At the volcanoes national park in Rwanda, there is a special ceremony in September dedicated to naming newborn gorillas.
Of all the gorillas I saw while traveling in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo, the most memorable experience was seeing the baby gorillas. These cute primates get most of the attention from travelers, not just because of their sweetness but also their explosive personalities. Baby gorillas love to be around their mothers. Simultaneously, they also want to play and fool around, join other older gorillas in the forest and explore as much as possible.
Fascinated by these little creatures, most of my photographs were of these babies. At the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, I had the chance to see, from a distance Ubwiza, a female baby gorilla whose name means “beautiful.” At the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, I saw two baby gorillas, Tamu and Rugira.
However, I was curious to find out that in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, they take their time in naming baby gorillas. Even though the newborn I saw was already 5 months old, the rangers joining me in this expedition said the gorilla had no name until the Kwita Izina ceremony.
Naming the next generation of gorillas
Known as Kwita Izina, this public ceremony where baby gorillas in Rwanda are named is inspired by the Rwandan tradition of naming a baby in the presence of friends and family. Rwandans considered it a first appearance of a newborn to the world and a symbol of pride and community among Rwandans.
The Kwita Izina began in 2005 after Rwanda put more effort into wildlife conservation. Before this year, gorillas were simply named by the rangers who found them, and there was not a very clear record of how many gorillas were born each year and where they were.
Even though the fun of giving newborn gorillas gets the most attention among locals and travelers, the main goal of this ceremony is to monitor each newborn gorilla in Rwanda without taking them out of their natural habitat.
With the attention received in the past decades, it is customary to see Kwita Izina celebrities and world-renowned personalities selected as patrons of these newborn baby gorillas. Sir David Attenborough named a baby gorilla in 2016, and in 2022 King Charles III was invited as a guest of honor.
Rwanda’s significant efforts in conservation
Since the creation of the Kwita Izina ceremony, more than 300 mountain gorillas have been named. These are great numbers for a country on the brink of devastation several decades ago. Thanks to the efforts from conservationists in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC, the mountain gorilla populations are on the rise. There are expected to be around 1400+ gorillas in this part of the world – excellent numbers compared to 600 just some years ago.
Rwanda is also one of the African countries putting the most money into this fight. Permits to see gorillas in Rwanda are double the price in Uganda and 4 times that of DRC. With these funds, Rwanda has been able to finance a sustainable tourism infrastructure, protect the communities of Rwandans who live around the Volcanoes National Park, and spend more on gorilla conservation.
What happened this year?
The 18th Kwita Izina was held on Friday, 2 September 2022, and its motto was the celebration of sustainable and responsible tourism. At this year’s ceremony, 19 baby mountain gorillas and one newly formed habituated family were named.
Among the names of this year’s event, several personalities were former football player Didier Drogba, actress Uzo Aduba from Orange is the New Black, and Dr. Cindy Descalzi Pereira.
Like the tradition, baby gorillas were also named with inspirational names in local languages. Some of the names given in 2022 were Imararungu, meaning “cheerful,” Kwibohora, meaning “liberation,” and Ubusugire, meaning “integrity.”
You can also look at the complete list of new-named gorillas at the Visit Rwanda website.
Read more: How to plan a gorilla trekking in Rwanda