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Kigali residents have soft spot for gorillas, a species that faced near extinction during much of the twentieth century, but which has started to make an unexpected and impressive comeback in recent years.
Each year, residents of the Rwandan capital host a ceremony, during which they name gorillas recently born in the area, a development which is very encouraging for nature conservancy specialists. 2011 saw the largest batch of gorillas ever involved in the history of this ceremony, when a total of 22 baby gorillas were given names. Conservationists believe that more than 750 gorillas now inhabit the region, a population far larger than at any time during the late twentieth century. In 2011, the particularly unusual birth of twins gave added significance to the festive ceremony than ever.
Officials in Rwanda began monitoring the health and overall number of gorillas in the early 1960’s and at the time, everybody assumed that this rare species would soon face total extinction and be relegated to Hollywood’s horror and science fiction ‘B’ movies.
Rica Rwigamba, Rwanda’s head of tourism’s presence at the ceremony signals just how important the event has become for the would-be tourist destination. After the political turmoil of the 1990’s, Kigali and other regions in Rwanda have once again started attracting international visitors, including a growing number of eco-tourists and environmentalists, who attend the world’s only public naming ceremony for gorillas. Rice Rwgamba has said that she is aware that gorillas form the backbone of Kigali’s tourism sector, with a large number of companies organising eco-tours in the area. In 2010, nature tours, gorilla-naming ceremonies and wildlife safaris brought in more than $200 million in tourism.