Rest in peace, Dunia

It is with great sadness that we announce that Dunia, a 10-year-old female Grauer’s gorilla living at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), died recently after a sudden onset of a severe intestinal illness.

Dunia received intensive around-the-clock care from GRACE staff, and six veterinarians in three different countries consulted on her case, especially staff from Gorilla Doctors and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Sadly, her illness was aggressive and did not respond to treatment. Dunia passed away peacefully in her sleep with Head Caregiver Dalmas Kakule at her side.

Dunia in 2013 (photo by R. Barongi)

“This was a devastating loss for GRACE,” said Jackson Mbeke, GRACE Center Director. “Grauer’s gorillas are highly endangered, so every gorilla is precious. More than this, they are each special to our team. It is like a member of our family has been lost.”

Dunia was confiscated from poachers in 2006 and cared for in Rwanda by Gorilla Doctors and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International before being transferred with five other Grauer’s gorillas to GRACE in 2011. Since then, she has been living in a surrogate family group with 10-13 other orphaned gorillas.

Dunia stood out because she was very curious and liked to be the first to check out any new visitors to GRACE. She was also highly intelligent and a quick learner. In 2015, Dunia was the first to be trained for an awake ultrasound exam, the first ever performed on a Grauer’s gorilla. Such exams can help track cardiac health, which is important for gorillas because heart disease is an issue of concern.

Dunia in 2015 (photo by GRACE)

“Dunia was calm and kind,” said Caregiver Castro Kasereka Visika. “She was a friend to all the other gorillas, mostly Isangi and Mapendo. She also liked baby gorillas so much.” Dunia’s mothering tendency marked a milestone for GRACE too, since she was the first adult female other than alpha Pinga to become a dedicated surrogate mother to a younger orphan. Since then, other females have followed Dunia’s lead.

Dunia in 2014 when she first started mothering Isangi (photos by GRACE)

“We want so badly for each of these gorillas to have a happy ending because they have been through so much already,” said GRACE Executive Director, Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg. “Most captured gorillas don’t even make it to confiscation, so in many ways, Dunia did have a happy ending. She survived the awful trauma of being taken from the wild and went on to develop close ties with other orphaned gorillas, forming a family that she enjoyed for almost 10 years. We just wish her story had not ended so soon. Dunia will be greatly missed at GRACE, both by the gorillas and our staff. In her memory, we will continue our work to give Grauer’s gorillas a future.”

Eastern lowland gorillas – also known as Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) —are found only in eastern DRC and their numbers have dropped alarmingly by 77% over the past 20 years due to poaching, habitat loss, illegal trade, disease, and regional instability. GRACE is the world’s only sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas confiscated from illegal poachers and traders and is working to rehabilitate them for reintroduction back into the wild.

 


GORILLA REHABILITATION AND CONSERVATION EDUCATION (GRACE) CENTER – Founded in 2009 by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in collaboration with the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) and Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, GRACE is the only facility in the world dedicated to providing in situ rehabilitative care for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas and ultimately aims to reintroduce gorillas back into 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. Other major partners for this project include Disney and the Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Detroit, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, and Utah’s Hogle Zoos. For more information about GRACE, please visit gracegorillas.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you would like to help, please visit our secure online donation page.

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Female

Born: 2006 (estimated) Rescued: 2006

Tumaini means “hope” in Kiswahili. Rescued from poachers near Goma in 2006, Tumaini was very young, between three and six months old, and in poor health. Tumaini is a peaceful and very social member of the group at GRACE, but can become protective of her food, especially her favorite – wild bananas. Tumaini seems to want to be the most dominant gorilla in her age group and likes to display often to show off. She is shorter than other gorillas her size, which may be a result of stunted growth from malnutrition experienced at an early age.

Male

Born: 2010 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

Shamavu was carried around for weeks in a small backpack while his captors searched for a potential buyer. Once confiscated, he received medical attention in Virunga National Park and then was transferred by plane to GRACE. Shamavu is the youngest male in the group of 14 gorillas at GRACE. He’s full of restless energy with an inexhaustible eagerness to play. He and male Lubutu are best pals and they’re often seen wrestling and chasing each other up trees, around stumps and through their night quarters. Shamavu boasts thick dark hair and striking eyes. Watch Shamavu’s trip to GRACE.

Female

Born: 2002 (estimated) Rescued: 2005

Confiscated near Goma in eastern DR Congo, Serufuli was named after a North Kivu, DR Congo governor. She was between two and three years of age when she was rescued. Serufuli is a beautiful gorilla that is described by staff as kind. She is one of the quieter gorillas and rarely causes a stir, but she has close friendships with both of the highest-ranking females at GRACE — Pinga and Mapendo — and can influence who is seen as the dominant female by the group.

Female

Born: 2003 (estimated) Rescued: 2005

From the moment Pinga was rescued from poachers, her rescuers knew that she was a gorilla destined to be in charge! Pinga has always been very “wild-like” in that she is not human-oriented — a promising quality that will make her a strong candidate for reintroduction. Pinga is the oldest female at GRACE and led the group for several years before male Kighoma came of age. She is still one of the highest-ranking females in the group, but now jockeys for the alpha female role with Mapendo. Pinga has been the loving surrogate mother to almost every orphan gorilla at GRACE.

Female

Born: 2009 (estimated) Rescued: 2010

When Ndjingala was barely one year old, she was rescued from captors who were trying to sell her illegally. She was in bad shape when she was found. Her captors had tied her using a rope around her waist, which had worn deep cuts into her hips – plus she was sick. Fortunately, Ndjingala’s health slowly improved. Ndjingala loves to play and climb trees, and has a bit of a goofy side. She has started to be interested in mothering younger gorillas and often carries them around on her back.

 

Female

Born: 2010 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

Muyisa was rescued in 2011 on the border of Rwanda and DR Congo. She was taken into Rwanda, and then due to insecurity could not return to her home in DR Congo for three years. During this time, she lived alone with only a human caregiver and she unfortunately suffered from stress and pulled out much of the hair on her head as a result. Remarkably, when Muyisa met the group at GRACE, the gorillas physically embraced her and she integrated seamlessly into the group. Today, she is a confident young female who loves playing with gorillas her age.

Female

Born: 2004 (estimated) Rescued: 2007

Mapendo, whose name means “great love” in Kiswahili, was about three years old when she was confiscated from poachers in December of 2007. She is a tough girl, and very smart. She occasionally uses tools, including branches which she uses to rake in food out of her reach when her caregivers are not looking! Mapendo is one of the highest-ranking females in the GRACE group, jockeying for the role of alpha female with Pinga.

Female

Born: 2015 (estimated) Rescued: 2016

Lulingu is the youngest gorilla at GRACE, and is really adorable. All of the older females love Lulingu and try to carry her whenever her surrogate mother Pinga will let them. The GRACE caregivers think Lulingu (sometimes called “Luli”) is the perfect little gorilla because she always takes her food and medicine and loves the forest. She is adventurous and loves to climb high in trees. Lulingu has always had an independent nature — on her first day in the forest, she immediately climbed a tree and made her own nest! See her full story here.

Male

Born: 2009 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

When Lubutu was about one and a half, he was rescued by the wildlife authority from four people illegally trying to sell him. He was extremely sick at the time from eating human foods. Despite his rough start, Lubutu adapted well to life at GRACE. Lubutu is now healthy and happy. He is silly and gentle and has endeared himself to every person who has met him. Lubutu is growing up and starting to show more silverback-like behavior, but he still loves to play — especially chasing and wrestling games with his best friend Shamavu!

Male

Born: 2006 (estimated) Rescued: 2008

Kighoma was held captive in near the Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern DR Congo by a militia group. Such groups often keep young gorillas and other wildlife as mascots. He was rescued by a man named Kighoma, the brother of a local king, so that is how he got his name.Kighoma is the oldest of the males at GRACE and is currently the alpha male. He is a gentle leader, always looking out for the safety of the other gorillas in the group.

Female

Born: 2012 (estimated) Rescued: 2014

Kalonge was confiscated by the Congolese wildlife authority in 2014 after villagers discovered her caught in a snare. Today, she is one of the boldest members of the GRACE group. She is an energetic, rough-and-tumble gorilla who likes to play and have her own way. Kalonge can be a trouble-maker with high-ranking females like Pinga, because she wants to be in charge! Despite her leadership aspirations, little Kalonge has many friends and loves to play all day every day!

Female

Born: 2003 (estimated) Rescued: 2004

Itebero was only about one-and-a-half years old when she was confiscated from poachers. She was named after the village in eastern DR Congo where she was rescued. Itebero is considered the smartest gorilla at GRACE by caregivers. She uses tools such as branches to help her access food out of her reach. She even has used the advanced “hammer-and-anvil” technique of cracking palm nuts to get to the oil inside, a method previously thought to be restricted to chimpanzees who are known for their tool-using abilities. Itebero’s tool use even made headlines!

Female

Born: 2007 (estimated) Rescued: 2009

On the day she was rescued, Amani was found stuffed into a plastic bag and was very dehydrated. She had a bullet lodged in her right leg as a result of the poaching incident that killed her family. While she is still a little slow and walks with a limp, she has healed well. Many of the GRACE caregivers believe that Amani is the most beautiful gorilla at GRACE because of her pretty face and sweet personality. She loves to play with the younger gorillas and is a peacemaker after conflicts within the group.

Female

Born: 2011 (estimated) Rescued: 2012

Isangi’s family was killed by poachers when she was around 9 months old. Isangi is tough young gorilla for surviving the ordeal that took her from her family group. She walks around almost as if she is the dominant female, like nothing can harm her. She is quite mischievous, and really loves her food. She tries to sneak tasty treats from the caregiver’s food buckets, and will even try and steal food from other gorillas.p.