June 17, 2006

Rwanda holds second baby gorilla naming ceremony

KIGALI (Reuters) - Twelve baby gorillas were given names by
Western officials on Saturday in a ceremony aimed at attracting
more foreign tourists to the tiny central African nation.

Dubbed "the land of a thousand hills," Rwanda is home to
nearly 400 mountain gorillas, one of the world's most
endangered species, which attracted over half of the country's
22,000 tourists in 2005.

Tourism officials face an uphill battle to lure visitors to
Rwanda, where around 800,000 people were massacred in the 1994
civil war.

Representatives from the United States, Britain, Belgium
and the Netherlands -- where most of Rwanda's tourists come
from -- participated in the baby gorillas naming ceremony,
normally reserved for newborn children.

The UK ambassador to Rwanda Jeremy Macadie called one of
the gorillas "Big Ben" after London's famous landmark.

"Like the way 'Big Ben' is a major tourist spot in London,
this young baby gorilla will be a center attraction for tourist
to this beautiful nation," Macadie said.

Rwanda earned over $25 million from the tourism sector in
2005 but hopes to make close to $100 million by 2010.

The first public naming ceremony was held last year when 30
baby gorillas were given local names.

Conservationists and researchers have traditionally named
the gorillas they track using the patterns formed by wrinkles
on the primate's faces as identifiers.

A 1988 film, "Gorillas in the Mist," based on the work of
primate researcher Dian Fossey, who studied the animals in the
1960s, has put the tiny nation on the world map.