Spotlight on Conservation

The Kwita Izina Mountain Gorilla Naming Ceremony

September 20, 2016

Photo ©Rwanda Development Board

What Is In a Name?

By Tim Tear

Twenty two baby Mountain gorillas recently received their names at an annual naming event in Rwanda — called Kwita Izina. Why is this important?

Perhaps it is because the naming ceremony itself celebrates Rwandan tradition for naming human babies, and thus is a powerful symbol of our close relation to this great ape. As was made clear to all, gorillas live in families too, reminding us all of our connections to wildlife.

Perhaps it was because this event — the 12th of its kind — is a symbol of hope and resilience. There are now more Mountain gorillas in the wild in Rwanda over half a century after they were first counted by WCS icon George Schaller in 1959. Given the challenges that Rwanda has faced, this is truly a spectacular beacon of conservation success for the world. It is testimony that wildlife and wild places are thriving in Rwanda.

Or perhaps it is because President Kigame spoke to the estimated crowd of 40,000, clarifying to them and the world that for Rwanda, conservation is top on the national agenda, and for conservation to succeed it must go hand-in-hand with development. If more national leaders could take up this platform, the world would be a very different, and better, place.

Or perhaps it is just touching on a personal level that the names are meaningful. Each gorilla infant is given two names by the rangers that guard them every day of the year. The invited guests get to pick one of the two names after being provided with the meaning behind the name.

This year, as WCS’s representative to this event, I chose the name Umuhate, which means “bravery.” It was selected as the rangers specified it was to symbolize the hard work and bravery needed to forge partnerships to conserve gorillas and insure benefits to local communities.

As WCS helped pioneer mountain gorilla tourism in Rwanda nearly 40 years ago with the explicit intent of improving the relationship between gorilla conservation and local communities, this seemed a very fitting choice. Thanks to the rangers for providing it.

It Is All in the Name

By Michel Masozera

Last month the 12th annual Kwita Izina mountain gorilla naming event concluded with the most spectacular ceremony yet. Why is this important?

This year, Kwita Izina capped off an entire week of conservation. It began with the second annual “Conversation on Conservation” that brought together members of the conservation and tourism sectors to look closely at key issues facing the nation.

This year the focus was on sustainability and threats from the illegal wildlife trade. This event was featured in the local and national newspapers, and included interviews with panelists broadcast on local media. The outcomes of this two-day event will help shape the priorities for the Rwandan Development Board — the conservation agency in Rwanda — for the next year.

The naming ceremony brought together conservation leaders from around the world to participate in this special event. With names like Ntamupaka (no borders), Kwigira (self-reliance) and Umuhuza (a peacemaker), these names also convey important messages to Rwanda and to the world.

There is camaraderie developed among the “namers” that come from within Rwanda and from around the world, as it is a formal and well-orchestrated event that demands they all function as a team. The result: they leave as ambassadors for the country and for conservation.

This year the president’s message was particularly powerful; setting the national agenda and challenging the belief that economic growth must come at the expense of the environment. He stated clearly that “you don’t choose one and leave the other.” He further stated that “We are here to ensure that our development is based on conserving what nature has gifted us and it is every Rwandan’s role.”

For me, as a Rwandan, this is a clear mandate that can and will be the national agenda from today forward. I am excited to support this national agenda in my role as WCS Rwanda Country Director. I have already begun discussions with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to address this issue in the context of saving wildlife and wild places that is at the core of WCS’s mission.

It is an ambitious vision, but as Rwandans we are prepared to take on this challenge. I am proud that our President places such a high priority on conservation for our country, and am committed to making this happen. It is clearly an exciting time to be in Rwanda!

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Dr. Timothy Tear is Executive Director of the Africa Program for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Dr. Michel Masozera is Country Director for the WCS Rwanda Program.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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