Celebrating Gorillas

Celebrating Gorillas

About the Author

Paul Thomson worked with African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi for a year before moving to Washington D.C. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pa ... More

About a third of the world’s entire mountain gorilla population lives in Rwanda. When it’s time to celebrate the country’s treasured gorillas, Rwanda’s wildlife and parks authority, ORTPN, goes all out.

June 21st is the annual Gorilla Naming Ceremony, called Kwita Izina after the old Rwandan tradition of naming newborns. This year, 20 infant mountain gorillas will be given names by “key personalities in wildlife conservation and business.” Exactly who these people are has not been revealed, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Natalie Portman will show up again this year. Rwanda has turned the Naming Ceremony into a week-long event, beginning yesterday with the launch of several community projects made possible with funds raised from past gorilla naming events.

I tagged along with a delegation of ORTPN staff, conservation groups, reporters, and politicians to visit a couple of the community projects. We arrived at the Nyabigoma primary school in Kinigi to a spectacular site: the 600+ students grouped in the schoolyard singing and dancing. To one side, 10 men in traditional attire beat giant drums. To the other side, the parents of the school children and other community folks joined in the singing and clapping.

The school is one of 11 primary schools built with funds from conservation. ORTPN Director General Rosette Rugamba said, “By celebrating Kwita Izina, we are celebrating incredible success in the conservation of the mountain gorilla and the continued partnership with the community that plays host to the gorillas.”

Over the past three years, ORTPN has given community projects over 410 million Rwandan francs ($762,000) raised through a successful revenue sharing scheme. ORTPN allocates at least 5% of its total gross revenue each year to be distributed to projects in communities surrounding the parks. The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) helped design the revenue sharing policy.

In 2007 gorilla tourism generated $7 million in Rwanda. So it’s no surprise to see so many happy faces in the communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park.