This September 24, we mark not just World Gorilla Day, but Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony. Kwita Izina, an initiative of the Rwandan government, is an exciting time for Fossey Fund staff and our devoted followers, because we get to celebrate all of the newest baby mountain gorillas born to the gorilla families of Volcanoes National Park.
At this year’s celebration, 24 baby gorillas will be named — including nine baby gorillas born into families that are protected and monitored by the Fossey Fund.
Who names these babies? Each year the Rwanda Development Board selects honored guests to choose the names. During last year’s naming ceremony, which was help virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the 24 baby gorillas were named by trackers, rangers and other frontline conservationists, with a few named by members of England’s Arsenal football club. This year’s honorees have not yet been announced.
Below you’ll find information about the infants born into the groups we monitor.
Rugira’s infant, born into Musilikale’s group on July 30, 2020, is already more than a year old, but he was born too late to be included in the group of babies that were named in 2020. Because he’s older than the other infants, we already know quite a bit about him. He is an active gorilla and we often find him playing with 2-year-old Duhuze. His older brother Urungano also spends time playing with and babysitting him. Though he still depends upon his mother’s milk to meet his nutritional needs, he has already started trying solid foods. Mom Rugira carries him from place to place on her back, but sometimes she wants to play with the other adults, and he has to hang on tight so he doesn’t fall off!
35-year-old Nzeli has transferred between groups more frequently than most females. She joined Kureba’s group in March 2020, and she gave birth on November 13, 2020, so the paternity of this infant is uncertain. We believe the father is Urugwiro, the silverback of her previous group. Nzeli is an experienced mother, confident enough to allow her infant to explore on its own. The infant, a male, is growing very well and enjoying the company of another infant born into the group just one month after him.
Kubana’s infant, a female, was born on December 23, 2020 — just one month after Nzeli’s infant. Growing up together in Kureba’s group, they are already becoming fast friends and playmates. Dominant silverback Ishavu is a vigilant father. Kubana is also quite protective — this is unsurprising given the fact that she lost her three previous infants, and we are happy to see that she is doing well as a mom this time.
The youngest member of Ntambara’s group, Tegereza’s infant was born on December 24, 2020 — a Christmas gift for the entire family! Mom Tegereza already has two male offspring in the group, and both help her care for the newborn, whose gender is still unknown. Tegereza has a close relationship with dominant silverback Twibuke, as the two gorillas have known each other their entire lives. Tegereza never left her natal group and is well respected by all group members. There are three infants in the group so there are lots of opportunities for playtime. The baby has already started moving a few steps away from its mother, but never too far.
Born on February 6, 2021, this is Ikaze’s fourth infant. Two of Ikaze’s offspring live in Isabukuru’s group, while 4-year-old Kwaguka Kwiyongera lives with Ikaze and this new sibling in Musilikale’s group. There are four infants and five juveniles in the group, so there will be plenty of playmates available in a few months, when Ikaze’s infant, a female, is old enough to join in the fun.
This baby, born on February 9, 2021, was the first to be born to 10-year-old Umujyanama of Pablo’s group. Umujyanama is a protective and sweet mother who spends lots of time grooming and caring for her baby, whose gender is not yet known. Umujyanama’s mother is no longer in the group, so instead of learning from her own mom, Umujyanama gains practical experience by watching other family members, including her cousin, Teta, who has a 2-year-old of her own named Umukuru.
We’ve been waiting a long time for Kurudi to give birth again, as her last offspring, Macibiri, was born almost five years ago, and there are typically just four years between babies for a gorilla mom. This baby was born into Titus’ group on April 18, 2021 — the only infant in the group other than big sister Macibiri, who was named at Kwita Izina in 2017 by our very own CEO, Dr. Tara Stoinski. This is the first time Macibiri has had someone younger to help care for, and she enjoys spending time with mom and baby. Right now the baby depends solely on her mother for nutrition and transport, but in a few months she will be ready to play and explore with big sister!
Kuryama’s group has been ranging far from our monitoring teams, and so we were not able to observe them for several months. When we spotted the group on June 4, 2021, we saw that 31-year-old female Makuba had a baby with her. Because she was holding it ventrally (across her belly), we estimated the baby to be about 3 months old at that time. Makuba is a descendant of Puck and Effie — we love to see descendants of historic gorillas thriving.
This baby boy is the fourth infant born to 20-year-old Ishema. All of her offspring live with her in Pablo’s group — the oldest is already a silverback. Ishema is a confident and experienced mom, and she is raising her newest infant in a large group, with lots of help, so we expect that the baby will quickly become independent. The last baby born to Ishema was 3-year-old Umuryango, and he has had to adapt to the fact that this new sibling takes much of his mother’s time and attention.