September 11, 2015  By: Gretchen

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 26.3% 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.

We’re so inspired by Rwanda’s conservation successes we wanted to help keep the momentum going. To that end, we have created a new gorilla tracking safari in Ubwira’s honor. We’ve also established a matching campaign in the name of Ubwira through the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (also known as Gorilla Doctors). Gorilla Doctors is dedicated to saving the mountain and eastern lowland (Grauer’s) gorilla species one gorilla patient at a time. Their international veterinary team provides hands-on medical care to ill and injured mountain and Grauer’s gorillas living in the national parks of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Please join us in funding this important work and we will match donations through October 31, 2015 up to $1,000 total. Donations can be made on our new Crowdrise page.

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.


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