RACE is not intended to be a permanent home for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas, but rather a place where they can heal and learn the skills they need to make it in the wild. Therefore, reintroducing gorillas back into their natural habitat is an important aim of the project.
Though the reintroduction of great apes is a complex and challenging undertaking, successful reintroductions have been done with western lowland gorillas. Reintroductions of Grauer’s gorillas have not yet been attempted, but several factors indicate that this conservation approach is worthwhile. First, gorilla censuses and habitat assessments underway as part of the Conservation Action Plan for gorillas and chimpanzees in eastern DRC show isolated Grauer’s gorilla sub-populations that will likely to go extinct unless new individuals (i.e. genetic diversity) are introduced. Second, census work is not finding Grauer’s gorillas in areas thought to be suitable gorilla habitat, making these potentially ideal sites for reintroduction.
Every day we are getting closer to our reintroduction goal. In 2015, we opened a 24-acre forest enclosure that allows the gorillas daily access to a large tract of their natural habitat. Accessing this forest will help the gorillas learn how to forage on their own and interact with their environment within the confines of a safe zone. We are also conducting behavioral and health monitoring to help identify which gorillas are suitable candidates for reintroduction and to devise specific management practices for those who still require more rehabilitation.