People arrived in droves, by the thousands, wearing their most colorful garments, walking miles over hills and dales wearing their most colorful garments to attend the annual Kwita Izina, or naming ceremony. The guests of honor were not babies as we know them, but rather 23 gorillas born this past year in the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda.
Starting in 2005, the Rwanda Development Board began organizing this cultural practice as a big bash to celebrate the success of gorilla protection and conservation. EJ sales director Jamie Mehrotra was on the ground this September and was welcomed as a guest of honor at the weeklong event, featuring a fun mix of conservation-awareness activities with government leaders, park staff, local groups, students, celebrities and communities.
“There were a ton of great drummers and dancers who preceded speeches by the prime minister and head of the Development Board. Then 23 dignitaries introduced themselves and each told a story about the name he/she had selected for the gorilla that he had been asked to name – many were very touching,” says Jamie. A huge cultural display of song and dance concluded the festive event. “The whole experience was unique and wonderful, but the best part was learning that there are, now, more than 1,000 gorillas in the volcanoes between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” she adds.
There’s no question that Rwanda’s economy deeply benefits from the profits earned from gorilla treks. So officials and locals alike have good reason to want to see these primate populations grow. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially the baby gorillas, like the newly named Umusaruro (which means new harvest), Irebero (symbol), and Umuryango (family).
One of our favorite properties offering gorilla treks in Rwanda is Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park. Bisate is expensive and getting a lot of hype, but it is also worth every penny.
“Seeing the gorillas was just fabulous…and doing it from a sensitively designed lodge that puts service first over glitz made a huge difference,” says Jamie.
From there, Jamie hopped a helicopter to Akagera National Park to look for lion, leopard, elephant, and other big mammals, plus check out the elegant new Wilderness Safari Magashi Camp, opening next March. The property will feature a jetty extending out into a beautiful lake populated by crocodile and hippo, surrounded by hills in what Jamie describes as one of the prettiest African national parks she has ever visited—and she’s seen a lot.
Wildlife here is making a great comeback now that the park is being managed by the non-profit African Parks. For those who prefer to go by road and experience the local culture along the way, it is a two-hour drive from Bisate Lodge to Kigali, plus a two-hour drive (or 20-minute helicopter ride!) from Kigali to Akagera.