Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente emphasised Rwanda’s commitment to conservation saying it constitutes a major part of Rwanda’s strategies and priorities. He was speaking at the official gorilla naming ceremony – Kwita Izina – held in Kinigi on September 2. The ceremony was attended by the First Lady Jeannette Kagame as special guest. Global leaders, philanthropists, conservation champions, sports, music and fashion stars were among the Gorilla namers. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales also named a baby gorilla Ubwuzuzanye, (Harmony) but he named the baby gorilla virtually. “The act of naming baby gorillas is a demonstration of Rwanda’s commitment to conservation. It is an important role in our country’s socio-economic transformation. “The 20 baby gorillas and one newly formed gorilla family we have named today, and the hundreds we have named before them over the last 18 years, are the result of decades of conservation efforts. Indeed, this is a great thing to celebrate, and we are happy to have you here with us to mark this occasion,” said the Prime Minister. The new gorilla family was named 'Kwisanga' by the famous Kenyan band Sauti Sol. Kwisanga means feel at home. This year marks the 18th edition of the international conservation event and is the first time the ceremony has taken place physically since 2019 following the COVID-19 pandemic. In attaching value to the event, Ngirente said that Rwanda protects its natural heritage by investing in people. “That is why our tourism revenue-sharing scheme is such an important part of our conservation strategy. By investing in the communities that surround our national parks, we are building a strong constituency for conservation that will span generations.” He added that, “tourism remains a strategic priority for Rwanda and it is great to see the sector steadily recovering following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.” The 20 baby gorillas named are members of the Noheli, Musilikali, Ntambara, Mutobo, Igisha, Susa, Kureba, Pablo, Sabyinyo, Muhoza, Amahoro, and Hirwa families. They were born in the park over the last 12 years. Since the naming ceremony began in 2005, 352 baby gorillas have been given names. Today, Rwanda is home to one-third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas and the population is steadily increasing. In his naming speech, Prince Charles said “Rwanda is embarking on an ambitious project to expand Africa’s oldest national park, Volcanoes National Park. This once in a generation initiative will expand the park by approximately twenty-three per cent. This expansion of the Volcanoes National Park will, I hope, ensure a bright future for the mountain gorillas that call it home.” In highlighting the significance of gorilla naming, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, Clare Akamazi, said one of the biggest moments in most people’s lives, is when they understand the meaning of their names. “It often feels like a huge revelation of who we are, and the standard and values which guide our lives. In a way, one’s name is their destiny. In a name, many times, is also the aspirations and thoughts of communities we belong to - their best wishes for a bright future. “In a name is a distinct identity that enables one to live a unique life. Our mountain gorillas are part of this unique heritage - found only in 3 countries in the world. Seeing them is a unique bucket list experience for many from all around the world,” said Akamanzi. In 1996, International Union for Conservation of Nature had classified gorillas as critically endangered facing a threat of extinction. However, in 2018, mountain gorillas were reclassified from critically endangered to endangered, a recognition of their improved wellbeing, and owing to collective conservation efforts by all represented here today, said Akamanzi. She added that giving names to baby gorillas is a significant contribution to their conservation. “Names enable us to monitor their health and behaviour, while tracking their developmental milestones. Names permit park rangers and other caregivers to document gorillas’ life stories and share them with visitors and future generations. Gorilla names signify growth,” she said. The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is modelled off a centuries-old tradition in which Rwandans name their children in the presence of family and friends. For three decades before the first official gorilla naming ceremony, park rangers and researchers named Rwanda’s mountain gorilla babies to monitor each gorilla in their family and habitat. In 2005, Rwanda officially began naming mountain gorillas in what has become a global celebration of nature. By giving a name to these ‘majestic’ animals, they are given the value they undoubtedly deserve. In her address, the Chief Tourism Officer at RDB, Michaella Rugwizangoga, said that the gorilla population in the Virunga Massif grew by 23%, according to the recent census. “Today, we are also celebrating the transformative power of conservation in local communities. In Rwanda, through a revenue sharing scheme, we invest 10% of tourism receipts into the communities surrounding the parks. “To date, more than US$ 7.9 million has been invested in 881 projects in communities adjacent to Volcanoes, Akagera, Gishwati-Mukura and Nyungwe national parks. This programme has built schools, water harvesting facilities, homes for vulnerable families, and developed modern markets and community health centres,” Rugwizangoga said. She revealed that Rwanda is investing more than US$2 million in the tourism revenue sharing programme for the year 2022-2023, which is more than the amount invested in the programme before COVID-19. “This is a testament of the commitment of the government toward conservation and we are confident this trend will continue as we welcome more and more visitors to our national parks,” she said. On regional efforts towards conservation, Rugwizangoga pointed out that while conservation of national parks and protected areas within Rwanda is important, regional collaboration is also vital. “Rwanda is pleased to host the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration and we plan to work even more closely with our neighbours to strengthen collaboration and joint conservation programmes, including monitoring of the park and ensuring the park’s integrity.” Dancilla Nyirarugero, the governor of Northern Province, said that “the security of Gorillas is our richness. The more secure they are the more visitors and the more money we make.” The gorilla naming ceremony held at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park was attended by tens of thousands in Musanze District, who were all thrilled and jubilant throughout the ceremony.