For Rwanda, more mountain gorillas means more revenues

At the foot of the Virunga Volcanic Mountains, Northern Rwanda, thousands of villagers gather to celebrate the birth of 18 mountain gorilla newborns just meters from the bambooforest up in the hills.

Hundreds of tourists and foreign dignitaries attend the annual baby gorilla naming ceremony, locally known as KwitaIzina. Local foods are prepared. Chefs roast fresh goat meat and fish.  Beer and soft drinks are in abundance.

Rwandan Intore warriors, dressed in traditional attire,brave the freezing mist, thunderously thumping their feet on the floor, jumping high and rhythmically swaying their neatly weaved toupees.The crown suddenly gets wild, with applause in response. Speeches are said and praises made. Selected individuals are given the advantage to give names to the newborns.

On July 1, 2014, Rwanda held the 10thKwitaIzinafestival. American Ambassador to Rwanda, DonaldKoranwas given the privilege. He enthusiastically stepped on the floor and named one of the babies ‘Twiyubake’,loosely translated as self-reliance.

LeoniCuelenaere, the Netherlands Ambassador to Rwanda named the baby ‘Inzozi’, meaning dreams. Some names are so expressive, the crowd cheers when they are announced.

Normally, after the naming exercise, the real party kicks off. Traditional instruments are played to set the mood right.The national troupe, a selection of beautiful and exemplary women dancers seizes the dance floor; swinging their attractivelycurved bodies to the heart-shattering sounds of drum-beats.International and local pop artists perform too. The crowdgets even wilder.

It is a privilege to name a baby gorilla. The Bill Clintons and Bill Gates have once been given such privileges.In June 2006, Bill Gates visited the Sabyinyo familyfrom which he named their new baby ‘KEZA’ [cute].

Biggest names present

KwitaIzina, launched in 2005, which has grown to become an international event, creates a global buzz. Global media networks, such as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, SABC, Reuters and M-Net Studio 53, Animal Planet, all broadcast the event live to millions of viewers around the world. International celebrities, such as Star Wars heroine Natalie Portman have attended. In 2008, Natalie Portman named a baby ‘Gukina’ [to play].

The late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, was represented by his former manager John Stainton who named a baby ‘Ingufu’ [strength], in memory of Steve. Renowned American conservationist Jack Hanna, Marjorie Kaplan of Animal Planet and Terry Lundgren,the President of Macys’have attended the festival. Famous actor Don Cheadle was invited to the ceremony in 2010 and named a baby gorilla Zoya, meaning life.

According to Valentine Rugwabiza, theChief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board, the eventemphasizes the conservation of the gorillas. Since 2005, KwitaIzina was launched, 163newbornshave been named.

Due to the festival, the mountaingorilla population in Rwanda has increased to over 600from 10 families of the remaining 880 gorillas found in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Eastern DR Congo, owing to collaborative efforts of the government, the local communities neighboring the national park and conservation partners.