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Naming Gorillas

  • 06/22/08
  • Paul

Thousands of people gathered on a grassy area at the base of Mt Sabyinyo for the fourth Rwandan Gorilla Naming Ceremony, Kwita Izina. Twenty bug-eyed, curly-haired, ridiculously cute gorilla infants were given names in this year’s festival by “VIPs” of various sorts, including our very own CEO, Patrick Bergin.

AWF CEO Patrick Bergin named one of the baby gorillas.

AWF CEO Patrick Bergin named one of the infant gorillas Sacola, after
the community trust that owns Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.

It was great to see so many people coming from all corners of Rwanda for the event, and the crowd was buzzing like a rock concert. I wish I could say the speeches were as riveting as a concert, but at least the dance troupes – both a local group and the Rwandan National Ballet – had great music, costumes, and dancing to punctuate the long speeches.

Dancers entertained the crowd

Dancers entertained the crowd.

A warrior ceremony added drama and excitement to the ceremony

A warrior ceremony added drama and excitement to the ceremony.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame did not turn up, but sent Prime Minister Bernard Makuza in his place. The governor also spoke, as well as ORTPN’s Director General, Rosette Rugamba, who is the hard-lined driving force between the event and is pushing Rwanda’s tourism into first class.

The special guests were called to get ready for the giving of the gorilla names, and I chased after them with a gang of paparazzi. Patrick and the other 19 namers ducked into a traditional Rwandese grass home (built for the occasion) and emerged transformed, wearing flowing white robes and carrying spears.

Up on stage they revealed the name they had selected for the baby gorillas. Patrick chose the name “Sacola,” a perfect choice for this tiny new member of the population. SACOLA is the name of the association that represents the community that owns the new Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, which had its inaugural opening yesterday as well. The lodge is special in that it converts gorilla tourism dollars into benefits for local people. A percentage of the lodge’s revenue gets kicked back to the community for projects such as fixing roads and building houses for the community’s poorest families.

Now little Sacola will be crawling around in the forest, a reminder of the good that comes when local people are involved in gorilla conservation.

About the Author

Paul began with AWF based in Nairobi for a year, before moving to Washington DC. 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. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is a member of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leadership initiative and is working on a conservation campaign to combat the illegal trade of Asian pangolins. Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and nyama choma.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.