A group of adorable baby mountain gorillas got their names this month during a ceremony in Rwanda.
The annual ritual, called Kwita Izina, has been held every summer for the past 10 years at Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. During the ceremony, which began as a way to draw attention to the declining mountain gorilla population, participants give names to all the babies born inside the protected national park during the past year.
This year, 18 cute bundles of fur got their names on July 1 in front of an audience of about 5,000 people. [See Photos of the Baby Gorillas]
"We celebrate, for the 10th time, the growth of the gorilla family by naming 18 baby gorillas born over the last year, bringing the total population of the endangered species to over 600 in the Virunga Transboundary parks," Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwandan ambassador to the World Trade Organization, said in a statement.
Males can grow up to 6 feet (2 meters) tall and weigh up to 400 lbs. (180 kilograms). The remaining populations are found in the Virunga mountain chain, which winds through the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
Because mountain gorillas are vegetarians that eat up to 75 lbs. (35 kg) of roots, fruit, tree bark and pulp every day, deforestation is the biggest threat to the species' survival. Their populations are also threatened by poaching and human population growth. In addition, ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo have contributed to the gorillas' decline, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
The species is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the leading authority on endangered species. However, there are signs of recovery. The population has grown 26 percent since the last census in 2003. Like humans, female gorillas give birth after a nine-month pregnancy. The newborns are tiny and only weigh about 4 lbs. (2 kg) and stick by their mother's side until they are about 3 years old.
Every year the ceremony organizers invite a group of government officials, park staff and anyone involved with gorilla conservation to name one of the gorillas. This year some of the names given to the gorillas, translated to English from Kinyarwanda, included "protection from danger," "welcome" and "reliance."
Kwita Izina was inspired by the African tradition of ceremoniously giving names that have deep meaning to newborns. About 160 gorillas have been named in the 10 years since the ceremony began.
Organizers hope the ceremony will continue to grow as a gorilla conservation event and hope it will help promote more tourism in Rwanda.
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