Name-Calling in the Virungas

Hello, my friends? I am back home from what we call the prevention area, the zone in which we are kept isolated for two weeks as we track mountains gorillas.

Today I want to tell you about some of my favourite gorillas. I know the names and personalities of about 150 of them but some are a bit more special to me…

For example Keza (“Beautiful”), a 9-year-old gorilla from the Amahoro family, shares her name with my daughter because they were born on the same day. The official naming ceremony, Kwita Izina, happens every September but it is us, the park rangers, who suggest names. Our proposals are based on what we have observed with newborns — how they look, how they behave, what their mother was doing at birth, current government policies, conservation messages or events. (Yes, the likelihood of one of the young ones being called Covid is high!) I was excited that my proposal, Keza, ended up being selected and that my two girls are connected forever.

Itabaza (“Shining”), a 5-year-old male from the Sabyinyo group, is very playful and loves people; he always comes to the tourists while some other gorillas are hiding.

The 9-years-old twins in the Hirwa family are lovely because they always cooperate, support and protect each other. We distinguish gorillas based on their nose prints and it is good that these two have different ones, despite being twins.

But let me devote some more words to Mr Isheja (“Proud”) Big Ben that I met on Thursday. He is one of the two silverbacks in the Sabyinyo group and he is bald. Because of his looks he is not loved by the girls and they do not treat him very well! People wonder if he stands any chance of ever becoming the dominant leader, and visitors feel sorry for him… Only the alpha male can enjoy all the females in the family. Luckily for Big Ben, he found love with Nyiramurema (“Casualty”) who lacks one hand. Miss Nyiramurema got a little baby two weeks ago, and maybe it will lose hair and confirm that it is Ben’s? I saw the likely father taking great care of the mother and the cute kid.

That will be it for now, my dears! A lot is happening in Volcanoes National Park these days, despite the pandemic. Covid rules won’t bother you much if you come, so do consider enjoying the fabulous experience with our mountain gorillas.

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