Pinga

Pinga

“PING-gah”; 15-year-old female
Rescued 2005

P

inga gets her name from the village in eastern DRC where she was rescued from poachers in 2005. Her rescuers said that from the moment they saw Pinga, they knew that she was a gorilla destined to be in charge! Pinga has always been very wild-like in that she is not oriented toward people much at all, a promising quality that will make her a strong candidate for reintroduction. She lived in Rwanda with six other orphaned Grauer’s gorillas until this group was transferred by helicopter to the newly built GRACE Center in 2011. The seven gorillas joined four other gorillas that had arrived to GRACE three months prior. There was much anticipation as to how Mapendo, the bold alpha female of the original GRACE group, would respond to Pinga when the groups were integrated. Mapendo immediately recognized Pinga as the group leader and did not object when members of ‘her’ group–Amani, Ndjingala, and Kighoma–opted to follow Pinga.

Currently 15 years old and now an adult, Pinga remains the oldest and top-ranking female in the GRACE group. In the past, other gorillas have assumed some leadership of the group, including 13-year-old male Ntabwoba who unfortunately died suddenly in 2014 just as he was reaching silverback status, but Pinga has been the only consistent group leader since 2011. Although it is rare for a female to lead a gorilla group in the wild, Pinga is constantly looking out for her group’s wellbeing and maintaining peace between its members, just as a good silverback would. Pinga’s strong, dominant personality makes her an excellent leader, but she has a gentle and nurturing side as well. She’s been the surrogate mother to almost every orphan gorilla at GRACE. Pinga still provides protection and comfort to 6-year-old Shamavu, even though he is old enough to be independent. But her dedication to Shamavu has allowed other adult females in the group, such as Amani and Ndjingala, to practice their mothering skills with the younger gorillas.

When she’s not tending to her leadership responsibilities, Pinga’s favorite pastime is eating (her favorite is banana trees), which is evidenced by her impressive size of 95 kilograms! She also enjoys the occasional play session after lunch with Shamavu. A transfer of leadership seems to be in Pinga’s future as Kighoma, the oldest male at GRACE, increasingly challenges her position by stealing her food and trying to lead the group during travel.

Best friends:  Shamavu, Serufuli

Identifying characteristics:  Largest gorilla, stern-looking facial expression