A family for Lulingu

We are happy to announce that Lulingu was successfully integrated into the gorilla group at GRACE! Lulingu arrived at GRACE in late June after being cared for briefly at Centre Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro and the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. She was rescued in February 2016 near Kahuzi-Biega National Park from poachers aiming to illegally sell her (see Virunga’s blog post). Lulingu spent five months in quarantine at GRACE where she was cared for around-the-clock by two expert caregivers, Devotte Kavira Kihira and Kambale Muviri. She was 18 months old when she arrived, one of the youngest gorillas at GRACE to date.

“Because of her young age, we went slowly with her quarantine program to make sure she was well prepared for integration,” said Dalmas Kakule, Animal Care Manager. “Honestly, though, she surprised us. She is an exceptional gorilla — very easy-going and strong — so we expect her to do really well in the family group.”

Lulingu is greeted by young female Kalonge

Integrations are carefully orchestrated and overseen by GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group, which consists of gorilla experts who have supervised dozens of gorilla integrations in zoos. Lulingu was first introduced to the gorillas from afar, then up close. Integration day was the first time she was able to physically interact with the gorillas.

On the morning of Lulingu’s integration, the caregivers made sure they had thought of every detail so things would go smoothly. They weighed Lulingu one last time, did a final health exam, and rehearsed everyone’s role. “It was such a happy day for the staff,” said Executive Director, Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg. “Our aim is for these gorillas to have a family again, so our ultimate reward is watching the little ones join the group. When Lulingu was accepted by the gorillas, staff members were so pleased they were high-fiving and hugging each other in celebration!”

GRACE’s vet team conducts a final fecal exam on Lulingu before integration

Lulingu was initially introduced to alpha female Pinga. Pinga scooped her up immediately and began walking around, holding her in a protective posture, just like a new gorilla mother. Once they had become acquainted, the pair went outside to join the rest of the group. Four young females — Muyisa, Ndjingala, Isangi, and Kalonge — gathered around Pinga to inspect the newest group member. Despite all the excitement, Lulingu remained calm and started foraging alongside Pinga. Lulingu even appeased the eager young females by riding on their backs for short distances.

Two other high-ranking adult females, Mapendo and Itebero, were and continue to be very interested in mothering Lulingu. Pinga gets first dibs, but these females spend time with Lulingu whenever possible.  Lulingu is smart and knows to seek out their company whenever she’s had enough of the young females playing the ‘carry Lulingu around’ game!

Lulingu with Mapendo

Eight-year-old male Kighoma leads the group but is not very interested in young gorillas. He is busy protecting the group and keeping the other males in line. He has been gentle with Lulingu, however, suggesting he has accepted her as well.

Two days after her integration, Lulingu began going into the 24-acre forest enclosure with the group. She was used to the forest because she went there often during her quarantine, but now she is able to play in the trees with the other youngsters — a beautiful sight to see! Lulingu is doing a great job following the group and foraging alongside them.

Pinga is taking her mothering job very seriously, which is expected given her successful surrogate track record. GRACE Center Director, Jackson Mbeke shared that a few days ago the group was coming back from the forest and Pinga ended up way ahead of Lulingu because Lulingu had gotten side-tracked playing with other gorillas. As soon as Pinga realized it, she came rushing back to collect Lulingu and carry her inside. She did this before Lulingu had even noticed that they had been separated! Mbeke remarked “Pinga is a professional mother, so Lulingu is in very good hands.”

We wish Lulingu all the best as she starts her new life back with gorillas!

Pinga holds Lulingu

Watch video of Lulingu feeding with Pinga:

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. GRACE’s ultimate goal is to return gorillas to 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. 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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.