Kwita Izina: Meet the gorilla namers

According to figures from RDB, a total of 239 baby mountain gorillas have been named since 2005 when Kwita Izina was launched. The gorilla naming ritual draws inspiration from the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming babies soon after they are born.
R&B singer The Ben was also part of the naming crew. / Courtesy
R&B singer The Ben was also part of the naming crew. / Courtesy

“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we have come to that part of today’s ceremony that I know you’ve all been looking forward to –the naming of the 19 gorillas that we have today.”

With those remarks by Belize Kaliza, the Rwanda Development Board Chief Tourism Officer at the 13thgorilla naming ceremony in Kinigi on September 1, the stage was set for the most important part of the event –the giving of names to baby gorillas born in the last year.

According to figures from RDB, a total of 239 baby mountain gorillas have been named since 2005 when Kwita Izina was launched.

The gorilla naming ritual draws inspiration from the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming babies soon after they are born.

Naming a gorilla is considered a great honor and privilege, and is usually a preserve for individuals that have made a distinguished contribution to conservation efforts both locally and globally.

This year, the gorilla namers were divided into three groups. Here are the people that named the baby gorillas, in no particular order:

Gisa Gakwisi:

Gisa Gakwisi. / Courtesy

Gakwisi made history as the youngest gorilla namer ever, at just 13.

The Primary 5 pupil at GS Rugando in Kimuhurura shot to fame mid this year, when he molded a stunning clay model of the Kigali Convention Center, a flagship facility in the country’s tourism sector. No wonder he got the biggest ululations and clapping from the crowd when his name was read out by the master of ceremony.

The name he chose for his gorilla was Urungano, born to mother Rugira from the Musirikali group.

Dr. Tara Stoinski:

Stoinski was the first person to name a baby gorilla at this year’s Kwita Izina. She is the president, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer of the Dian Fossey Karisoke Research Center based in Musanze town. The center was established as a tribute, and to continue the conservation efforts of American primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey, who was one of the pioneers of conservation efforts in Rwanda.

This year, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund marked 50 years of working in the Volcanoes National Park to help save the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

“Dian Fossey’s work helped to not only protect the mountain gorillas but also introduce these amazing animals to the world,” Stoinski noted.

The name that she bestowed upon her gorilla was Macibiri. He was born on 4th August 2016 to a mother named Kurudi, from the group Titus.

“Today I have the huge honor of naming an infant in the Titus group. Titus was one of the most famous gorillas studied by Dian Fossey. He had an entire TV show made about him. There is even a beer named after Titus, and he is one of my personal favorite gorillas,” Stoinski stated.

Dr. Olivier Nsengimana:

Dr. Nsengimana is director of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association. He is perhaps best known for his huge role in the revival of the grey crowned crane population in Rwanda, for which he has been rewarded with two prestigious international awards.

Nsengimana named his gorilla Inyange. Inyange was born on 14th August 2016, to mother Ingufu from the group Susa.

Hon. Laurent Lamothe:

Lamothe is an economist and formerly Prime Minister in the Republic of Haiti. Today, he is a social entrepreneur and an impact investor. He is also a prominent player in the global tourism network.

Lamothe was described by the Master of Ceremonies as “one of our key tourism partners here in Rwanda, who has leveraged his network graciously to orient high profile tours and events to Rwanda”. He brought along Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who was visiting Rwanda for the first time.

Ikoranabuhanga was the name he gave to a baby gorilla that was born on 29th December last year. 

Jean Kayihura:

Kayihura is an opinion leader in the Gishwati community in Rutsiro district. He has been recognized in conservation circles for his strong commitment to conservation through mobilizing the local community in Gishwati to conserve the Gishwati natural forest. He named his gorilla Mudahinyuka.

Patience Ozuokor:

Renowned Nigerian film (Nollywood) actress Patience Ozuokor better as Mama G was also part of the namers. / Courtesy

Ozuokor is a renowned Nigerian film (Nollywood) actress better as Mama G to her millions of fans across the continent.

“I want to use this platform to say that Rwandan gorillas are stars like Patience,” she remarked cheekily. 

She named her gorilla Inkesha, which means ornament.

Andrew Muir:

Muir is the CEO of Wilderness Foundation Africa, which is based in South Africa. He named his gorilla Ubudasa, to mean unique and remarkable.

“We are living at a time in the world of great environmental change. By the year 2050 we may lose 20 percent of all our biodiversity on earth that is part and parcel of our life support system. Rwanda is a remarkable country. Rwanda has extra ordinary biodiversity. The people of Rwanda have developed a unique and remarkable model for conservation, and Ubudasa really signifies and symbolizes that,” he remarked.

Winnie Kiru

Winnie Kiru, a leading Kenyan conservationist, named her gorilla 'Arakaza'. / Courtesy

Kiru is a leading conservationist in Kenya, where she has emerged as a strong voice and a leader in the protection of elephants and other wildlife treasures.

“I spend my time going around Africa promoting the elephant protection initiative. This is a presidential initiative that promotes the protection of elephants around Africa, and I cannot wait for president Kagame to join the EPI and harness the power of the gorilla conservation for elephants. I cannot wait,” she said. She named her gorilla Arakaza.

Chloe Bello:

The New York-based celebrity and model named a baby gorilla that was born on March 1 2017. She named it Iyamarere.

Dr. Eberhard Fischer:

Dr. Fischer heads the department of Botany and Biodiversity at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany. He is no stranger to Rwandadone extensive research in the country for the past 30 years. He has published several books on the biodiversity in the Nyungwe National Park. In all, he has visited Rwanda a record 102 times in 33 years, and trekked gorillas 16 times. Isuku was the name he gave to a gorilla born in March this year.

Justin Stevens:

Stevens is the General Manager of One and Only Nyungwe House. One and Only is an international chain of luxury resorts and is one of the key investors in Rwanda’s tourism. He named his gorilla Imirasire.

The Ben:

R&B singer The Ben was one of the major partners for this year’s Kwita Izina, first performing at the Kwita Izina gala dinner on August 26. He named his gorilla Uruyange.

Greg Bakunzi:

Bakunzi is the founder and CEO of Amahoro Tours and Red Rocks Campsite, both based in Musanze district. He is one of the few tourism sector players that have attended the gorilla naming ceremony consistently since 2005 when it debuted.

He named his gorilla Tembera U’Rwanda.

Joe McDonald:

McDonald is an international photographer, award winning author and an ardent conservationist who is passionate about Rwanda. He has tracked Rwandan mountain gorillas a record 101 times! He gave the name Inkingi to a gorilla born in July last year.

Thomas Schaefer:

Schaefer is Chairman and Managing Director of the Volkswagen Group South Africa. He named a gorilla Nsanganira.

Dr. Nyinawamwiza Laeticia:

She is the Principal, College of Agriculture, Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine –key partners in the country’s wildlife conservation efforts. The name she chose was Iriba.

Graham Ledger:

Ledger is the Managing Director of Singita Grumeti Reserves, a luxury lodges chain in Africa, and a big tourism investor in Rwanda.

A day before Kwita Izina, he was at the ground breaking ceremony for the upcoming Singita Kwitonda Lodge in Musanze. He named his gorilla Muhoza.

Veronica Varekova:

Veronica Varekova is a Czech model. / Courtesy

Varekova is a celebrity model from the Czech Republic, and a renowned global development and conservation activist. She sits on the board of the Africa Wildlife Foundation. She chose a gorilla from the Muhoza group and named it Bwiza.