Rwandan officials pledged to sustain the progress made in nature conservation during the annual gorilla naming ceremony on Friday.
Prominent personalities gathered at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda for the 19th edition of the ceremony locally known as Kwita Izina, where 23 baby gorillas born within the last 12 months were given names.
Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, named her baby gorilla "Ikirango," meaning symbol of Rwanda's progress in biodiversity conservation.
Since the first naming ceremony in 2005, a total of 374 baby gorillas have been named.
"Today, we gave a name, we gave an identity, and we gave a future to 23 new baby gorillas, who only a few decades ago, would have been threatened by extinction," said Clare Akamanzi, chief executive officer of the Rwanda Development Board, during the ceremony.
Commending the park residents for their cooperation in conserving the primates, Akamanzi stressed the importance of investing in nature. "The environment is the foundation of the economy, the reason why Rwanda invests heavily in building an eco-tourism industry that benefits both the people and the planet."
"To us, mountain gorillas represent more than a source of tourism or adventurers' entertainment. To us, our gorillas are custodians of a nature we truly cherish," Rwanda's First Lady Jeannette Kagame said, adding that there is no choice between economic growth and nature but maintaining investments in conservation efforts.
To rally residents behind conservation, Rwanda introduced a revenue share program in 2005, where some 10 percent of all park revenue is returned to the communities surrounding the various national parks aimed at improving livelihoods.
Rwanda has been hailed for its conservation and sustainable tourism efforts on the continent.