In July, we launched our farm initiative, which aims to establish a more sustainable food supply for the orphan gorillas at GRACE (see blog post for more). We are very excited to announce that we just harvested our first crop: elephant grass! Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) is a fast-growing plant native to Africa, and it is the gorillas’ favorite food. Some of the gorillas even make humming sounds when eating it, signaling their happiness!
Elephant grass is more than a favorite food, however. The gorillas also use elephant grass to construct nests for resting during the day and for sleeping at night. They even use it as a simple tool for accessing things out of their reach. The high-ranking females will also try to keep big piles of elephant grass all for themselves. So in the lives of the GRACE gorillas, it is an important plant indeed!
The farm is off to a great start and we have even had students from the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology and community members ask to volunteer. We’re finding the farm to be a great way to connect people with GRACE and gorillas! Thanks again to the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation for funding this project.
On October 18, we celebrated the inaugural World Okapi Day with a full day of activities led by GRACE’s education team. Like Grauer’s gorillas, okapi (Okapia johnstoni) or “forest giraffe” are endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are gentle but elusive and nearly impossible to observe in the wild. Their distinguishing dark brown and white rump markings help to camouflage them in the forest. Okapi are an important cultural symbol in DRC and people take great pride in them. A national radio station is named Radio Okapi and there are even many brands in DRC that bear their name (e.g., Okapi bottled water). Okapi are endangered and, like Grauer’s gorillas, have experienced a rapid population decline over the past 15 years. For more on okapi, download a fact sheet here.
The GRACE education team went to the nearby villages of Kasugho and Katoyo to talk with students and local leaders about okapi and the importance of protecting this and other endangered wildlife species. Students had fun with the okapi theme by drawing and coloring okapi pictures and building dioramas of okapi in the forest. Many people got into the okapi spirit by wearing black and white to signify the okapi’s stripes! Seamstresses from the local women’s cooperative even made okapi bags to celebrate!
The day culminated in a large procession of students and community members that ended at a new okapi mural in the village commissioned by GRACE. The two villages then had a celebratory football match.
The first World Okapi Day was a huge success! We will continue to include okapi in our year-round educational work and look forward to celebrating this special day again next year!
Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center – GRACE was founded in 2009 and is the only facility in the world dedicated to providing in situ rehabilitative care for Grauer’s gorillas orphaned by poaching. GRACE’s ultimate goal is to return gorillas to the wild. GRACE also works with local communities, through education and other outreach programs, to help ensure the long-term survival of wild gorilla populations. Grauer’s gorillas only live in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and have lost 77% of their population in the past 20 years due to poaching. They are Critically Endangered and considered to be one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. For more information about GRACE, please visit us at www.gracegorillas.org, watch our video, and follow us on social media (Facebook: GRACE4gorillas and Twitter: @GRACEgorillas).