Grateful for Gorillas: Celebrating World Gorilla Day



Our Collective

Melissa Siebert


Today is World Gorilla Day – but why not celebrate these incredible creatures every day?


Anyone who’s encountered mountain gorillas in the rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC raves about the privilege. A wildlife experience like no other. Four years ago I was lucky enough to meet the Agashya group – 1 of 10 habituated gorilla groups there – in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park (VNP). Five hours slogging up and down muddy volcanic slopes through thick bush (sometimes it’s easier) to spend just one precious hour with silverback Agashya and his 20-plus family. A mom and adorable infant with Rod Stewart hair; a giant blackback transitioning to maturity; another mischievous blackback scarred by Agashya for a mating misstep; a playful adolescent who, staring curiously, followed me out as we sadly departed. And of course Agashya himself, huge, regal, nonchalantly munching his mountain celery but totally in charge of these beings who share 98 percent of our DNA.




Rwanda honours its mountain gorillas annually in its renowned Kwita Izina ceremony, held on 2 September this year in Kinigi village, not far from the VNP. A crop of 20 baby gorillas is named by selected dignitaries from around the world. This year’s included Prince – now King – Charles, who named a four-month old male from the Muhoza family.


‘The name I give him is “Ubwuzuzanye”’, His Royal Highness said, ‘which means “Harmony” – since the restoration of harmony between nature, people, and planet is the most critical issue facing humanity’.


Naming your newborn in the presence of friends and family is an age-old Rwandan tradition, charmingly transferred to the gorillas. Given that mountain gorillas number only about 1 000 in total and remain on the endangered list, a new generation of gorillas brings much hope and joy.


Further cause for celebration…Wilderness’ stunning, award-winning lodge, Bisate – on the edge of the VNP and an incomparable base for gorilla trekking – runs a pioneering reforestation project that continues to significantly expand the area of the Park and habitat for gorillas and other wildlife. To date, more than 75 000 indigenous trees have been planted – by Bisate guests and others – to regreen land previously cleared for farming. When you visit Bisate and plant a tree or two, you’re improving the gorillas’ chances of survival. Earlier this year, Bisate staff were thrilled to discover – via camera trap images clicked on a nature path near the lodge – that gorillas and other wildlife were coming closer, moving back into the area.


We can celebrate them from afar, but that encounter in the wild – if only once in a lifetime – deeply impresses how critical their conservation is, how their future is inextricably linked to ours.

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