Rwanda’s Gorilla Naming Ceremony has earned the country tremendous tourism traffic and income. Not only wildlife, but also the community and environment have benefited from the event. The world gathers to watch and learn.
By Ange Iliza
Rwanda’s National Volcanoes Park is home to an estimated 480 mountain gorillas, the species that have been listed endangered by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2018. Since 2005, Rwanda has made it an ambition to sustain the animals and conserve the national park that accommodates 200 species of birds and rare golden monkeys.
As the World celebrated World Gorilla Day on September 24, Rwanda held a Gorilla Naming Ceremony for 24 new baby gorillas. The ceremony that was held for the 17th time but virtually for the last two years due to Covid-19, encourages people around the globe to celebrate conservation of the mountain gorillas and honour those who protect them daily in their habitat.
In 2019, Rwanda’s revenues from Gorilla trekking grew by 17 percent. The country sold 15,132 mountain gorilla permits worth $19.2 million. In the same year, tourism contributed 14 percent of Rwanda’s GDP.
Giving back to community
Gorilla conservation and tourism revenues do not only end up in government coffers but also into community development projects. Over 15 years ago, the government of Rwanda created a Tourism Revenue-Sharing Program that reserves 10 percent of tourism receipts for the residents around the parks.
The program also aims at promoting tourism development and ensuring that local communities enjoy tangible benefits from the industry while participating in wildlife conservation.
According to Rwanda Development Board, the revenue-sharing program has seen Rwf640 million in 2019, Rwf230 million in 2020 and Rwf129 million in 2021 return to communities around the Volcanoes National Park. Different infrastructures such as the Rwf6 billion worth village accommodating 144 families, schools, hospitals and roads have been constructed.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of the tourism and hospitality sector, citizens are still holding up to what is left and hope for recovery.
Agnes Uwamahoro, a mother of five and president of COPAVU Mararo has been providing for her family with the money earned from selling art crafts to tourists. For the last year, her cooperative has not been able to earn as much money. However, Uwamahoro has received training on doing business and saving, thanks to the RDB community engagement programs
“Our business has been affected heavily but I used my savings to invest in farming. It has held my family up for months now. I was able to pay for school fees and other basics. Although tourists have decreased, many of us have acquired different business skills over the years from the government,” Uwamahoro narrated.
A platform for conservationists from around the world
This year’s Gorilla naming ceremony pinned the importance of wildlife conservation even during a pandemic. Different renowned conservationists from across the world gathered and named.
They included Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, a renowned conservationist and CEO of the Global Environment Facility, Prof Beth Kaplin, Director of the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at University of Rwanda and Antony Lynam, representative of International Congress on Conservation Biology.
This comes as Rwanda prepares to host the International Congress for Conservation Biology in 2023.
During the virtual event that was followed by over 1,000 people on YouTube, experts, veterinarians, and wildlife activists weighed in explaining how the mountain gorillas are kept healthy and plans to continue conserving them.
Involving celebrities and global influencers in the conservation journey
This year’s names fractured world influencers such as Masai Ujiri the first African-born President and General Manager the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors, Reeta Roy, CEO of the Mastercard Foundation and Oluwatosin Ajibade known for his stage name as Mr. Eazi, a Nigerian singer.
Football players from Arsenal and Paris Saint Germain, both clubs that have signed sponsorship deals with Rwanda to promote Rwanda tourism, including Neymar Junior and Kylian Mbappé, were among the namers.
The iconic “Kwita Izina” ceremony has attracted various celebrities from across the world ever since its inception in 2005. The involvement has started to pay off. For instance, Ellen DeGeneres Fund has started constructing a gorilla conservation campus in Kinigi on the foothills of the volcanoes. In addition to conservation, it has created jobs for the locals.
During the virtual naming ceremony, President Paul Kagame reiterated Rwanda’s willingness to continue environment and wildlife conservation.
“The government of Rwanda will continue to invest in the hospitality sector to both drive economic growth and preserve our unique natural attractions for generations to come,” President Kagame said.
“We are testing and vaccinating as many people as possible to ensure that both Rwandans and visitors stay healthy,” he added.
The World Health Organization has commended Rwanda’s vaccination drive, after reaching the September global target of fully vaccinating 10 percent of 12.9 million population against Covid-19.