Last Friday the world came to Kinigi, at the foot of the imposing Mount Muhabura, one of a range of volcanic mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo. I am not exaggerating. All the world’s eyes were on Kinigi. Very important and famous people from across the world were there in person, among them royalty, leaders of international organisations, philanthropists and business executives, and celebrities and legends from the arts, sports and entertainment. They had come to participate in a naming ceremony for young gorillas born in the last one year. For those few days, the world owns Kinigi. But it never really goes away. Throughout the year important people maintain a steady stream to the area. This year, there was an added attraction as it had not been held in person for three years. All those people have gone back home. Twenty baby gorillas have a name, an identity; they are now “persons”. Kinigi is back to its residents. They enjoyed the moment and must have earned something from it, and await the next temporary take-over of their area next year and following years. But the visitors will keep coming, attracted by the mountains, or answering the call of the wild, or to pay homage to some of the world’s most majestic beings. The creatures enjoy the attention, but the great beings that they are look unconcerned. In fact, most times they appear disdainful, perhaps wondering what these little humans find so unusual or captivating. I suppose they must shrug and mutter – well, if it pleases them to come all this way to stand there and gaze in awe, let them have their little fun. Only condition: don’t mess up our surroundings. Kwita Izina is Rwanda’s flagship conservation event. And conservation, of the environment in general and preservation of endangered species in particular, is big in this country. But over the years, it has gone beyond a national ceremony and become a global event. That is perhaps a result of its success and the global concern for conservation. And so once a year around this time, the world comes to Kinigi to salute and participate in these efforts, and glory in the presence of the great apes. They may not know, or perhaps they do, that they have also become world celebrities. Kwita Izina, as we have seen over the years, is also a celebration of nature’s bounty and diversity, and harmonious co-existence between humans and this diversity. After all, the earth is a shared space. Humans, however, have a divine injunction to use this bounty but also make sure that they guard it against any form of degradation. In keeping with this spirit, the mood at this year’s event was marked by music and dance and general merry-making, This is all part of Rwanda’s model of conservation. It is a collaborative effort, not the preserve of experts, nature lovers or government officials. It involves the participation of communities that live close to conservation areas. For conservation to work, they must have a stake in it and share in its benefits. Yes, royalty, stars and legends, and other bigwigs will come and give us visibility and even support, and attract more visitors. Government will put in place the relevant policies. Environmental groups will lobby for greater conservation. But communities, too, who live close to the gorillas, or other animals or bio-diversity, are the daily custodians of all this. This model that recognises that all are shareholders and beneficiaries of conservation extends to tourism, perhaps its primary dividend as well as beneficiary. We’ve known places where tourism is essentially for outsiders, to the exclusion of locals. Policies are developed, infrastructure built and activities planned with this in mind. Locals are either onlookers or tourist attractions themselves, sometimes neglected for this purpose. Not so in Rwanda. Here people are beneficiaries of tourism, not its attractions. Because of this they have a stake in conservation. That’s why it works so well. It is also proof that you do not have to degrade your surroundings in order to develop. Quite the contrary. You can do that better and more sustainably when you protect, preserve, improve and, where necessary, restore the environment. There is, of course, a selfish reason as well. We also earn from keeping the gorillas safe and from their star status. I don’t know if they know we make a profit from them. And if they knew, how would they behave? Perhaps they would shrug again with a simple statement: “just like these puny humans to appropriate everything for themselves” and go about stripping tree saplings of their bark and contentedly chew to their satisfaction, or frolic in the lush bushes as the newly named babies are likely to do. As it is, their content is also ours, and if we can maintain this balance, there will be many more naming ceremonies and other successful conservation practices which will ensure the earth is truly a shared home. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.