Last week I had the huge honor of participating in Rwanda’s Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremony —an annual event organized by the Rwanda Development Board to celebrate and name the infant gorillas born during the previous year. What started 13 years ago as a one-day ceremony has evolved into an entire week of events focused on conservation. It is a visionary effort by the Rwandan government to both celebrate its conservation successes and also bring the dialogue about conservation to a national and international stage. And it works!
For the entire week, Kwita Izina was the leading story in Rwandan news media, with journalists from around the world coming to cover the events. And an estimated 45,000 people came to stand beneath the vista of Mount Sabinyo to hear the names of the 19 new gorillas as they were announced.
The word that I found myself repeatedly using throughout the week to describe my experience was inspired. I felt inspired to work in a country that prioritizes conservation, inspired by the pride Rwanda rightfully has for its conservation efforts, inspired by the unity that gorillas bring to the country. I was especially inspired by the number of young Rwandans I talked with throughout the week who care passionately about the environment. This is the future of conservation for Rwanda, and it was wonderful to see the dedication and enthusiasm present in the country.
We are proud to be there
I am very proud of the role that our organization plays in supporting Rwanda’s conservation priorities. We provide daily gorilla protection to half of the country’s gorillas and operate many programs for the local communities, especially in education. More than 2,300 Rwandan undergraduates have participated in college-level courses held at our Karisoke Research Center and now are working across many sectors (universities, conservation organizations, government agencies) in Rwanda. We view these capacity-building activities as critical to conservation in Rwanda as our work to protect the gorillas themselves and look forward to continuing to expand them.
As president and CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, I was especially honored to have a role as the keynote speaker for the “Conversation on Conservation” workshop earlier in the week, to discuss how critical conservation is for sustainable tourism, and to be able to name one of the gorillas during the naming ceremony on Sept. 1.
The infant I got to name is a granddaughter of the legendary silverback leader Titus, who was first seen and studied by Dian Fossey, after his birth in 1974. Titus was born during times of heavy poaching but when the gorilla protection begun by Dian Fossey expanded, he was able to continue with a very successful life, which we were able to document on daily basis until his death in 2009. His legacy continues on in his many children and grandchildren who are thriving today thanks to the long-term commitment to conservation in Rwanda.
Given the connection of this infant to Dian Fossey and in honor of the 50th anniversary of her founding of the Karisoke Research Center, choosing a name for the infant was not hard. The name I chose was “Macibiri,” based on the Rwandan nickname for Dian Fossey herself – “Nyiramacibiri.”
The news about wildlife and wild places is desperate. We are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction on our planet with scientists estimating that as many as 50% of all species could be gone by mid century. Conservation successes are few and far between. But when they do occur, we need to celebrate them. And this was the joy of Kwita Izina for me—it was opportunity to relish in an entire country celebrating the success of its conservation efforts and continuing to strive for more. Such celebrations remind us that not all is yet lost, and encourage us to keep going in the fight to ensure a future for wildlife. Many thanks to Rwanda for providing me with the inspiration to continue doing more—for the gorillas, for the people of Rwanda, and for the future of conservation in the region and across the world.