Two dozen baby mountain gorillas are being named to celebrate World Gorilla Day amid ongoing efforts by conservationists to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic.
The infants were named as part of Kwita Izina, the annual mountain gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda, where they were born.
The event is taking place virtually for the first time in its 16-year history due to the pandemic.
The honour of naming the tiny gorillas goes to the men and women who care for them in the Volcanoes National Park.
Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, said: “This year’s Kwita Izina is special in that we have chosen to go back to our history and tradition to name our baby gorillas as it was done in the past, which is the people that spend a lot of time caring for these babies are the ones that are given the honour and privilege to name them."
Mountain gorillas are widely regarded as a conservation success story. Efforts to boost the population in their range countries of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda, has taken them from an historic low of an estimated 250 about half a century ago, to around 1,000 today.
Sustainable eco-tourism supports mountain gorilla conservation and when it was shuttered due to the pandemic, it sent shockwaves through the region’s economy.
But it was a necessary step when mountain gorillas, along with other primates, share such close DNA characteristics to humans and therefore are susceptible to other human respiratory illnesses.
Experts also warn that an increase in poaching levels due to Covid-19 could have “catastrophic” implications, risking the extinction of this sub species of great ape.
Craig Sholley, a conservationist renowned for his work with gorillas and vice president of the African Wildlife Foundation, told The Independent last week that “anti-poaching activities throughout Africa have been diminished due to the loss of important tourism revenue".
“But, for the mountain gorilla there is the added danger of transmission of the virus which could be catastrophic. It could be their demise.
“Mountain gorillas live in two relatively closed populations, which makes them very vulnerable and their future incredibly fragile.”
The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign, which was launched earlier this year, seeks an international effort to clamp down on poaching and the illegal trade of wild animals.
Cath Lawson, primate expert at WWF-UK said: “It’s taken decades of collaborative and people-centred conservation effort to bring the mountain gorilla back from the brink of extinction. The global population now stands at more than 1,000.
"The 24 infants being named at the 2020 Kwita Izina ceremony remind us that there is much to celebrate. But, as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has shown, there is no room for complacency - mountain gorillas remain a conservation dependent sub-species."