Musanze, Rwanda, 30th June, 2014:For a decade, the African nation of Rwanda has celebrated the mountain Gorillas, rare and endangered primates, through a colourful naming ceremony called “Kwita Izina”. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the global event, and Rwanda has a conservation story to tell about these rare primates.
Naming and conserving mountain Gorillas has become an international. Big international names like CNN founder Ted Turner, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Hollywood icon Natalie Portman have visited Rwanda’s mountain Gorillas and named infants. Rwanda has over 150 mountain gorillas, from 10 families or groups. Bill Gates visited the ‘Sabyinyo’ family in June 2006 and named a baby as ‘KEZA’ or ‘cute one’.
On July 1st, 2014, the 10th anniversary of the ceremony, Rwanda will celebrate the birth of 18 mountain Gorillas in Musanze district, near the gorilla habitat shared between Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are strict rules to ensure safety of both gorillas and tourists. Visitors must maintain at least a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas, only 8 tourists are allowed per visit, with a limit of one tourism group per day, per each gorilla group, and visits are limited to an hour.
Rwanda’s mountain gorillas were first brought to international attention by the conservation efforts of American late Dian Fossey in the 1960s and 1970s, a call that Rwanda has given undivided attention since. After the genocide targeting Tutsis in 1994, Rwanda’s tourism and hospitality sectors boomed.
Last year, tourism revenue rose to $294m, from a meager $62m in the year 2000. Payments for gorilla permits count a big portion. In 2010, Rwanda hosted 666,000 visitors who generated US$ 200M – a 14% increase from 2009. In 2013, Rwanda hosted 1,137,000 visitors.
Five per cent of the revenues collected from gorilla tourism are invested in the surrounding communities. Park communities have benefitted from more than 300 projects including schools.
As government revenues have grown, so has the number of gorillas. Ambassador Yamini Karitanyi, Head of Tourism and conservation at the Rwanda Development Board or RDD said last week that Rwanda’s community-led conservation efforts have led to a 26.3 per cent growth in the population of gorillas since 2003.