by Jessica Burbridge

Twelve mountain gorilla infants born within the last year in Volcanoes National Park and one new gorilla family were given their names at the 9th annual Rwanda Development Board Kwita Izina Ceremony, held on Saturday, June 22, 2013 in Kinigi, Rwanda. Since it’s inception, 161 mountain gorilla infants have been named in the Kwita Izina ceremonies, inspired by the Rwandese naming tradition following the birth of a new baby.

Male infant Tuyishime of Susa group. Image courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board

Male infant Umutungo of Sabyinyo Group. Image courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board

This year, the Rwanda Development Board added the “Kwita Izina Caravan” to the list of activities during the week prior to the naming ceremony. The 3-4 day Caravan brought visitors along the winding road from Kigali to Kinigi, stopping off at beautiful sights and interesting attractions such as the photogenic Nyabarongo river look out and the Shyorongi view of Kigali. A visit to the Twin Lakes (Burera and Ruhondo), Buhanga Eco-Park, and the two-million-year-old Musanze Caves (home to large bat colonies) were also on the agenda. While the Caravan participants were in Musanze, Gorilla Doctors Head Field Veterinarian of Rwanda, Dr. Jean Felix Kinani, met with the group to discuss mountain gorilla health care in Volcanoes National Park.

Rwanda’s annual celebration of the new mountain gorilla births brought together over 6,500 Musanze residents for this year’s program “Celebrating Nature, Empowering Communities”. Over 460 international guests attended the 2013 Kwita Izina celebrations, some traveling from Jamaica, India, Netherlands, and the United States. Thirteen lucky guests were honored to announce an infant’s name at the ceremony, some of whom included actor Isaiah Washington, Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey David Sachs, Dutch model and actress Lieke van Lexmond, Japanese Ambassador H.E. Kazuya Ogawa, and Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization, Dr. Taleb Rifai. 

Kwita Izina guests lined up on the stage, preparing to “name” an infant gorilla. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jean Felix Kinani.Actor Isaiah Washington announces the name of an infant gorilla. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jean Felix Kinani.The ceremony wouldn’t have been complete without traditional Rwandan dancing, of which there was plenty both during the week leading up to Kwita Izina and at Saturday’s celebration.

Traditional Rwandan dancing at Kwita Izina. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jean Felix Kinani.

Rwanda Development Board Head of Tourism and Conservation Rica Rwigamba, responsible for organizing the event, addressed the thousands of people gathered on Saturday afternoon at the base of the Virunga mountains to announce the growth of tourism in Rwanda: Within the last year, the tourism sector generated $281.8 million (RWF 178 billion) compared to $251.3 million (RWF 159 billion) the previous year, an increase of 17%. The local people received 5% of this amount through the revenue sharing program. 40% of this went to people living around Volcanoes National Park, 30% to Akagera National Park, and 30% to Nyungwe National Park.

“We show our appreciation to all those who take care of them, including rangers and veterinary doctors as well as the surrounding communities who continue to play an indispensable role in protecting Rwanda’s rare mountain gorillas” added CEO of the Rwanda Development Board Ms. Clare Akamanzi. “Rwanda’s community led conservation efforts have led to a 26.3% growth in the population of gorillas since 2003 and Kwita Izina has been key to this success.”

To see photos of the 12 infants named this year, go to the RDB Kwita Izina webpage here.