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Kwita Izina 2020: 24 baby gorillas to get their names in this year’s virtual celebration

The Names Are In!

This year’s virtual Kwita Izina, which was organized by the Rwanda Development Board, was a huge success! Of the 24 baby gorillas that received their new names, 10 were from groups monitored by the Fossey Fund, and seven of the people chosen to name the gorillas are members of our team.

“For the first time since Kwita Izina became an internationally recognized event 16 years ago, the majority of the namers are field staff – trackers, rangers, guides – the frontliners,” says Felix Ndagijimana, director of Rwanda programs and the Karisoke Research Center, who spoke at the event. “This recognition of the work done by conservation frontliners is more important than ever because of their dedication to protecting the gorillas during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We have chosen to go back to our history and tradition to name our baby gorillas just like it was done in the past, which is the people that spend a lot of time caring for these babies are the ones that are given the honour and privilege to name them,” said Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board. “This is our special and humble way of thanking them for ensuring the majestic mountain gorillas are conserved.”

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame gave the closing remarks, saying, “This year, we bring a special focus to the rangers, trackers, guides, vets and porters, who protect our precious mountain gorillas. Their dedication is reflected in the 24 baby gorillas, receiving their names today. Conservation, tourism and community development go hand in hand. Each reinforces the other.”

In addition to the 21 field staff chosen to name the gorillas, three members of England’s Arsenal football club– Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin and Bernd Leno – were also chosen.

Read on to learn more about the babies in the groups monitored by the Fossey Fund.

Meaning: Goal/Score

Igitego was born into Mafunzo’s group on July 5, 2019. He is the youngest in the group of 10 gorillas, and dominant male Mafunzo is his father. Mother Pasika has two other babies, but because she moved to Mafunzo’s group in January 2018, Igitego has no siblings in his group. There are five other juvenile gorillas with whom he often plays and explores.

Igitego was named by Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabonese star forward from England’s Arsenal Football club. Aubameyang said “It’s an honor for me to name a baby gorilla… I am naming my gorilla Igitego, which means ‘goal,’ because we have to work as a team to reach new goals in our conservation journey to protect them. I am proud of being African and yes, we have beautiful nature, so we have to take care so everyone knows the importance of conserving our planet.”

Meaning: Unifier

Duhuze was born into Musilikale’s group on August 8, 2019. His mom Isaro changed groups four times, only joining Musilikale’s group in 2017; she has two more offspring in other groups. There are 22 gorillas in Musilikale’s group, of which 10 are juveniles and infants, so Duhuze has many opportunities to play and socialize. At one year old, he still travels on his mother’s back quite frequently. Mom Isaro gets along well with the three silverbacks in the group.

Duhuze’s name was chosen by Fossey Fund tracker Eric Kabeja, who specializes in tracking the most remote gorilla groups we monitor. Eric explains that gorilla tourism makes it possible for Rwanda to connect with the world. He chose this name “as a gesture of gratitude to everyone who has been connected to Rwanda through tourism in general and, in particular, gorillas.”

The three infants of Kuryama’s group: Amarembo, Indiri and Ubushobozi

The biggest surprise of 2020 came from Kuryama’s group. The group crossed the border and spent 10 months on the Congolese side of the Virungas, where we were unable to monitor them. When we finally relocated the group, we were pleased to see three new babies in the group. The group has stayed safe, reflecting the level of protection of mountain gorillas across the three countries where they live. The three infants are in good health and we were able to estimate their birthdates based on their size.

Meaning: Welcome

Originally a member of Pablo’s group, lone silverback Mutobo formed his own group in April 2019. A few months later, on September 12, Akaramata gave birth to Kazeneza, her first baby. Although this is the first baby of Mutobo’s group, we know from the timing that the father is the dominant gorilla of her former group—Mafunzo. Luckily enough, Mutobo didn’t do the math and has no idea. He is a very caring father for little Kazeneza. Mutobo’s group is growing—there are currently six gorillas in the group, including another newborn who arrived in 2020.

Kazeneza was named by RDB tracker Angelique Nikuze. The name was selected because the mother transferred to this family a few months before he was born. Formed a year ago, this family is also new. This is the first baby born, not only to Akaramata, but into this new family, which is one reason why the baby is so warmly welcomed.

Meaning: Rescuer

Silverback Urugwiro formed his group in September 2019, and the group welcomed Murengezi, its first infant, on May 11, 2020. The mother is 33-year-old Mudakama, who has given birth to five other babies, all of whom live in other groups. Her last baby was born in 2013; it was a surprise to see her give birth again after so many years.

This group faced a number of challenges during its formation, including interactions with other groups and transfers of females. Mudakama herself changed groups three times during the period when this infant was conceived, so the paternity is not quite clear. The group now contains four gorillas: two adult females, silverback Urugwiro and baby Murengezi.

Murengezi was named by Francois Xavier Ndungutse. Known as “Conseiller,” he became a tracker 19 years ago and has since contributed not only to gorilla monitoring but also to data collection on gorilla ranging patterns and behaviors. He currently coordinates all field data collection on gorillas for the Fossey Fund. He explains that he chose the name Murengezi because “the major role of male gorillas is to protect their families, sometimes in difficult situations that can be regarded as ‘life-saving’ moments. Currently, this group has only one male, and Murengezi is expected to aid in protecting the family after reaching maturity.”

Meaning: Prolific

Kororoka was born into Musilikale’s group on May 11, 2020. The mother is 16-year-old Ubufatanye, who has two previous offspring, both of whom live in the group. These other youngsters are only 5 and 3 years old, making this the quickest interval between offspring ever recorded among gorillas—three babies in less than six years! We are observing an interesting family dynamic, as the older siblings are still very close to both mom and the newborn.

Just 2 years old when Kororoka arrived, brother Ingirakamaro stuck close to his mother, looking for attention, even though his mother was busy with the newborn. He soon adapted to the new situation, however, and began staying closer to his 5-year-old sister, Tabaro. Little Ingirakamaro also began following silverback Musilikale more closely in a bid to get more attention.

Kororoka was named by RDB tracker Honorine Uwiragiye, who says “Ubufatanye is a relatively young mother, yet she gave birth to three infants in just six years and manages to raise them all. This name is designed to recognize her contribution to mountain gorilla population growth.”

Another Fossey Fund tracker, Pelagie Mutuyimana, was invited to name a gorilla from the Kwitonda group, which is monitored by the RDB. Pelagie chose the name Nyiramajyambere, which means “Development,” because Rwanda’s Vision 2050 plan is “an example of a new generation living in a modern, digitized world, and this plan includes tourism and conservation.”

Meaning: One of Us

Isangano was just 9 years old when she gave birth to Uwacu, her first offspring, on May 27, 2020. Uwacu is a member of Pablo’s group, a large family of 25 gorillas that has been studied since 1967, when it was known simply as “Group 5.” Because the group includes several males, the baby’s paternity is uncertain. Isangano has two sisters in the group: Ubukombe is just six but has already shown an interest in babysitting; while Ishema, Isangano’s older sister, has three offspring of her own. This large family will provide support and protection for the newborn.

Uwacu was named by Emmanuel Nzabonimpa, a Fossey Fund tracker for the past 18 years. He has spent many years tracking Pablo’s large group and is thus an expert at individual gorilla identification. Emmanuel says he chose the name because “when Isangano gave birth, she was surrounded and assisted by many other gorillas of the group. It seemed as if they had recognized and welcomed the newborn into the family as their own.”

Meaning: Keep it Up

Ishyaka gave birth to Nkomezamihigo on June 21, 2020—Father’s Day in the United States. The baby belongs to Mutobo’s group, which is only about a year and a half old. The group is growing, despite the recent transfer of some of its females, as well as interactions with other groups. Mutobo is now the father of two infants in the six-member group.

Fifteen-year-old Ishyaka is the daughter of famous matriarch Poppy, who was one of the gorillas first studied by Dian Fossey. As such, she is part of a historic line of important females. She joined Mutobo’s group in August 2019, after first living in four other groups.

Prosper Kaberabose, a Fossey Fund tracker since 2015, chose the name Nkomezamihigo “to embody the resolve and motivation of heroes of gorilla protection (specifically rangers and trackers), who never grow weary of their work of daily protection and monitoring of gorillas.”

Congratulations to the Rwanda Development Board on a successful celebration.