Putting names to faces – 20 mountain gorillas named in traditional Rwandan ceremony

Last weekend, local communities and guests in Rwanda celebrated the 8th Annual mountain gorilla naming ceremony, known as Kwita Izina.

Kwita Izina is a traditional ceremony for Rwandan children in which neighbours, friends and family gather in a festive ceremony as the parents present the child and reveal the name they have chosen.

19 baby gorillas and one adult female were included this year, with names such as Ihoho (meaning “incomparable beauty”), Ishimwe (meaning “gratitude” – chosen to reflect the feeling that mountain gorillas are like a gift to Rwanda from God), and Gikundiro (meaning “likeable” – this infant belongs to the Hirwa group which is renowned amongst trackers for its peaceful behaviour).

Opening ceremony. Credit: Jackson Rwasa/IGCP.

Drummers and dancers entertain and tell stories at Igitaramo, the community celebration the night before Kwita Izina. Credit: Jackson Rwasa/IGCP.

“The names chosen in this year’s ceremony – and indeed the very existence of Kwita Izina itself – shows how important these animals are to all of us,” said Augustin Basabose, Interim Director for the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).

“Gorillas are now seen as a symbol of beauty, hope and prosperity, recognised for the income they bring from tourism not only to Rwanda, but to the larger region. This is a stark improvement from the time when IGCP was founded, when conflict between humans and gorillas was prevalent,” he added.

Augustin Basabose. Credit: Jackson Rwasa/IGCP.

IGCP's Interim Director, Augustin Basabose, names one of the infants.

Basabose also had the honour of naming one of the baby gorillas. He gave the infant the name Kungahara, which means “to be prosperous”.

Strong but vulnerable

Sadly, only around 780 of these magnificent animals are left in the world today, in two isolated populations – one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, south-western Uganda, and the other on the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, straddling the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda.

Listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, today the main threat to mountain gorillas is habitat loss due to human population growth and resource needs. Unfortunately, the recent resurgence of armed conflict in Virunga National Park, DRC, also poses an immediate threat to the species as well as the people neighbouring the park.

IGCP is a coalition between Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), established in 1991 to conserve mountain gorillas and their transboundary habitat by partnering with key stakeholders while significantly contributing to sustainable livelihood development.

Mountain gorilla family. Credit: IGCP.

What a handful! The Nyabitondore twins. Credit: IGCP.

Since the gorilla naming ceremonies began eight years ago, the event is estimated to have hosted nearly 100,000 participants, including international celebrities and distinguished members of the conservation and tourism communities – a testament to the work of FFI through IGCP and its predecessor, the Mountain Gorilla Project.

For more pictures from the ceremony, take a look at IGCP’s recent blog.