Rwanda will host the 12th annual Kwita Izina, the gorilla-naming ceremony inspired by the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming babies soon after they are born, on Friday, September 2.
In the 11 years since the event was established, two hundred and sixteen mountain gorilla babies have been named in a celebration of nature together with the communities who protect our majestic mountain gorillas.
The event this year is expected to bring together thousands of Rwandans, friends of Rwanda and even celebrities to Kinigi at the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park.
Launched in 2005 by the then independent ORTPN, the Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks which has since become part of RDB, the Rwanda Development Board, is Kwita Izina a uniquely Rwandan event. Here it is not only a celebration and naming of newly born mountain gorilla babies, but also serves to raise awareness of the importance of the protection of species and their habitats at community, national, regional and international levels.
Last year’s Kwita Izina saw 500 international and 20,000 local attendees travel to Kinigi, where the Volcanoes National Park headoffice is located, a short distance from the town of Musanze.
With now less than two months leading to the 2016 edition, here are the top 10 reasons why one shouldn’t miss the opportunity to be a part of Kwita Izina 2016.
Kwita Izina; a hybrid platform for Conservation and Sustainable Tourism
Kwita Izina 2016 has evolved into a hybrid event on the global calendar, with a series of activities focused on conservation and sustainable tourism. These activities, which will take place from 27th August to 2nd September, include the Naming Ceremony, a ‘Conversation on Conservation’ Conference, a Conservation and Tourism exhibition, community project launches, a fundraising gala dinner and unique to only this event; specially prepared Kwita Izina scientific tours.
International, regional and local conservation stakeholders will table and discuss topical issues on the preservation of wildlife and biodiversity through a ‘Conservation on Conservation’ forum while tourism businesses will showcase their products and services to global buyers through the Conservation and Tourism Exhibition and the B2B.
2. Conservation is a celebration of life!
Kwita Izina or ‘to give a name’ in the local vernacular language Kinyarwanda, is a celebration of a new life. The event is held annually in September to name Rwanda’s newborn baby gorillas. The name attributed to a mountain gorilla baby plays a significant role in the ongoing programme of monitoring each individual gorilla in its family group and habitat. When this first started, gorilla naming was an internal programme used by Park field staff and conservation partners. Once considered one of the world’s most endangered species and on the verge of extinction, the number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif has seen remarkable growth with a 26% population increase from 2004-2010 alone.
A census is ongoing to determine current overall numbers in the Virunga Massif. Conserving these species and their eco-systems as well as biodiversity at large is critical for Rwanda since the country depend on these natural resources. Tourism based on gorilla tracking has become a major economic factor and it is therefore important for Rwanda and RDB to share this message with the world through this platform.
3. Mountain Gorilla Baby Twins!
Twin gorillas are not only extremely rare but they are also absolutely adorable. Twins have been born in Rwanda for the 3rd time since records have been kept; the first pair was born in 2005, the second in 2012 and now another pair of twins this year which is considered a blessing for conservation efforts.
4. Rwanda’s commendable conservation policies and tourism revenue sharing scheme
In Rwanda, conservation and development are inseparable because preserving and sustainable use of natural resources are now ingrained in society and have become one of the country’s greatest social and economic assets. Rwanda invested in building awareness about the value of the country’s four national parks especially to the communities that live around the parks. In addition has a scheme been put into place whereby 5% of all tourism revenue goes back to the communities surrounding the parks.
This fund has helped build schools, hospitals, community centres and support other community development projects like water harvesting and storage schemes. Through the transboundary collaboration between the only three countries in the world with Mountain Gorillas namely Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo has the region seen significant growth in gorilla numbers since the first census was conducted in 1989 when there were only 320 mountain gorillas while in 2010 the number had grown to 400. This number is predicted to have more than doubled when the latest census figures will be published early next year.
5. Igitaramo and Community Project Launches
Each year Rwanda celebrates the launch of new the community projects that have resulted from the tourism revenue sharing scheme during the past year.
A number of such new projects will be announced on the day prior to the naming ceremony at which time a community celebration, Igitaramo, will be staged. This is RDB’s way of saying thank you to the communities neighbouring the parks for helping and playing a crucial role in conservation efforts. Igitaramo celebrations are planned nearby each of Rwanda’s major National Parks like Akagera, Nyungwe and of course the most high profile one, Volcanoes.
6. Kwita Izina Gala Dinner at the new Kigali Convention Centre (27th August)
This will mark the start of a 5-day conservation and sustainable tourism series of events that will culminate in the annual naming ceremony.
Conservationists, philanthropists, tourism industry players and Captains of Industry will gather at the fundraising gala dinner to network and build partnerships in the quest to protect biodiversity globally.
Through this event, Rwanda will raise funds for conservation projects that have been identified as priorities for Kwita Izina 2016. The projects include creating a permanent site for the Mountain Gorilla Skeletal Project, establishment of a sanctuary for Grey Crowned Cranes and the establishment of an eco-lodge outside the main entrance gate at Akagera National Park.
7. Tourism and Conservation Exhibition (28-29 August)
This platform will bring together top quality tourism buyers looking for new African travel markets and regional tourism boards and conservationists showcasing their products. The exhibition will provide networking opportunities and host several lively presentations throughout the two days. The event will open to the public on Sunday when local consumers will learn about Rwanda’s domestic tourism products and services, and will benefit from special offers promoted at the various exhibition stands.
8. Conversation on Conservation Forum (29-30 August)
The high-level ‘Conversation on Conservation’ forum returns after a successful launch in 2015. It provides a unique platform linking conservation with sustainable tourism, embracing all layers of the value chain, from community to governments, private sector to NGOs but crucially also scientists and researchers. The overall objective of the ‘Conversation on Conservation’ is to discuss Africa’s common conservation challenges, debate best solutions and ideas through group workshop forums, present proposals for activation to a High-level VIP Panel for consideration and agree on resolutions, outcomes and commitment to implementation. Keynote speakers are important influencers in the Conservation world and will be announced shortly right here.
9. Customized Scientific Tours (31st August)
Featuring on the Kwita Izina week calendar for the first time ever are scientific tours. Through these exclusive tours where a limited number of visitors will have an opportunity to participate in a ‘behind the scenes’ conservation tour experience. This is a truly unique opportunity to interact with park officials, scientists and researchers, and to experience first-hand what goes on behind the scenes in Rwanda’s incredible mountain gorilla conservation programmes.
10. Naming Ceremony (2nd September)
The gorilla naming ceremony featuring cultural performances and renditions from local entertainers is the climax of the Kwita Izina week. The event convenes over 20,000 guests in Kinigi at the foothills of the Volcano Mountains in the Northern Province of Rwanda. Every year important players from both the conservation and tourism industries attend the event.
Naming a mountain gorilla baby is considered a great honour. Baby Gorilla Namers are carefully chosen to include individuals from Rwanda, the region, the African continent and from overseas who have made significant contributions to conservation efforts both in Rwanda and the world. This correspondent was privileged to be among past Namers of gorillas though with a twist. All other Namers are given young born gorilla babies to name while in this case it was an adolescent female which had joined a habituated group from the wild and was subsequently named ‘Umutungo’ or ‘Good Fortune’ for having found shelter and protection with the Sabinyo group of habituated mountain gorillas. She gave birth the following year.
Globally renowned individuals are often called upon on to name the babies and last year was Dr. Allan Karlsson, senior conservation advisor at the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) among the Namers together with Amy Vedder, a pioneer of conservation work with mountain gorillas and Yale University Professor, the manager of Phinda Reserve that donated lions to Akagera National Park, Simon Naylor, a senior fellow for Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas at the U.S. Department of State, Dr. Janaki Alavalapati; the founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, Fred Swaniker and the son of the founder of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Rwanda, Frank Keesling, among others.