Rwanda: The Cultural Aspect to Gorilla Conservation

On Saturday, Rwandans were joined the rest of the global community, including members of the diplomatic corps and foreign dignitaries, at the annual Kwita Izina event in Musanze District.

Despite the extremely cold temperatures at the foot of Virunga Mountains in Kinigi, the colourful ceremony ended with 19 baby gorillas, including a set of twins and one female adult being named. So far, 141 Gorillas have been named since 2005.

During this year’s ceremony, the gorillas were given various names, including Gikundiro, Impeta and Akarabo. After much prior preparation ahead of the event, the mood and enthusiasm of the participants at this particular ceremony exhibited Rwanda’s commitment to gorilla conservation. The influx of both national and international figures clearly shows how this annual event remains a very important occasion on the national calendar. It was obvious to see that the much cherished Rwandan tradition of naming every new born baby had gained momentum.

“It is amazing how visitors become part of the event year in year out. It shows how treasured these wild animals are,” Antoine Harerimana, a resident in Musanze observed. He expressed pleasure about the increasing number of tourists visiting the area due to the proximity of the Volcano National Park gorillas saying that huge sums of money are generated from them annually.

Harerimana’s source of satisfaction is part due to the fact that part of the revenue is used to improve the livelihood of the surrounding communities. Available information reveals that over Rwf1.4 billion has been spent during the past eight years in supporting community based projects providing clean water, sanitation, schools while over 220 projects have been financed.

Last year, gorillas generated $9.6 million, a significant portion of the $252 million generated from the tourism industry. However, this is not all that matters to Rwandans. There is a school of thought that believes that every year, the gorilla naming event which is held under a particular theme, serves as an inspiration for Rwandans to reflect on the development of their country.

Frank Gasana, a senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Kigali Health Institute (KHI) says that as much as this practice helps to preserve nature, many lessons can be drawn. “I have noticed that there is always a strong message behind such events,” Gasana said.

When the annual event started in 2005 the theme was “Ensure the future of the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda”. In 2006, the theme was “Recognize the Role of the International Tourists who Selected Rwanda as Destination” and in 2007, the theme was “Caring for Wildlife Concerns Us All”.

This year’s Kwita Izina was held under the theme “Sustainable tourism for a green economy”. For Gasana, this theme will help Rwandans to fully understand that the degradation of the environment has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world.

According to Rica Rwigamba, the Head of Tourism and Conservation at RDB, the gorilla naming event is meant to raise awareness at the national and international level about the need to protect mountain gorillas and their habitat. “This campaign is aimed at ensuring the future of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas and will provide an opportunity for all those who care about them to contribute to this common effort,” she says.

She asserts that Rwanda is committed to conserving the tourism industry by protecting the mountain gorillas. And as Prosper Uwingeri, the chief warden at Kinigi says, the names attributed to the gorillas play a great part in the program of monitoring of each individual and Gorilla group in their habitats.

2009 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the “International Year of the Gorilla” after more than 100 governments gathered to discuss increasing measures for nearly 100 species endangered by pollution, climate change and over-hunting. In doing this, the international community hoped to draw the attention of the public and funding agencies to the plight of these primates.

Gorilla fact file

-Humans and gorillas share more than 97% of their genetic material.

-There are two species of gorillas, western lowland gorilla (scientific name Gorilla gorilla) and eastern lowland gorilla (scientific name Gorillas beringei). The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of eastern lowland gorilla.

They are found in two forests; the Virunga Massif shared by Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. -Mountain gorillas live in family groups of up to 50 members; these are known as troops.