Rwanda celebrates 17th Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony on World Gorilla Day

Rwanda has marked World Gorilla Day by naming 24 baby mountain gorillas in a virtual celebration of the majestic animals and the community-led conservation efforts that are ensuring their long-term protection in Volcanoes National Park.

Now in its 17th year, the Gorilla Naming ceremony, known as Kwita Izina, saw Rwandans, conservation partners, special guests and friends of Rwanda come together to celebrate the occasion. Kwita Izina is modelled off a centuries-old tradition in which Rwandans name their children in the presence of family and friends, and aims to give gorillas the value they undoubtedly deserve.

This year, the 24 baby mountain gorillas were named by distinguished individuals from around the world including environmental leaders, educators, public health advocates, artists and leading global athletes such as Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Paris Saint-Germain players Sergio Ramos, Angel di Maria, Marquinhos, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

During the ceremony, Arsenal first team players introduced the world to the newest member of Rwanda’s gorilla family, a Visit Rwanda x Arsenal gorilla toy. Sales from the toy will support gorilla conservation and the expansion of Volcanoes National Park.

This year’s virtual event also featured updates on the designation of the Gishwati-Mukura National Park as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the expansion of the Volcanoes National Park, and performances by Rwandan artists and messages of support from friends of Rwanda.

World Gorilla Day marks the day that gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda in 1967. It is a day that encourages people around the globe to join conservation efforts to protect gorillas in the wild.

The 24 baby gorillas named are members of the Igisha, Musilikale, Pablo, Titus, Kureba, Ntambara, Kuryama, Muhoza, Kwitonda, Agashya, Isimbi, Hirwa, Sabyinyo and Amahoro gorilla families.

“The success of gorilla conservation in Rwanda shows the good that can be achieved through active community participation and the right partnerships. I wish to thank all our collaborators, in Rwanda and around the world, for sustaining this excellent work over the years,” said President Paul Kagame. 

“Conservation and sustainability are at the heart of Rwanda’s tourism industry. The more we invest in nature, the greater the benefits. And as we look to the future, we are excited about one of our most ambitious conservation projects yet – the expansion of Volcanoes National Park and the development of a 15 hectare experiential centre that will give visitors a behind the scenes look at mountain gorilla conservation, and how they can become gorilla guardians themselves.

The expansion of the park aims to create ecological and economic value that will contribute to our country’s socio-economic transformation, and provide new opportunities for communities living around the park,” said Zephanie Niyonkuru, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board.

“We cannot wait to visit Rwanda and meet the baby gorillas in their natural habitat in Volcanoes National Park,” said Paris Saint-Germain first team players Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel di Maria, Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos.

2021 Kwita Izina Gorilla Babies and Namers

Inkomezi – ‘Inner strength’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 6 July 2021 to Ururabo from the Igisha family of mountain gorillas and was named by Aristide Mugabe, the team captain of the Patriots Basketball Club. The name was chosen to showcase the strength of partnerships as a key to Rwanda’s conservation success. 

Mpanuro – ‘Guidance’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 6 February 2021 to Ikaze from the Musilikale family of mountain gorillas and was named by Ms. Jeanne d’Arc Uwamahoro, a youth volunteer and Ms. Alphonsine Niwemugeni, a community health worker. The name Mpanuro was given as an appreciation of the continuous efforts of Rwanda’s youth volunteers and community health workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rinda – ‘Preserve’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 14 June 2021 to Munezero from the Agashya family of mountain gorillas and was named by retired National Basketball Association (NBA) player Luol Deng. The name was chosen to embody the resolve and motivation of the heroes of gorilla protection, specifically rangers and local communities, who never grow weary of their work protecting Rwanda’s wildlife – a prerequisite for the constant increase in the gorilla population.

Sangwa – ‘Welcome’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 29 August 2020 to Nchili from the Kwitonda family of mountain gorillas and was named by Nigerian singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur, Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade (Mr. Eazi). The name was chosen to show that Sangwa was a great addition not only to the Kwitonda family but Rwanda’s growing mountain population as a whole.

Twirinde – ‘Protection’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 24 December 2020 to Tegereza from the Ntambara family of mountain gorillas and was named by Professor Beth Kaplin, Director of the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at the University of Rwanda. The name symbolises the commitment of park staff in safeguarding the safety and hygiene of the mountain gorillas by protecting themselves,  their families and the community around them. 

Ingabire – ‘Gift’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 6 January 2021 to Ejoheza from the Isimbi family of mountain gorillas and was named by Jes Gruner, Regional Operations Manager at African Parks Network. This name was chosen to symbolise the growing mountain gorilla population as a gift to Rwanda.

Kundumurimo – ‘Devoted’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 7 January 2021 to Inkubito from the Muhoza family of mountain gorillas and was named by Clementine Uwamahoro, Conservation Technology Officer at Akagera National Park. This name recognises Rwanda’s future generations as the custodians of biodiversity conservation. 

Kabeho – ‘Long live’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 13 November 2020 to Nzeli from the Kureba family of mountain gorillas and was named by Rwandan Singer and Songwriter, Bruce Itahiwacu aka Bruce Melodie. The name was chosen by the Rwandan public to bestow wishes for a long and healthy life for the mountain gorillas and show the important role each individual plays towards the ongoing success of their conservation story. 

Igicumbi – ‘Habitat’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 1January 2021 to Okapi from the Kwitonda family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and was named by Dr. Max Graham, Founder and CEO of Space for Giants. This name highlights the uniqueness of the Virunga massif, which remains the last refuge mountain gorillas call their habitat, as well as being the first African national park created in 1925 to protect the magnificent species.

Nshunguye – ‘Rescuer’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 18 April 2021 to Kurudi from the Titus family of mountain gorillas and was named by Dr. Deborah Dunham, Chairperson Gorilla Doctors. Before she was born, Kurudi was the only female belonging to the Titus family and the name Nshunguye was chosen to symbolise the addition of another female gorilla to the growing family.

Injishi – ‘Sacred tie’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 30 July 2020 to Makuba from the Kuryama family of mountain gorillas and was named by Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility. The name symbolises the immeasurable value given to Rwanda’s mountain gorillas.

Urusobe – ‘Diversity’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 4 August 2020 to Ndimubanzi from the Kwitonda family of mountain gorillas and was named by fine-art photographer, David Yarrow. The name was chosen to recognise Rwanda’s rich biodiversity.

Mugwire – ‘Reproduce’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 27 June 2021 to Magayene from the Hirwa family of mountain gorillas and was named by Antony Lynam, Representative of International Congress on Conservation Biology. The name serves to celebrate the growing mountain gorilla population and promote a conducive environment for them to thrive.

Iribagiza – ‘Pretty’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 18 June 2021 to Nezerwa from the Amahoro family of mountain gorillas and was named by Environmentalist and Photographer, Yann Arthus Bertrand. The name was chosen as a celebration of Rwanda’s beauty that has been amplified by the successful conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas which has positioned the country as a world-class tourism destination. 

Umusingi – ‘Foundation’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 11 December 2020 to Ijambo from the igisha family of mountain gorillas and was named by Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors. The name was chosen to showcase that mountain gorilla conservation is at the heart of Rwanda’s tourism industry and contributes significantly to the country’s economic development.

Rudacogora – ‘Resilient’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 12 July 2021 to Ishema from the Pablo family of mountain gorillas and was named by Mark Tatum, Deputy Commissioner, NBA. The name embodies the resilience, determination and commitment of the Rwandan people.

Mubyeyi – ‘Mother’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 23 December 2020 to Kubana from the Kureba family of mountain gorillas and was named by Dr. Senait Fisseha, Director of Global Programs at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The name was chosen to honour the efforts of mothers in raising their offspring. The survival of gorilla infants largely depends on their mothers.

Byiruka – ‘Flourish’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 8 January 2021 to Impano from the Igisha family of mountain gorillas and was named by Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX, the Worldwide Exhibitions for Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events. The name was chosen to wish growth and health to the new infant and the Igisha family. 

Zigama – ‘Saving’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 25 January 2021 to Karema from the Sabyinyo family of mountain gorillas and was named by Reeta Roy, President, Mastercard Foundation. The name symbolizes the importance of promoting a savings culture as a way to sustain tourism benefits during uncertain times.

Iratuje – ‘Peaceful’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 18 December 2020 to Umoja from the Hirwa family of mountain gorillas and was named by H.E Nicola Bellomo, European Union Ambassador to Rwanda. The name best describes the character of her mother Umoja, who moved from the Kwitonda to the Hirwa family and was able to integrate peacefully. 

Kura – ‘Rise’

●      This female baby gorilla was born on 9 February 2021 to Umujyanama from the Pablo family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and was named by Arsenal first team player Bukayo Saka. The name was chosen to bestow wishes of health and strength to baby Kura which is the first born to its mother Umujyanama.

Ingeri – ‘Superior herd’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 3 January 2021 to Africa from the Isimbi family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and was named by Paris Saint-Germain first team players Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The name was inspired by Rwanda’s cattle rearing culture and symbolises the uniqueness and superiority of the mountain gorilla primate species.

Nshongore – ‘Elegant’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 26 February 2021 to Turiho from the Muhoza family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and was named by Paris Saint-Germain first team players Angel di Maria and Marquinhos. The name was chosen to highlight the magnificent beauty of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. 

Mudasumbwa – ‘Outstanding’

●      This male baby gorilla was born on 30 July 2020 to Rugira from the Musilikale family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and was named by Paris Saint-Germain first team player Sergio Ramos. This name reflects how mountain gorillas are a dominant and respected species in the wild.

About Kwita Izina

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 began officially 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. The ceremony is also an opportunity to thank the communities that live around Volcanoes National Park, research partners, vets and the dedicated conservationists, rangers and trackers.

Kwita Izina forms part of an ambitious strategy to preserve Rwanda’s natural heritage and further expand the role of tourism in the country’s transformation. As a result of the naming ceremony, Rwandans from all walks of life understand the intrinsic value of gorillas and their contribution to the country’s economic prosperity. Rwandans have become gorilla guardians.

Overall, Rwanda has emerged as a conservation and sustainable tourism leader on the continent. For instance, while in the 2010 Census, there were 480 mountain gorillas, the 2016 Census report indicated 604 individuals in the Virunga Massif. These efforts have contributed to the increase in mountain gorillas worldwide (1,004) and are categorised as no longer critically endangered. (End)

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