Global leaders in wildlife and biodiversity protection have come together for a special ‘Conversation on Conservation’ as part of Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony known as Kwita Izina. The virtual event, hosted by the Rwanda Development Board, called for conservation and biodiversity to be put at the heart of everything we do, and for increased investment in nature to overcome challenges including climate change and pandemics.
The Conversation on Conservation explored conservation opportunities and challenges, financing amidst the pandemic as well as innovation, technologies and the impact of ecotourism on community development. Presenters included investors, conservationists, government representatives, academics and researchers, veterinary and medical doctors and development partners.
Speaking at the event, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, Zephanie Niyonkuru, reiterated Rwanda’s commitment to nature conservation: “Investing in nature is the best investment we can make. It makes us healthier, improves agricultural yields, protects biodiversity, creates jobs, addresses climate change and much more.”
“We know that when we come together, share ideas and experiences and commit to action, we can definitely make a difference. The success of mountain gorilla conservation is just one example,” he said.
In his keynote address, Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, said:
“When we look at the crisis that has been brought on the world by the pandemic, now is not the time for tradition. We need innovation, we need unconventional thinking. Let us think boldly, let us think unconventionally. Africa has many challenges to address and we are not going to address them conventionally. Let us not only think about how we deal with the crisis but use this crisis to reimagine how we think about conservation and emerge from this pandemic stronger than we were before it.”
In her remarks, Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer, Rwanda Development Board, said:
“Today, humanity’s relationship with nature is wildly unsustainable and we are losing valuable biodiversity every single day. But it’s not only our natural environment that is paying the price. The pandemic is the direct result of this unsustainable relationship, and its toll on humanity has been tragic and severe. As guardians of mountain gorillas – some of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom – Rwanda knows all too well the threat the virus poses to these majestic animals. That’s why we have introduced a range of robust measures to ensure the well-being of the community, park staff, visitors and gorillas.”
The conversation concluded with a call for governments, the private sector and civil society to work together to reverse biodiversity loss and commit to bold action to protect and conserve wildlife and their habitats for generations to come.
About Kwita Izina
The Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is modelled on centuries old tradition in which Rwandans name their children in the presence of family and friends. For three decades prior to the first official gorilla naming ceremony, park rangers and researchers named Rwanda’s mountain gorilla babies as part of monitoring each gorilla in their family and habitat. In 2005, Rwanda began officially naming mountain gorillas in what has become a global celebration of nature.
Over the last fifteen years, more than 300 mountain gorillas have been named and today Kwita Izina forms part of an ambitious strategy to preserve our natural heritage and further expand the role of eco-tourism in the country’s transformation. As a result of the naming ceremony, Rwandans from all walks of life understand the intrinsic value of gorillas as well as their contribution to the country’s economic prosperity. Rwandans have become gorilla guardians.
Overall, Rwanda has emerged as a conservation and sustainable tourism leader on the continent. For instance, while in the 2010 Census there were 480 mountain gorillas, the 2016 Census report indicated 604 individuals in the Virunga Massif, these efforts have contributed to the increase in number of mountain gorillas worldwide (1,004), and their categorisation as no longer critically endangered.
Learn more about Rwanda’s Kwita Izina here and watch the 2020 ceremony here.
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