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Rwanda Symbolically Names Endangered Baby Gorillas

Date: 27-Jun-05
Country: RWANDA
Author: Arthur Asiimwe

Only about 700 mountain gorillas are left in the world. About half live in the lush volcanic mountains straddling the borders of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda -- an area riddled by war.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his wife led the naming ceremony, usually reserved for newborn children in Rwandan culture.

As children danced and thousands of locals and tourists watched in the village of Kinigi, surrounded by hills on the edge of the Virunga park, the pair named two twin baby gorillas Byishimo (Happiness) and Imano (Gift).

"The increase in the number of gorillas is attributable to the peace and security prevailing in Rwanda," Kagame said.

The region's gorilla population rose to 380 at last year's count from 324 in 1989.
During Rwanda's 1994 genocide, when some 800,000 people were slaughtered, many of the gorillas fled.

In total, 26 baby gorillas and four adults were named on Saturday. Children suggested a series of names for dignitaries to choose from.

"It is important to preserve these gorillas because they bring in a considerable amount of foreign revenue to our poor country," Kagame said.

Tourists pay up to $350 a time to see the gorillas.

"This is a beautiful event that brings big awareness to communities about gorilla conservation," American visitor Mike Cranfield said. "It's a great moment -- and I love gorillas."

Impoverished Rwanda is banking on tourism for foreign revenues.

After the naming ceremony, the Rwanda Parks and Tourism board launched a fund-raising campaign to raise cash for projects to help conserve the gorillas, including a scheme for tourists to "adopt" them for a fee.

The animals were made famous by the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" about Dian Fossey, an American who studied them in Rwanda in the 1960s and documented her work in a book by the same name.

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