Rwanda celebrated the 10th annual Kwita Izina gorilla baby naming ceremony on Tuesday, July 1st in Kinigi, Rwanda. According to the Rwanda Development Board, who hosts the annual celebration, this year’s theme ‘Conserving – Empowering – Growing’ recognizes the “efforts of all those that have contributed to the sustainable regional and national conservation of the mountain gorilla and other wildlife in general… For decades, international conservation organizations, donors and concerned individuals have made substantial resources available to the gorilla conservation cause and continue to do so.”

Kwita Izina celebrates the 26.3% growth of the endangered mountain gorilla population (since the last census in 2010) and has grown substantially since it’s inception to include celebrity guests and international diplomats. This year, the event drew over 500 international guests and Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi served as the guest of honor. He was joined by the minister of Foreign Affairs of South Sudan, Nhial Deng Nhial, and the Ugandan, Kenyan, and Netherlands Ambassador to Rwanda. The festivities also included a performance by celebrated Burundian singer Kidumu and traditional Rwandan dancing and drumming.

The VIP guests chosen to “name” a baby mountain gorilla.

The marching band performs by a Gorilla Doctors banner.

Eighteen infant gorillas, born within the last twelve months in Volcanoes National Park, were given their names at this year’s Kwita Izina ceremony.

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to an estimated two-thirds of the Virunga Massif population of 480 mountain gorillas, which spans Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. An additional 400 mountain gorillas live in the forested “island” of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

In the last 10 years, 179 mountain gorilla infants have been named in the Kwita Izina ceremonies, inspired by the Rwandese naming tradition following the birth of a new baby.

To see photos of the 18 infants named this year, go to the RDB Kwita Izina webpage here.