In Rwanda there is a centuries-old naming ceremony called Kwita Izina (translated as ‘naming’) which is held when a child is born to welcome them into their family and into the community.
Since 2005, the Kwita Izina ceremony has also been used to welcome new-borns of another kind and today (2 September 2016) we are celebrating the 12th Kwita Izina ceremony for mountain gorillas born in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
I’ve been lucky enough to trek to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda. It was an experience that I will never forget and one that I really can’t do justice to with words (other than to encourage everyone to put seeing mountain gorillas in the wild on your bucket lists…). But what was overwhelming clear during my visit was just how important mountain gorillas are to the people of Rwanda.
It’s estimated that an individual habituated mountain gorilla can indirectly generate around £2.5million during its lifetime from tourism income. By ploughing the profits from a range of sustainable tourism activities back into the community via a diverse range of enterprises – from supporting income generating activities like tree nurseries to sponsoring education for some of the community’s poorest members – mountain gorillas are helping to reduce poverty pressure. Working through the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), we’re helping to ensure that the benefits from mountain gorilla tourism are shared widely and equitably.
When managed responsibly (and you can read more about that through our work with Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network!), mountain gorilla tourism is a fantastic example of how conservation really can benefit both wildlife and people. And the Kwita Izina ceremony, which attracts tens of thousands of spectators both from across Rwanda and around the world, is a truly wonderful celebration of that fact!
In this year’s Kwita Izina ceremony, organised by the Rwanda Development Board, twenty-two mountain gorilla infants who were born in the last year will be named. You can see a gallery of the baby gorillas that will be named this year, and those which have been named in previous years. The names given to the gorillas at the ceremony become their identity, enabling monitoring and reporting on each individual gorilla.
With only an estimated 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, every new-born mountain gorilla is critically important, but one of the gorillas being named this year is extra special. Unbeknown to that young ape, they have the honour of being named by one of conservation’s greats – Sir David Attenborough himself!
Sir Attenborough wasn’t able to attend the ceremony in Rwanda today, so instead he made a short film for IGCP at the Rwanda High Commission in the UK which will be shown during the Kwita Izina ceremony. The mountain gorilla that’s he’s naming is called Inshungu, who is in group Pablo and born to mother Mukecuru, and the reason for this is explained in the film.
Early next year we will be releasing the results of the most recent census survey of the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Mountains. Mountain gorilla numbers have been rising steadily in the Virunga Mountains for the past two decades thanks to the dedicated work of rangers, conservationists, communities and the collaborative efforts of the three range states. We are very hopeful that the census will confirm that this trend is continuing, despite ongoing threats to the gorillas and their habitat, and that there will be many more births celebrated at future Kwita Izina ceremonies.
Welcome to the world Inshungu, and all the other mountains gorillas being named today! We’re privileged to welcome you to our family.
International Gorilla Conservation Programme, a coalition between Fauna & Flora International and WWF, was established in 1991 to conserve mountain gorillas and their transboundary habitat by partnering with key stakeholders while significantly contributing to sustainable livelihood development.
You can support our work to conserve mountain gorillas and their transboundary habitat by adopting a mountain gorilla.