(The author, seen here naming Umutungo or Fortune at Kwita Izina in Kinigi / Musanze on June 16th. Picture courtesy of Telesphore Ngoga)
The eighth annual gorilla naming festival, now globally known as Kwita Izina has over the years named 141 young born baby gorillas, with each and every one of them given a name, all of them different and of a deeper meaning. The choices of names are proposed by the rangers on the ground who are with these endangered animals all the time and their selection reflects the circumstances of the birth or the location they were born at, but the namer makes the final decision, choosing from two or three selected for the particular new born.
Rwanda is the only country in the gorilla triangle of the Virunga mountains, which it shares with Uganda and Congo DR, to dedicate an entirel festival to the primates, and while gorillas in Uganda too are named by the wardens and the UWA staff, only in Rwanda has the naming been turned into an annual celebration of conservation. 141 births in 8 years sounds both much and little, the latter clearly an indicator that conservation is a hard, long term business and had it not been for Rwandas extraordinary efforts to protect the species, in conjunction with the communities living around the boundaries of the national park, a similar number could have been recorded as a loss to poaching or illegal trading. The centerpiece of Rwandas success is found in bringing the community on board, and Musanze has been recorded as the third most successful part of the country to combat and eradicate poverty, attributed to the inflow of tourist visitors, the jobs and investments they helped to create and the money they leave directly in the local economy, besides paying a tracking fee of now US Dollars 750 to the Rwanda Development Board. Local guest houses and hotels thrive and over the Kwita Izina week are fully booked as the regional and international conservation fraternity flocks to Musanze to pay tribute to Rwandas achievements.
From initially being a one day event, Kwita Izina has grown into a weeklong festival of activities, regularly featuring conservation focused conferences and workshops, exhibitions like this year when sustainable and green technologies were showcased at the Kigali Serena Conference Centre, a cycling race from Kigali to the gorilla mountains and notably, year after year, the handing over of additional community projects.. These are covering the provision of clean drinking as well as irrigation water, health centres, educational facilities and community centres where the locals can meet. 5 percent of the revenue of the permits are given back to the communities, besides a further 5 percent now being contributed to a compensation fund scheme from which anyone suffering proven wildlife damages can receive a payout.
The government of Rwanda has in recent years been regularly represented by the Prime Minister, paying tribute to the work done day by day in and around the park by wardens and park staff, the researchers, NGOs led by the Diane Fossey International Gorilla Fund and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme but also receiving the tribute of the international community for Rwandas ongoing commitment to protecting the species. This year it was the President of the International Council for Tourism Partners, Prof. Geoffrey Lipman, who stopped in Rwanda enroute from Beijing and Bangkok to Rio de Janeiro where he is attending the Rio20+ Summit, who applauded The Land of a Thousand Hills for their green vision of sustainable tourism developments. Rwanda is a founder member of the ICTP, which launched last year at the WTM in London and will hold its first annual meeting in the Seychelles in 3 weeks time. Prof. Lipman was one of the 20 namers, as was the Founder Chairman of the East African Tourism Platform, which was launched in Rwanda as part of the Kwita Izina week, Richard Rugimbana from the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania.
But this year was special in many ways. Normally reporting from the festival site in Kinigi this correspondent was chosen by RDB as a Namer in recognition of consistent positive reporting about Rwanda tourism and conservation and his contributions to promoting the country abroad through regular feature articles published by eTN and many other media organizations, in his capacity as the eTurboNews correspondent for Eastern African and Indian Ocean islands region. It was an honour for eTN to be such recognized as well as for yours truly and the occasions was made double special when the first ever opportunity arose to name a semi adult female. She some time ago migrated from the wild, seemingly un-habituated and not recognized by the unique facial features each gorilla has, as a member of any known group in the three countries and is now according to the rangers fully settled and integrated in the Sabinyo Group. It was instantly clear to this correspondent that this gorilla girl had enough sense to recognize, that by coming to Rwanda and becoming part of a habituated group, it sought out the protection of a strong and sustained conservation system where she can live out a full life. As many as 8 tourists a day, or up to 2.920 a year, come to see the gorillas of each of the 8 habituated groups and she too can now be seen on a daily basis, earning her keep by simply being there and letting curious humans see their close relatives in the wild with whom we share 98 percent of DNA.
(Dressed in full regalia of a Namer outside a traditional Rwandan homestead, where the men and women chosen to name are briefed and outfitted before making a grand entrance. Picture courtesy of Telesphore Ngoga)
The chosen name for her was Umutungo or in English Fortune because it was a good fortune which brought her into the safety net of RDBs Tourism and Conservation Department, from now on according her protection and care against permitting to be visited by tourists from around the world. And in the best African tradition, yours truly claimed Umutungo as his daughter and laid his claim to dowry, also expecting fully to name her first born, as and when that happy event will take place.
The 2012 event once again filled the showground to the brim and more than ever before where the words from the Prime Minister greeted with loud and enthusiastic applause, when he listed the achievements made in this part of the country, attributed to a large extend to tourism activities. It was evident that the local communities, which streamed in their many thousands to the festival ground, were fully behind the event, no wonder considering the benefits tourism has brought and continues to bring to the Musanze and its environs.
In closing I wish Umutungo and the other 19 newly named gorilla babies a long and happy life in the forests of the 5 towering volcanoes, where they can live and give in safe surroundings.
This trip was made possible by the generosity of RwandAir, the national airline of Rwanda, of Serena Hotels and the Rwanda Development Boards Tourism and Conservation Department.