Davis Connection to Baby Gorilla
Friday (Sept. 24) is Rwanda’s 17th annual Kwita Izina ceremony, a celebration of Rwanda’s mountain gorilla conservation success and commitment to the future of this endangered species. Friday also marks World Gorilla Day, a global movement to celebrate all gorillas. As part of the annual ceremony, Davis resident Deborah Dunham, who is Gorilla Doctors’ board chair, will name one of 24 mountain gorilla infants.
Kwita Izina — “to give a name” — names each of the infant mountain gorillas born in the previous year. This year, Rwanda celebrates 24 mountain gorilla births. The celebration first began in 2005, inspired by the ancient Rwandan tradition of families gathering friends to welcome a new baby. It also honors Rwanda’s conservation success in bringing mountain gorillas back from the brink of extinction.
“Mountain gorillas are the only great ape whose numbers are increasing in the wild. From a low of 250 in the 1980s, the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif region has rebounded to 1,063. Rwanda is proud to be a leader in this international effort. Our Kwita Izina celebration honors all of the people including park rangers, conservationists and other partners who continue to work together for the long-term survival of the majestic species,” said Zephanie Niyonkuru, deputy chief executive officer, Rwanda Development Board.
Dunham, a dedicated gorilla conservationist, will name one of the 24 infant mountain gorillas. She currently serves as the chair of the board of directors for Gorilla Doctors, a nonprofit organization conserving wild eastern gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, through lifesaving veterinary medicine and science using a One Health approach.
“I am extremely humbled to have the honor of naming one of the infant mountain gorillas as part of Kwita Izina ceremony,” said Dunham. “The female I have named is the infant of adult female Kurudi, a member of the Titus family group in Volcanoes National Park. I have named her Nshunguye, which means ‘Rescuer’ in the Kinyarwanda language.”
Dunham added, “Her name is especially meaningful on multiple levels. First, Gorilla Doctors rescue ill and injured gorillas right in their forest home. Second, until Nshunguye was born, her mother, Kurudi, was the only female in Titus group — now the Titus lineage will continue into the future!”
Gorilla Doctors is based at the Karen C. Dryer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Since its inception in 1986, Gorilla Doctors has worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to support the health of the habituated mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. When a gorilla is ill or injured, Gorilla Doctors provides lifesaving veterinary care in the forest, never removing an individual from their gorilla family.
“It is a true privilege to be able to contribute to the conservation success of mountain gorillas,” said Kirsten Gilardi, executive director of Gorilla Doctors and director of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center. “While it is an international and ongoing collaborative effort, the foresight and leadership of Rwanda has served as a benchmark for government-led conservation on the continent of Africa and abroad. We are deeply honored to have our board chair representing Gorilla Doctors at this year’s Kwita Izina ceremony.”