Sri Lankan entrepreneur, Otara Gunewardene was invited by the Rwandan Government as an honorary guest to name a baby mountain gorilla at the annual Kwita Izina naming ceremony. Times online

The « Kwita Izina » gorilla baby naming ceremony, held on the first Friday of September every year, is based on a traditional Rwandan naming ceremony held for newborn babies and has been a part of the Rwandan culture for centuries, a statement said.

The infant gorillas are named by conservation, business, sports, fashion and show biz icons from around the world.

It was introduced in 2005 to raise awareness of conservation efforts, as the Government of Rwanda, through the Rwanda Development Board has achieved great success in protecting the endangered mountain gorilla population and has worked diligently with conservation partners, the private sector and the community to conserve their natural habitat.

Before the introduction of the ceremony, infant gorillas were named by park rangers, researchers and scientists, following the footsteps of late American primatologist and conservationist, Dr. Dian Fossey, who named all the gorillas she was studying back in the 70’s in order to accurately observe and learn about them.

This year, thousands of Rwandans and conservation champions gathered at Kinigi, Musanze, on the foothills of Volcanoes National Park to celebrate the 15th Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony, aimed at raising awareness on Rwanda’s conservation efforts.

It was attended by 1000 VIPs from around the world, 4000 invitees and 30000 members of the community in Rwanda. All the honorary gorilla baby namers were also given the opportunity to trek through the mountains and visit the gorilla family they will be naming in their natural habitat, the statement said.

The event spans a week and includes special activities related to conservation, educational exhibits and community projects held in the capital city of Kigali.

« It is an honour to be recognised by the Rwanda Development Board and to be given this opportunity, » Ms Gunewardene said. « Having visited Rwanda with my family last year to address local entrepreneurs at the First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation, I was impressed by the successful conservation efforts undertaken by the country to save not only the Mountain Gorillas but their entire eco system as well. »

« These magnificent animals share 99 percent of our DNA but were expected to be extinct by the millennium due to detrimental human activity. The incredible efforts by the Rwandan government led by President Kagame for whom conservation is a priority is something to be admired. As a passionate wildlife enthusiast and conservationist, I am so pleased to be a part of the Rwandan government’s efforts to protect the mountain Gorilla population. »

This year, the 25 baby gorillas that were named are members of the Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Igisha, Isimbi, Muhoza, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Susa, Pablo, Kuryama, Mafunzo, Kureba, Musirikali and Ntambara groups.

Otara had the pleasure of naming the newest member of the Pablo family, Kira, derived from the names of her two sons, Kiran and Rakhil, which also means “bless you” in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language.

As a result of Kwita Izina and other conservation efforts, the population of the endangered mountain gorillas had increased to 281 in 2016 in comparison to 480 in 2010 and the region’s low of 242 in 1981.

The 2019 Kwita Izina Gorilla Baby Namers

Jeremy Jauncey, founder & CEO of Beautiful Destinations, an award-winning nation branding agency named a baby gorilla from the Isimbi family as well, « Ingando » which represents « opportunity for the future and hope for a better world ».

Madeleine Nyiratuza, Programme Specialist, Sustainable Growth Unit at UNDP Rwanda, named a baby gorilla from the Amahoro family, « Isanzure » noting that the name means that gorillas should be allowed to roam freely.

Amb. Ron Adam, the Ambassador of the State of Israel in Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Sabyinyo family, « Igihango » which means « convenant » and said it represents the unbreakable bond between the gorillas and their guardians.

Tony Alexander Adams MBE, an English football legend named a baby gorilla from the Mafunzo family, « Sura’urwanda » which translates to « Visit Rwanda », symbolizing the partnership Rwanda has with English football club, Arsenal.

Niklas Adalberth, Swedish entrepreneur and founder of Norrsken named a baby gorilla from the Isimbi family, « Irembo » which means « gateway ».

Ngabo Médard Jobert, better known as Meddy, a Rwandan RnB and pop artist named a baby gorilla from the Musirikare family, « Inkoramutima ».

Otara Gunewardene, a Sri Lankan businessperson and philanthropist, named a baby gorilla from the Pablo family, « Kira » which means « bless you » in Kinyarwanda and named after her two sons, Kiran and Rakhil.

Louis Van Gaal, Dutch former football manager and player named a baby gorilla from the Hirwa family, « Indongozi » which means « leader ».

His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe: Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia named a baby from the Pablo Family « Umukuru » as a tribute to Mutware, the oldest elephant in Akagera National Park that died last year.

Ronan Donovan, National Geographic photographer and filmmaker named a baby gorilla from the Kwitonda family and the name was chosen after National Geographic opened the naming process to their social media followers. The name that was chosen was « Intego » which means ‘purpose’.

HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, an advocate of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture in Jordan named a baby gorilla from the Mafunzo family, « Uhiriwe » which means « lucky one ».

Emmanuel Niringiyimana, a young Rwandan who built a road on his own to facilitate the movement of people and goods in his village in Karongi District named a baby gorilla from the Igisha family, « Mugwire ».

Paul Milton, the founder of Milton Group who developed the Singita Kwitonda Lodge on behalf of investors Mr Paul Tudor Jones and Mr Anders Povlsen & Luke Bailes, the Founder and Executive Chairman of Singita, named a baby from the Pablo family, « Inararibonye » which means « wise and experienced » in Kinyarwanda.

Dame Louise Martin, DBE, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation and Patricia Scotland, named a baby gorilla from the Igisha family, « Uruti » which means « the highest recognition of heroism » and « Nazarian » which means « the one who loves and initiates peace among the communities ».

Naomi Campbell, English supermodel, actress, and businesswoman named a baby gorilla from the Muhoza family, « Intarutwa » which translates to « excellent » in Kinyarwanda.

Award-winning Rwandan Professional cyclist, Joseph Areruya named a baby gorilla from the Amahoro family, « Inganji » meaning long life.

Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wildlife Fund for Nature named a baby gorilla from the Kwitonda family, « Ikirenga » which means « Exceptional ».

Sherrie Silver, Actress and choreographer, named a baby gorilla from the Susa family, « Ibirori » which means « celebration ».

Anthony Nzuki: Ranger Post Leader at Akagera National Park, Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Kureba family, « Karame ».

Kenyan entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr. Kiboro Wilfred, named one of the new baby gorillas from the Sabyinyo family, « Ituze » which translates to stability in Kinyarwanda and « take care of it » in Swahili.

Jean Nepomuscene Musekura, one of the incredible park rangers from Volcanoes National Park chose the name « Bisoke » for one of the new baby gorillas from the Ntambara family.

H.E Amb. Karén Chalyan, Ambassodor of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Rwanda named a baby gorilla from the Ntambara family, « Umwihariko » which means « exception ».

Robert Twibaze, one of the senior tour guides with over 12 years of experience chose the name « Inzobere » for a baby gorilla from the Agashya family.

Amina Mohammed: Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. She was formerly the Federal Minister of the Environment of Nigeria. She named a baby from the Umubano family, « Ingoga » which means courage in Kinyarwanda.

Shaffer Chimere Smith, better known by his stage name Ne-Yo named a baby gorilla from the Kuryama family, « Biracyaza » which means greater things are coming for Rwanda.