Rwanda Celebrates Mountain Gorillas

KINIGI--"When it's time to celebrate the country's treasured gorillas, Rwanda's wildlife and parks authority, ORTPN, goes all out," says Senior Communications Officer Paul Thomson, on assignment in Rwanda for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

ORTPN this weekend celebrated Kwita Izina, a yearly event to name young gorillas. A local tradition, the ceremony has become internationally known, attracting celebrities, conservationists, musicians, and other VIPs.

About a third of the world's 720 mountain gorillas live in Rwanda, where they are protected as a national treasure. Even during a horrific war that killed an estimated 750,000 people, one of the world's most endangered primates was considered important enough to conserve. Today, mountain gorilla tourism is a top driver of Rwanda's economy, generating $7 million in revenue last year alone.

Kwita Izina is a time to celebrate Rwanda's success in conserving mountain gorillas through ethical -- and ecofriendly -- tourism. This year 20 gorillas were named, each representing a conservation win for a species in danger of extinction. Related events included concerts, community work, a conference, and a monument unveiling.

AWF CEO Patrick Bergin joined Kwita Izina, participating as an official namer. Dressed in traditional robes, he named one of the baby gorillas Sacola, in honor of the community trust that owns Rwanda's Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, officially opened by AWF and its partners after the naming ceremony.

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, located near the forests where Rwanda's mountain gorillas live, is the culmination of a unique partnership between AWF, the local community, a private operator, and other partners. To sustain the mountain gorilla population in a way that uplifts peoples' lives, SACOLA reinvests revenue in conservation and community development projects. Governors' Camp, a first-class private operator, manages the facilities. This year Cond Nast Traveller magazine featured Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge on its Hot List of destinations.

To glimpse Rwanda's famed mountain gorillas and learn more about Kwita Izina, visit AWF's blog Running Wild in the Heartlands at www.wz-yf.com/blog/running-wild.

In the coming weeks, AWF will also be celebrating mountain gorilla conservation on our Web site (www.wz-yf.com) and through member outreach. We invite all of our friends and supporters to celebrate with us.