FOR many tours agents and tourists around the world, Rwanda is synonymous with mountain gorillas. Most visitors that are planning their holidays in the “Land of a Thousand Hills”, Volcanoes National Park is in most case one of their scheduled destinations. The park is home to the rare mountain gorillas and the rich mosaic of ecosystem which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
Mountain gorillas have been classified among endangered species by international conservations organizations and have made resources available to the gorilla conservation cause. The latter are living in the Virunga Massif, a chain of volcanic mountains shared by Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo DRC and Uganda. The area has been a theater of persistent wars since the 90’s and this has raised the alarm for conservationists who are aware of the dangers of poachers targeting them.
Since 2005 Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and conservation launched the first ever Gorillas Naming Ceremony to conserve and protect the region where the mountains gorillas live. This ceremony was originally meant for human babies in the Rwandan culture whereby each new born was given a name during a traditional ceremony. Because of the economic and environmental interests that are attached to mountain gorillas, this ceremony was introduced to name babies gorillas in a national ceremony that is now recognized at the international level.
Rwanda’s annual baby gorillas naming ceremony “KWITA IZINA” has recently been short-listed among the finalists for the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses Award for innovation in public policy and governance. Gorilla naming ceremony has seen 173 baby gorillas named in a function that normally takes place in June of every year at the foot of Virunga Mountains in Kinigi, Musanze district in the Northern Province. Recall that Rwanda is home to a third of the world’s remaining 750 of the species. Others are living in the Uganda’s and DRC’s part of the Virunga Mountains.
Every year the organizers of KWITA IZINA chose a theme that is related to the conservation efforts geared at protecting gorillas. The ninth annual Kwita Izina ceremony was held on Saturday, June 22nd 2013 under the theme “Celebrating nature, empowering communities”. The theme was aimed at celebrating the efforts of all those that have contributed to the welfare and conservation of gorillas by ensuring growth in their population. Authorities have understood the role played by communities that live around the park and give them 5% of revenues generated in tourism in order lift them out of poverty.
Renowned personalities from around the world have taken part in this ceremony among them Jeffrey David Sachs – American economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Isaiah Washington IV and his family – American actor, Ms. Lieke van Lexmond – Dutch actor, TV and film producer, Mr Rifai Taleb – Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization among others. The latter have given baby gorillas name that are related to conservation efforts such as Imigano (Bamboo), Icyororo (Fertile), Inyungura (Addition), Ubukerarugendo (Tourism) among others.
In 2013 Tourism authorities added Kwita Izina Caravan to this annual event in order to give a chance to tourists to jump on board a caravan from Kigali to Kinigi where the Kwita Izina ceremonies are held. During the caravan visitors can discover Rwanda’s most beautiful sights and environmental wonders but also the country’s beauty as well as experience its cultural heritage. The tour culminated in Kinigi on Saturday 22 June whereby 12 babies’ gorillas and newly formed gorillas families were named by Rwandan as well as international personalities.
As Rwanda aims to celebrate its KWITA IZINA ninth anniversary ceremonies, one cannot ignore to point out notable achievement in Rwanda tourism. Since 2003 when the last consensus of gorillas was taken, the latter have registered a 26, 3% growth in their population. In addition to that, gorilla naming ceremonies have attracted thousands of international, regional and local visitors which have contributed to tourism revenues that were estimated at USD 200 million in 2010. The latter keep on increasing year by year and had already reached USD 257 million in 2011. Apart from that this ceremony has played a big role to convert former poachers into responsible citizen that care for the environment conservation.