Kwita Izina was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness of conservation efforts for endangered mountain gorillas. File photo.

Gorillas are big business — translating directly into tourism dollars, according to the latest stats from Rwanda tourism officials.

Rwanda confirmed it sold 15,132 mountain gorilla permits worth US$19.2 million to tourists in 2018, higher than the $15 million sold in 2016 before Rwanda increased the permit price from $750 to $1,500 in 2017, an official from Rwanda Development Board said in Kigali.

The central African country has registered an increase in demand for the tracking permits of the endangered species, said Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer of RDB, while addressing reporters about the upcoming annual baby gorilla-naming ceremony commonly known as Kwita Izina, Xinhua reported.

At least 25 baby gorillas born late last year and this year will be given names in the 15th Kwita Izina ceremony held in Musanze district, northern Rwanda, on September 6, she said.

British supermodel Naomi Elaine Campbell, American singer Shaffer Chimere Smith popularly known as Ne-Yo, former Dutch football manager and player Louis van Gaal, and former English Premier League Arsenal FC captain Tony Adams are among those who will participate in this year’s event, she added.

RDB Chief Tourism Officer Belize Kariza speaks at the news conference in Kigali. Handout.

Last year, Rwanda hosted 1.7 million visitors, representing an increase of 8% compared to in 2017 due to efforts made by the government to promote Rwanda as a tourist destination in Africa, the official said.

The national parks revenues reached over $20 million in 2018, up from over $18 million recorded the previous year, said Kariza.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species with an estimated over 1,000 remaining in the world. They live in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, the report said.

Kwita Izina was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla.

For three decades prior to the first official gorilla naming ceremony, the naming of baby gorillas was carried out by rangers and researchers that closely monitor these unique animals on a daily basis.

According to RDB, US visitors spend an average of $12,000, making them the most lucrative market, Rwanda’s New Times reported. Chinese nationals spend an average of $1,084, ranking tenth.

British supermodel Naomi Campbell is among several celebs who will participate in this year’s gorilla naming event. Wire photo.

Nigerians are the top African spenders, spending an average of $1,498 per stay, ranking higher than Australians and only slightly below the French.

“This is proof that our (tourism) strategy to target this market is bearing fruit,” Kariza noted.

She attributed the rising number of high-end visitors from Nigeria to the flight link that the national carrier RwandAir has established.

The national airline now connects Kigali and two cities of Nigeria — Lagos and Abuja, the New Times reported.

Visitors coming to Rwanda mainly go for gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park or visit other national parks like Akagera National Park – home to the Big Five animals, as well as Nyungwe National Park for canopy walk and birding, among others.

Currently, Akagera National Park dominates other parks in terms of visitors. It was the most visited park with 51, 724 visits in 2018, an increase of 17% compared to 2017.

In the same period, Nyungwe National Park received 15,665 visitors, up 9%.

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