President Paul Kagame’s encounter with the mountain gorilla’s fourteen years ago is a fresh memory. By then, he was in company of a European friend when they trekked into the Virunga national park.
“There was a baby gorilla, small, just months old, or maybe one year or something. So the young gorilla screamed. I don’t know what happened to it. The silverback, maybe the father came charging at us, I think, in protection of its baby,” Kagame narrated.
Kagame was today officiating at the 13th annual gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina) on Friday in Kinigi, Musanze District – 19 baby gorillas were named.
The gorilla encounter still vivid in his memory, President Kagame told thousands of visitors and local residents at the ceremony; “Our guide, who might be here told us to humble ourselves, squat and don’t even dare look in the eyes of the silverback…so we obeyed.”
As this was happening, Kagame’s friend suggested the president to do something in his capacity of a Head of State ruling on everything, including the gorillas themselves.
“As we were humbling ourselves, the visitor whispered at me. “Can you just tell the gorillas that you are the president of this country?,” Kagame remembered, but in his response to the friend, ” I said I don’t want trouble with the gorillas…we went back safely,” Kagame said.
Rwanda legacy in Gorillas
Amidst cheers, Kagame told thousands of Rwandans and guests at the event that gorillas shouldn’t be taken for granted and it should be everyone’s responsibility to protect them.
“They (gorillas) are our legacy. They are happy in their habitat, silverback feels he is the king and even as president, we still have to be humble and respect them,” Kagame said.
“Gorillas are precious and we have to do our best to protect their habitat, like all other animals in the wildlife across the country.”
Kagame also reminded the communities surrounding national parks to preserve the gorilla habitat since they too benefit from the tourism activities in the area.
Rwanda has increased tourism revenue sharing whereby communities neighbouring national parks will get 10% of tourism revenues destined to construction of public infrastructure – schools, health centres and roads – up from 5%.
From 2005 to 2016, Rwanda spent Rwf531 million on community activities.
This year, two primary schools were launched including; Akagera Primary School in Rwimbogo sector, Gatsibo district and Rugera Primary school – adjacent to Nyungwe national park in Rusizi district on June 23rd and 29th respectively.
In Kabatwa cell, Nyabihu district, a health centre adjacent to volcano national park was launched on August 17.
Meanwhile, the 13th Kwita Izina attracted hundreds of conservationists from across the world.
Among guests who named 19 baby gorillas include Laurent Lamo the former Prime Minister of Haiti, Nollywood actress Patience Ozokwor, Veronica Varekova, a super model and conservationist, among others including Gisa Gakwisi the boy who molded Radisson and Kigali Convection Center out of clay.
Belize Akaliza, Chief Tourism Officer at RDB said that since the initial launch of Kwita Izina in 2005, a total of 239 mountain baby gorillas have been named.
When Rwanda started naming gorillas in 2005, there were only 8 groups of gorillas and these have grown to 20 groups which is a great achievement of conservation efforts.
Today President Kagame also launched Bisate Lodge- one of Rwanda’s luxury hospitality facilities located in Kinigi.
Other luxury lodges like Amakoro Lodge was also launched earlier this year and Singita lodge is also expected to be completed and launched soon.
Claire Akamanzi the CEO of RDB also highlighted achievements of gorilla tourism and how communities have benefited.
The number of people visiting Volcanoes National Park has more than doubled from 16,000 to 32,000 between the year 2010 and 2016. Tourism alone contributes 30% of exports in Rwanda and 3% of the country’s total GDP.