Rwanda’s Kwita Izina Is A Celebration Of Mountain Gorillas

The annual Gorilla naming ceremony, popularly known as Kwita Izina, is Rwanda’s biggest event on the country’s tourism calendar. Kwita Izina, a uniquely Rwandan event, inspired by the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming a baby soon after its birth, was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla.

The event has been credited for raising awareness about the endangered species, whose population in the Virunga Massif, their habitat, had risen to 604 by 2016 from 480 in 2010. The Virunga Massif comprises the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Organised by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), it holds in Kinigi Sector, Musanze District today 7 September.

Namers have included Rwandan and international conservationists, sports personalities, renown philanthropists and diplomats. This year, the gorilla naming will be held under the theme; ‘Conservation is Life’. 23 baby gorillas will be named for this year’s event.

The list for this year’s event, revealed by RDB, include former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique Graca Machel, American-Senegalese singer, songwriter and businessman Akon, Zimbabwean businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa, former president of Nigeria Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Arsenal and Cameroonian football star Laureano Bisan Etamé-Mayer, among others.

Mountain gorilla numbers in the entire area had fallen as low as 242 in 1981, according to RDB figures. Speaking to the gathered media, the RDB Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kariza, said;

“The increasing number of mountain gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park is proof of the strides that we have made in gorilla conservation. This could have not happened without the support and collaboration of our conservation partners as well as the cooperation of the members of the community surrounding the park.

Initiatives such as the ‘Kwita Izina’ gorilla naming ceremony, transboundary cooperation and local community education and engagement have all played a major role in conserving gorillas.

The increase in the mountain gorilla population led the Government of Rwanda to institute a preliminary study on the possibility of expanding the Volcanoes National Park to ensure adequate habitat for the mountain gorilla. Today the park is 16,027.8 hectares.

Rwanda’s conservation gains also benefit its communities. “Over the last nine years, revenues from mountain gorilla conservation and the resulting tourism has brought $USD 107 million to the national coffers”, Kariza noted. Mountain gorillas generate significant tourism revenue, providing direct economic benefits to communities. In 2016, Rwanda generated about US $400 million in tourism revenue — the majority of which was from tourists visiting the country’s mountain gorillas.

Earlier this year RDB received a 27-hectare land donation from the African Wildlife Foundation, adding to the 160,000 hectares that had formerly comprised the park.

This park expansion will ensure not only the adequate habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla but it will also improve both socio-economic opportunities for more than 18,000 people and the tourism experience in Volcanoes National Park.” Chief Tourism Officer Kariza concluded.