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Rwanda’s Gorilla Naming Ceremony to be held virtually on World Gorilla Day

We are excited to learn that the Rwanda Development Board plans to hold its annual ceremony to name the new infant gorillas born this year virtually on September 24—World Gorilla Day This will be the 16th annual naming ceremony celebration known as Kwita Izina. This year 24 infant gorillas will get their new names. Of the 24 infants, 10 are in groups that the Fossey Fund monitors. The names will be chosen primarily by front line conservation staff, including the park rangers, trackers and veterinarians who protect and care for them every day. Naming the infant gorillas on World Gorilla Day is especially meaningful to us, as September 24th also marks the day that Dian Fossey started her groundbreaking work to study and protect gorillas in 1967.

How are names chosen?

Since 2005, naming infant mountain gorillas has become an important annual nationwide tradition in Rwanda. The naming ceremony is based on a historic Rwandan cultural practice for naming newborns in front of family and friends, and has been adapted to celebrate successful gorilla protection and conservation.

Each year, the trackers who work to protect these gorillas all year long come up with a short list of three potential names, all in the Kinyarwanda language, for each gorilla infant. These names are selected to reflect something about the time the infant was born—it could be something happening in the community around the park, the country or even a global event. During the official ceremony, special guests are given the honor of selecting one of these names for each infant.

“A gorilla name is more than just a word, and each has a special meaning to the trackers in the field, who provide suggestions for the names to be given to gorillas,” says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of programs in Rwanda and director of our Karisoke Research Center.

Celebrating during a pandemic

“Over the years, Kwita Izina has grown to become more than just giving names to infant gorillas,” says Ndagijimana. “It is now an international event during which Rwandans and the international community come together to celebrate successes in the conservation of Rwanda’s rich biodiversity as well how our conservation efforts contribute to the development of the country and the well-being of its people.”

In a typical year, Kwita Izina is a multi-day event that includes a variety of conservation-awareness activities, with government leaders, park staff, local groups, students, celebrities and communities all participating. The actual naming day event is generally attended by 10,000 community members and includes a speech about the importance of conservation by the president of Rwanda. While this year’s event will be moved online, it will still celebrate Rwanda’s integrated approach to conservation through tourism, government commitment, research, protection and community initiatives.

Follow us on social media to learn more about the 10 as yet unnamed infants that we monitor, or go to the Rwandan government’s sites. And be sure to check back on World Gorilla Day to find out what names have been chosen for each of the gorillas!