rphaned gorillas have been through the traumatic experience of being forcibly taken from their mother and group mates and in some cases, witnessed their entire family being killed in front of them. Our aim at GRACE is to help these infants heal so they have a chance at normal social, emotional, behavioral and physical development.
Specialized Infant Care
Nearly all of the orphans at GRACE were confiscated before the age of 3. In the wild, gorilla infants are not weaned until they are 3 or 4 years old. Thus, when infants arrive at GRACE, they need extensive, around-the-clock care. It is impossible to replace a mother’s psychological support and affection, but we provide the best substitute care possible.
Following IUCN guidelines, new arrivals are immediately paired with a human caregiver who attends to the infant’s every need, 24 hours a day. This includes holding, carrying, grooming, feeding, exercising, providing medical care, and playing with the infant. Infants are walked into the forest every day where they spend their time exploring and refamiliarizing themselves with their natural habitat. At night, the infants sleep with their caregiver, just as they would with their gorilla mother. Human care is necessary in this initial period of dependency, but we aim to place the infants with other gorillas as soon as possible so they can begin the process of relearning how to be a gorilla.
Joining the Group
Once an infant gorilla’s health has stabilized and they have undergone a quarantine period, they are introduced into the gorilla social group at GRACE. We have had great success with older female gorillas acting as a surrogate mother to infants. Females carry and play with the infants and, most importantly, protect and support them as they develop relationships with other members of the group. The group is becoming more cohesive by the day, and the gorillas are displaying social behaviors normally seen in wild gorilla families, such as the formation of dominance relationships.
A Natural Diet
We strive to ensure that the gorillas get the most natural diet possible to both benefit their health and to increase their chances of success, if they are selected for reintroduction. Around 90% of the diet at GRACE consists of plants that gorillas typically eat in the wild. As a result, GRACE gorillas do not have significant digestive problems, unlike gorillas in other captive settings like zoos. Eventually the gorillas will be able to forage on their own for these plants, once their forest enclosure is completed. But until then, our staff collects 300 kg of plants each day from the forest, including up to 45 different gorilla food species.