September 11, 2015  By: Kent Redding
Kent at naming ceremony

Rwanda’s 11th Annual Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony

Ubwira, one special mountain gorilla

I’ve always wanted to attend Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual baby gorilla naming ceremony in Volcanoes National Park, and recently, I had the good fortune to do so. Held each September, this special event celebrates the births of new mountain gorillas, an endangered species which has seen its numbers increase in recent years due to ongoing conservation and protection programs.

It is an understatement to say that Kwita Izina is a big event for Rwanda. This year, it was attended by thousands of local, regional and international participants and featured live music, food, and talks given by conservationists and politicians, including pioneering researcher Amy Vedder and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

I was especially honored to be one of 24 guests to get to name a baby gorilla. I chose the name Ubwira (pronounced ‘Oo-Bwheer-a’), which means “courage” in Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages of Rwanda. Ubwira, a female, was born on March 10, 2015 into the Musilikare group, one of more than 10 groups of habituated gorillas in Rwanda.

Mountain gorillas are considered critically endangered, due in large part to years of poaching, habitat destruction and civil unrest. The last official census was in 2010, when 880 were counted in the world. Currently, there are an estimated 900+ mountain gorillas living in three countries – Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda saw its mountain gorilla population increase 26% between 2003 and 2010, when the population was 480.

Gorillas are an important resource for Rwanda, a tiny country of approximately 12 million people who are still recovering from the 1994 genocide and working to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Tourism is Rwanda’s largest source of foreign income and gorillas are its biggest draw.

In Rwanda, visitors can track mountain gorillas and golden monkeys at Volcanoes National Park, chimps and 12 other primate species in Nyungwe National Park, and big game like elephants, zebra and buffalo in Akagera National Park, which recently re-introduced seven lions from South Africa after an absence of many years. Very recently, the Rwanda parliament approved the establishment of a fourth national park, Gishwati-Mukura, where tourists should be able to hike, birdwatch and track primates in the near future.

Are you interested in planning a custom safari to Rwanda?