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SA conservationist lends support to baby gorilla



Former South African businessman turned wildlife philanthropist and conservationist, Larry Green, was recently honoured to be able to name a baby gorilla in Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony.

Green, dressed in traditional Rwandan robes made for the ceremony, stood before a crowd of thousands of local Rwandans and international dignitaries and celebrities, and named a baby gorilla girl born in February this year.

“Her name is Ingoboka which means ‘support’. She comes from the Hirwa family of gorillas, and her mother’s name is Akarabo,” said Green, who is the incoming chairperson of the global board of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

He was one of 23 prominent individuals, called namers, who attended Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony, which took place on Friday, 1 September. It’s a highlight in the Rwandan calendar, attracting thousands.

The ceremony has been ongoing since 2005, and this year marked the 19th edition.

Being a namer is an honour bestowed on a select few individuals each year, marking the births of every baby born in the year.

British actor Idris Elba, comedian Kevin Hart, and soccer stars Sol Campbell and Bernard Lama were among other prominent namers. Last year, the then Prince Charles was given the honour.

“I had the honour of naming one of 23 new-born baby gorillas. This is a big annual celebration in Rwanda that focuses on a conservation programme that not only protects and has increased the gorilla population, but has had great economic impact on local communities and the country in general,” Green told the SA Jewish Report.

A photograph of baby Ingoboka shows her sporting a soft coat of ebony fur with delicate hints of grey and brown framing her face, which shows expressive eyes shimmering with curiosity. The Kwita Izina ceremony celebrates the country’s commitment to sustainable and responsible tourism, and is based on another centuries-old tradition, in which Rwandans name their children in the presence of family and friends, according to the site Visit Rwanda. In 2005, Rwanda began officially naming mountain gorillas in what has become a global celebration of nature.

“By giving a name to these majestic animals, we give them a value they undoubtedly deserve,” it says. The ceremony gives the community and the country’s leadership an opportunity to thank the communities that live around Volcanoes National Park, research partners, vets, and the dedicated conservationists, rangers, and trackers who protect the gorillas. To date, 397 mountain gorillas have been named.

“The annual event in northern Rwanda celebrates the country’s efforts to protect this endangered species,” said Green.

“There were 22 other namers, some big names. In my case, I’ve made some financial contributions to a programme to expand the forest sonar, which can increase the gorilla population while funding better housing and healthcare for local communities. The African Wildlife Foundation works all over Africa, with Rwanda being one of our focal countries,” he said.

Kevin Hart and his family went on a Rwandan safari trip, which Hart later said was “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life”.

After their wilderness hike, Hart said, “I just got to see an amazing family of gorillas, and now because of the amazing things and gorillas I got to see, I get to take the liberty of actually naming a gorilla.”

Green told the SA Jewish Report that the beautiful name, Ingoboka, reflects the bond between the Rwandan gorilla population and the local community.

He said at the ceremony, “I have no doubt baby Ingoboka will be a great pleasure and huge support, joy, and inspiration to the family of Hirwa, who has lost a number of members of her family over the past number of years.”

He said her name reflected the support that “happens on a much greater level, which is about how the gorilla population really supports the community and the people of Rwanda, and how the people of Rwanda and the community really support the gorillas”. It’s a “mutual love affair,” Green said.

Green, who lives with his wife, Debbie, in California, was born and raised in Johannesburg. He attended King David Linksfield and matriculated from Damelin.

An entrepreneur from a young age, he co-founded SA Paving at the age of 21, later establishing a similar company, System Pavers, when the family emigrated to the United States (US).

He spent 10 years on the board of the AWF, and following his recent retirement from System Pavers accepted the role as incoming chairperson.

His love for wildlife and conservation has spanned many years.

“I belonged to the Young President’s Organisation [YPO] in South Africa, and continued my involvement in the US. After we settled there, my wife and I began bringing some of our YPO friends over to South Africa to experience safaris. On our first trip, we brought more than 72 people. This continued to evolve, and became an annual thing,” he said.

Through this, he made several contacts in the wildlife arena, and soon found himself on the board of the AWF, a non-profit organisation headquartered in Nairobi and Washington, D.C.

“I slowly became more involved in wildlife philanthropy and conservation. I got exposure to other parts of Africa such as Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Cameroon. I travelled to Rwanda a lot,” he said.

Green described the Kwita Izina ceremony as “exciting and meaningful. Rwanda is an amazing country,” he said, “It’s the shining star of Africa, and when you look at where it was 30 years ago and what it has managed to achieve since then, it’s extraordinary, and creates a lot of hope. Rwanda is an example of what can be established in a lot of places on the continent with African ownership and leadership. Decisions are being made there by young African leaders, many of them women. The future of Africa rests on the shoulders of future young leaders, and you can see this happening in this environment.

“It’s easy to be sucked down by challenges, but with good leadership, policies, and commitment, things can be better on so many levels,” he said.” The Kwita Izina ceremony is a real model of how nature can equal good business. One doesn’t have to destroy nature to make economies develop.

“Africa is the fastest growing population in the world. It’s so important to have economic development hopefully side by side with nature.”

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