Well I just found something to add to my bucket list. Earlier this month 40,000 people gathered in Rwanda for the 10th Kwita Izina, the annual ceremony that celebrates and names all of the known mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) born during the previous year in the Virunga National Park Transboundary Collaboration, which stretches across Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. This year’s event honored 18 births, up from 12 last year.
Based on a Rwandan tradition for naming children soon after their births, Kwita Izina invites dignitaries from Rwanda and around the world to name the young gorillas. Name-givers in previous years have included Pres. Bill Clinton and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. This year’s dignitaries included the prime minister of Rwanda, the Netherlands and U.S. ambassadors to Rwanda, Kenyan marathon world-record holder and peace ambassador, Tegla Loroupe, and several tourism and business executives.
The gorillas themselves obviously remained in the wild and were not in attendance but each was represented by a photo and celebrated with traditional dances, paintings and other arts. As the ceremony proceeded, they received names that showed their importance to the Rwandan people, including Kundurwanda (love Rwanda), Ndengera (protect me), Kwigira (self-resilience), Inzozi (dreams) and Birashoboka (it is possible).
In addition to celebrating the gorillas, the event also recognized their economic value. More than 1.1 million tourists visited Rwanda last year, contributing $294 million to the country’s economy. Only a portion of that tourism involved visiting mountain gorillas in the wild but a United Nations study published in 2013 found that mountain gorilla tourism was contributing to both wealth and peace in Rwanda. Five percent of the tourism profits from the national parks help to support the human communities living around gorilla habitats. This year those funds helped to build a new six-classroom primary school in Bigogwe, which officially opened during the Kwita Izina ceremony.
There are now about 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas living in the three countries, where they remain threatened by poaching, disease, habitat loss and regional unrest. More than 600 of the gorillas can be found in the Virunga parks.