On 2nd September 2016, Rwanda held the 12th annual Kwita Izina, the biggest event on the Rwanda Tourism Calendar where Rwanda celebrates new births of mountain gorillas through naming. This annual event was introduced in 2004 and originated from the ritual where newly born babies are given names.
Kwita Izina has since grown in profile to become the country’s biggest event on the conservation calendar. The ritual is now highly embraced by the Rwandan citizens and the ceremony was presided over by President Paul Kagame. The event attracted guests from 28 countries covering Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe.
The 12th Kwita Izina was held in Musanze, at the foot hill of the Virunga Mountains in the northern province of Rwanda and it was based on a theme “Celebrating 12 Years of Conserving Gorillas”.
The event was well attended and 22 baby gorillas born during the period between August 2015 and August 2016 were given names. Today the event attracts scores of international conservation icons, tourists and locals. Among the notable people who attended were Dr. Kalpers who worked with Akagera National Park in the 1980s and Mary Ann McDonald, an American tourists who plans to visit the gorillas a hundred times, and has so far completed 91 times.
As the 2016 theme says, a lot has been achieved and Rwanda has a reason to celebrate its success in championing gorilla conservation in Africa. Here are just a few reasons Rwanda has to celebrate:
Rwanda has developed enviable gorilla tourism and today it has positioned itself as the best destination for gorilla trekking in Africa. The small land locked nation has improved accessibility to not only the country but also to the Volcanoes National Park. Today many adventure seekers opt for gorilla tours in Rwanda and tourism receipts have greatly improved. Much of the money received from gorilla tourism is used for the conservation of the mountain gorillas and the development of the country.
Local community support
Most conservation projects fail because of lack of support from the local communities. But it is a different case in Rwanda. Currently almost all of the local communities support gorilla conservation and threats from the local communities such as poaching, illegal settlements and more have reduced significantly. The revenue sharing has also been used to promote community based tourism. Today former poachers have cooperatives that offer services to tourists.
The government of Rwanda has done a lot to embrace conservation. Dr. Kalpers, a global expert in biodiversity conservation who worked in Rwanda for 30 years recounts how Rwanda has turned around from what was once “a far cry” conservation perspective, to a country with the “glamorous picture” that it boasts today. Since the end of the 1994 genocide, government has rebuilt capacity to address the most urgent threats to conservation and today there is a reason to celebrate the successes.
Conservation benefits realised
During my recent visit to the park, I realised that the local communities have realised benefits from conserving the mountain gorillas. The youths look at becoming tour guides or rangers to protect the park. Community based tourism is thriving in the areas adjacent to the park and I was surprised at how the locals braved the cold night of Kinigi to entertain guests at the Iby’wachu Cultural Village. This shows how the local communities are now on board and support tourism.
The mini events before the main gorilla naming ceremony also involved the handover of new schools to different local communities within three Rwandan national parks; Akagera National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park. The schools were constructed by the Rwanda Development Board as part of the revenue sharing scheme with the local communities.
Since the revenue sharing scheme was introduced, a total of 480 projects ranging from schools, health centres, safe and clean water and more have received support worth RWf 2.63bn. Such projects have greatly improved not only the standards of living of the local communities but also their perceptions towards conservation in Rwanda.
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