baby gorillas were named at the 13th edition of Kwita Izina as part of continued eﬀorts to rally for the conservation of the endangered species bringing the total to 239 mountain gorilla babies to have been named since the inception of the event in 2005. This has contributed 26.6 per cent growth to the gorilla population.
According to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), this year’s event was unique as disclosed by Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Oﬃcer of RDB– under whose oﬃce the conservation falls. A good number of regional and international celebrities were carefully selected to name each of the 19 baby gorillas. “We have a very good list of namers; among who were Hollywood actor, Nollywood Actress, a billionaire, lots of them from conservation who have done extraordinary work in that sector,” Akamanzi said.
There has been growing concern from environment activists that growing human encroachment is threatening depletion on biodiversity, including the endangered mountain gorillas.
According to Animal Fact Guide, a resource on wildlife, mountain gorillas, the strong apes inhabiting Africa’s volcanic slopes have few natural predators. Yet due to unfavorable human activity, such as poaching, civil war, and habitat destruction, the mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, has become “the most endangered” type.
Currently, the mountain gorilla’s habitat is limited to protected national parks in two regions of Africa. One group is spread over three national parks in the Virunga transboundary region Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda. The other group lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
About 800 mountain gorillas are left in the entire world. Rwanda is home to about 400 of them with the rest shared between the other two borders, though they all freely move along the borders. Mountain gorillas contribute up to 90 per cent of government revenues from national parks. In 2016 alone, Rwanda earned $404 million from tourism. The target this year is $444 million.
A portion of these revenues go directly to helping the communities around the parks by way of extension of social amenities such as health facilities, schools, water sources, among others.
Akamanzi said the Government has moved to increase public share of the revenues collected from tourism in bid to appreciate the parks’ neighbouring communities for playing a key role in the conservation success story.
Naming a gorilla is considered a great honor and privilege, and is usually a preserve for individuals that have made distinguished contributions to conservation eﬀorts both locally and globally.
This year, the gorilla namers were divided into three groups. Here are some of the people that named the baby gorillas, in no particular order.
Dr. Tara Stoinski:
Stoinski was the first person to name a baby gorilla at this year’s Kwita Izina. She is the president, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Oﬃcer of the Dian Fossey Karisoke Research Center based in Musanze town. The center was established as a tribute, and to continue the conservation eﬀorts of American primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey, who was one of the pioneers of conservation eﬀorts in Rwanda.
This year, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund marked 50 years of working in the Volcanoes National Park to help save the critically endangered mountain gorillas. “Dian Fossey’s work helped to not only protect the mountain gorillas but also introduce these amazing animals to the world,” Stoinski noted.
The name that she bestowed upon her gorilla was Macibiri. He was born on 4th August 2016 to a mother named Kurudi, from the group Titus. “Today I have the huge honor of naming an infant in the Titus group. Titus was one of the most famous gorillas studied by Dian Fossey. He had an en- tire TV show made about him. There is even a beer named after Titus, and he is one of my personal favorite gorillas,” Stoinski stated.
Gakwisi made history as the young- est gorilla namer ever, at just 13. The Primary 5 pupil at GS Rugando in Kimuhurura shot to fame mid 2017 when he molded a stunning clay mod- el of the Kigali Convention Center, a flagship facility in the country’s tourism sector. No wonder he got the biggest ululations and clapping from the crowd when he was called upon.
The name he chose for his gorilla was Urungano, born to mother Rugira from the Musirikali group.
Ozokwor is a renowned Nigerian film (Nollywood) actress better known as Mama G to her millions of fans across the continent. “I want to use this platform to say that Rwandan gorillas are stars like Patience,” she remarked cheekily. She named her gorilla Inkesha, which means ornament.