Our team at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is heartbroken over the loss of orphan mountain gorilla Maisha who died last week at Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. Maisha was the oldest of five orphans living at Senkwekwe, which is the world’s only sanctuary for mountain gorillas.
GRACE partner Gorilla Doctors oversees the veterinary care at Senkwekwe, and Co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield stated, “We’ve worked very closely with the carers at the Senkwekwe Centre to try and get Maisha well. Unfortunately, after bringing in experts, we could not come up with a conclusive diagnosis and after a very long illness, her health issues got the better of her and we lost her.”
After Maisha’s condition began to worsen in May, GRACE sent Animal Care Manager Dalmas Kakule Syangeha and Caregiver Evariste Katsongo to Virunga at the request of Gorilla Doctors and Senkwekwe Center to assist with Maisha’s treatment, which included tests under anesthesia, medication, dietary adjustments and supplementation, behavioral enrichment, and around-the-clock care. Yet despite a large team effort, Maisha continued to decline and eventually succumbed to her undiagnosed condition.
Three-year-old Maisha was captured from the wild in 2004 and held by poachers for weeks before she was rescued in a sting operation by wildlife authorities. They discovered her in a malnourished state inside a cave and tied up in a bag. Orphaned gorillas are fragile and survival rates tend to be low, yet Maisha somehow managed to survive her ordeal. She was nursed back to health in Rwanda by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Gorilla Doctors. There, she lived together with another mountain gorilla orphan as well as orphaned Grauer’s gorillas. In 2010, Maisha was transferred to D.R. Congo to the newly built Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park, and her Grauer’s gorilla playmates were later transferred to GRACE in 2011.
Maisha was known for her love of food, intellect, and leadership. GRACE’s Kakule and Katsongo remembered, “Maisha was courageous, calm, smart and the leader of the group…To any problem she established order, even when she was in bad health.”
Visiting Senkwekwe Center is a popular activity among Virunga’s many tourists, and Maisha’s story also raised awareness about the conservation crisis facing D. R. Congo’s gorillas in the 2015 Academy Award nominated documentary, Virunga. She was also instrumental in prompting the creation of the country’s first sanctuaries for orphaned gorillas. “Maisha had been through such an ordeal and still hung on. Her survival story was so compelling that it was a call to action to help the orphans”, said Dr. Tammie Bettinger, GRACE Advisor and Animal Operations Director at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, an early partner in the creation of GRACE. “The 18 gorillas at Senkwekwe and GRACE that today have a second chance are the legacy that Maisha leaves behind.”
We will do our best to carry on this legacy. Rest in peace, Maisha.
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 with the ultimate goal of returning gorillas to the wild. GRACE 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). Click here to help.