Rwanda’s gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina, which used to attract celebrities, thousands of locals, tourists and prominent conservationists from across the world, attracted very few people this year.
The September 24 event was held virtually for the second year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was broadcast live on local television, radio, and Rwanda Development Board’s (RDB) Visit Rwanda YouTube channel and it coincided with the World Gorilla Day.
The video was followed live by 650 people and gained 6,500 views in two hours on Visit Rwanda YouTube channel. In 2019, the physical event attracted over 40,000 attendees.
Gorilla tracking has been a fundamental product of Rwanda’s tourism market, accounting for 14 per cent of tourism annual revenues in 2019.
This year, 24 baby mountain gorillas were named by conservationists, community health workers, youth volunteers, local influencers and celebrities in music, basketball and football from across the world.
Over the past 15 years, more than 300 mountain gorillas have been named.
Conservationists and celebrities
This year, influencers who named the gorillas include Masai Ujiri, the first African-born President and General Manager the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors; Mastercard Foundation CEO Reeta Roy; and Nigerian singer Oluwatosin Ajibade, known by his stage name Mr. Eazi. Others are football players Neymar Junior and Kylian Mbappé.
This year’s ceremony brought on board various conservationists as Rwanda prepares to host the International Congress for Conservation Biology in 2023.
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.
Wildlife, tourism and Covid-19
In 2020, visits to national parks visits dropped to 36,000 from 110,000 visits in 2019.
Generated tourism revenues in Rwanda also recorded a sharp drop from $29 million in 2019 to $7 million in 2020, according to the Rwanda Development Board Annual Report 2020.
The famous Volcanoes National Park, which recorded over 17,249 visitors in 2019, received only 1,427 people by September 2020.
And the drop in tourism earnings at the park has affected the Tourism Revenue-Sharing Program where 10 percent of the receipts is reserved for the community around the park. The money is used to fund local projects, and build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.
The revenue-sharing program funds dropped from Rwf640 million to Rwf230 million in 2020 after the pandemic hit and it is expected to shrink further to Rwf129 million in 2021.
There are concerns that as residents look for alternative sources of income, people could take up poaching and hunting, putting wildlife at risk.
Rwanda’s President Kagame said the country will invest in hospitality industry to mitigate the harsh effects of the pandemic.
“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.”
In Rwanda, 2,029,038 people have received their first Covid vaccine with 1,466,966 people fully vaccinated as of September 24.
The World Health Organization has commended Rwanda's vaccination drive, after reaching the September global target of fully vaccinating 10 percent of its 12.9 million population against Covid-19.