Kwita Izina: traditional naming ceremony for baby gorillas raises awareness of need to protect endangered species
Each year, a naming ceremony is held for newly born baby gorillas in the Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve in Rwanda. Kwita Izina, the gorilla naming ceremony, is closely modelled on a tradition that has been part of Rwandan culture for centuries, as a reminder of our close relation to these great apes. It was adopted in 2005 to create awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla. The ceremony now draws large crowds, bringing people from all over the world together, including local communities, tourists, rangers, conservation specialists and tourism professionals.
Tourism focused on natural environments forms a large and growing part of the tourism industry in Rwanda. The Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve, which is home to the Mountain gorilla, contributes to promoting sustainable tourism by fostering socio-economic development and environmental protection in a positive manner. This year, 22 baby gorillas were named during the festive ceremony that was held on the foothills of the Virunga Mountains in Kinigi, Musanze on 2 September. It was the culmination of a week-long “Conversation on Conservation” conference that serves as a forum for conservation and sustainable tourism, with project presentations, debates and exhibitions in September. The theme of this year’s event was ‘United in Driving Growth through Conservation’.
Sheila Ashong, of the Ghana MAB National Committee, who is a member of the International Advisory Committee of Biosphere Reserves, was invited to be the godmother of one of the 22 gorillas, as a representative of the African regional network of the Man and Biosphere Programme (AfriMAB). The young gorilla she represented was named Umuhuza (Someone Uniting People). Others were given equally beautiful, symbolic names, such as Umuhate (Bravery, to symbolize the hard work needed to forge partnerships for gorilla conservation that are beneficial to local communities), Ntamupaka (No Borders), or Ndizihiwe (I Am Happy). Names attributed to the gorillas play a significant role in the monitoring efforts for each individual gorilla in their families and habitat.
“Today is not only about Kwita Izina, it is about remembering that development must be founded on protecting our environment” said President Kagame during the ceremony. “There is no trade-off between economic growth and protecting our environment, they complement each other.”
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