Kwita Izina: Celebrating Mountain Gorilla Births

Kwita Izina: Celebrating Mountain Gorilla Births

About the Author

Sydney was a summer intern with AWF. She is entering her senior year of high school and has a passion for wildlife conservation. She hopes to one day be a wildlife vet.


Mountain gorilla infant and mother in Rwanda. Photo by: Craig R. Sholley

Although some had to wait longer than others, all of the gorilla babies of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda now have a name.

On Saturday, June 22, 2013, at Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi, Northern Rwanda, the births of 12 baby gorillas and one newly formed family were formally celebrated in the annual naming ceremony known as Kwita Izina.  This year, the event brought in over 5,000 people from the Musanze District of Rwanda, where the ceremony was held, and over 460 international visitors and was themed, “Celebrating Nature, Empowering Communities.”

The ceremony was originally inspired by the Rwandan tradition of naming babies soon after they are born.  Since the first ceremony in 2005, 173 gorillas and one family have been named during the ceremonies. 

Traditional dancers perform at the 2013 Kwita Izina Mountaing Gorilla Naming Ceremony in Rwanda. Photo by: Anna Behm-Masozera

During the ceremony, designated local and international guests are given the honor of naming the gorillas.  In 2008, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) CEO Patrick Bergin was one of the people given this honor.  This year, 14 gorilla namers announced the names of the babies.

Part of this year’s theme was to celebrate the local communities and their role in the conservation of mountain gorillas.  So, a few days before the ceremony, a community project was launched near Nyungwe that aims to add value to the maize product sold by the community so that they continue to support the conservation in their area.

Female dancers at the 2013 Kwita Izina Mountaing Gorilla naming ceremony. Photo by: Anna Behm-Masozera

This was the first time the celebration lasted for more than one day.  This year, guests had the option of starting their trip by joining the Kwita Izina Caravan, which departed Kigali either one or two days before the ceremony and visited several tourist destinations before heading to the ceremony itself.  Then, the night before the ceremony, a public Igitaramo (party) was held in Musanze and featured local performers and a music concert featuring popular local and international artists. 

Male dancers perform at the 2013 Kwita Izina Mountaing Gorilla naming ceremony. Photo by: Anna Behm-Masozera

Rwanda is one of only three countries where mountain gorillas are still found in the wild; the other two are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  These populations are spread out among four national parks:  Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda), and Virunga National Park (DRC). 

Since 2003, the number of mountain gorillas has increased by 26.3%, although they are still critically endangered.  A survey in 2011 found that there are about 880 individuals left in the wild.  Over the past several years, the number of gorillas has increased with each survey, making it the only great ape with an increasing population.

Unfortunately, the mountain gorilla population is still small and at risk.  They live in a very diverse and fertile region, making it one of the most populated in Africa.  As people move closer to the gorillas, they not only destroy their habitat, they also bring the possibility of transmitting human diseases like pneumonia, the flu, and Ebola to them. 

Drummers and musicians perform at the 2013 Kwita Izina Mountaing Gorilla naming ceremony. Photo by: Anna Behm-Masozera

In recent times, Virunga National Park in DRC has also been marred by violence, and the gorillas living there get caught in the middle of the tension.  

However, conservation projects are still taking place to help make sure the gorillas live on.  AWF opened the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in 2008.  These are community-run lodges that cater to tourists who come to see the gorillas, which makes conservation very appealing to the locals who run them.  Also, the Kwita Izina ceremony brings awareness to all the people who attend and encourage them to help with conservation. 

The annual Kwita Izina ceremony sheds light on the plight of the mountain gorillas while sharing the joy of watching the population grow.    


Photos 2-4 courtesy of: Anna Behm-Masozera