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Mountain gorillas born in Rwanda being named in annual ceremony

The naming of the 24 infant gorillas will take place virtually due to the pandemic.

Two dozen mountain gorillas born in Rwanda in the last year are being named in an annual ceremony taking place virtually for the first time due to the pandemic.

The 24 infant gorillas are being named by the men and women who protect and care for them in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in the annual Kwita Izina naming ceremony.

The event on World Gorilla Day takes place as a regional contingency plan is developed across the three countries where mountain gorillas are found, to help protect the primates from coronavirus.

It is thought likely that the virus that causes Covid-19 in humans poses a risk to mountain gorillas, a close relative, and the sustainable eco-tourism that underpins conservation of the sub-species was shut down earlier this year.

Though it hit the region’s economy heavily, conservationists say the move was necessary to minimise human-gorilla interaction and protect the endangered animals and the health and safety of key personnel.

As mountain gorilla tourism begins to reopen, the experts warn it is essential that best practice procedures are in place, including the mandatory wearing of face coverings.

Steps have been taken to protect the endangered animals from Covid-19 (Rwanda Development Board/PA)
Steps have been taken to protect the endangered animals from Covid-19 (Rwanda Development Board/PA)

The three range states, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda have been developing a region-wide strategy for Covid-19, to help share information and enable a quick response to the disease.

Anna Behm Masozera, director at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, said the strategy would help “better manage and monitor the risk to mountain gorillas and provide support to local communities, whilst also informing returning tourists to solicit their support and compliance to strict protocols in place”.

In 2005, Rwanda began officially naming mountain gorillas to celebrate nature and thank the communities that live around Volcanoes National Park, conservationists, rangers and trackers who protect the gorillas.

The Kwita Izina naming ceremony is a celebration of nature and thanks to those who help conserve mountain gorillas (Rwanda Development Board/PA)
The Kwita Izina naming ceremony is a celebration of nature and thanks to those who help conserve mountain gorillas (Rwanda Development Board/PA)

Over the last 15 years, more than 300 mountain gorillas have been named in the ceremony.

Clare Akamanzi, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, said: “This year’s Kwita Izina is special in that we have chosen to go back to our history and tradition to name our baby gorillas as 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.

“This year, we have chosen that the majority of the people naming the babies born over the last year will be the rangers, the trackers, the guides, the vets and all those who look after these animals on a day-to-day basis.

“This is our special and humble way of us thanking them for ensuring the majestic mountain gorillas are conserved.”

Mountain gorillas are endangered but have seen numbers increase thanks to conservation efforts (Rwanda Development Board/PA)
Mountain gorillas are endangered but have seen numbers increase thanks to conservation efforts (Rwanda Development Board/PA)

Cath Lawson, primate expert at WWF-UK, said: “It’s taken decades of collaborative and people-centred conservation effort to bring the mountain gorilla back from the brink of extinction.

“The global population now stands at more than 1,000.

“The 24 infants being named at the 2020 Kwita Izina ceremony remind us that there is much to celebrate.

“But, as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has shown, there is no room for complacency – mountain gorillas remain a conservation dependent sub-species.”

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