Huge Community Turnout for First World Gorilla Day

Sunday, September 24, was the first annual World Gorilla Day, a day set aside to celebrate gorillas and act for their conservation.  At Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center, we celebrated by spreading awareness on social media and other outlets, but the focus of our efforts was in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where we shared this special day with the local community.  GRACE has worked hand-in-hand with our neighbors since the project’s beginning.  Indeed, in our remote corner of DRC where there can be many challenges, we greatly depend on the local community and they also depend on us.  We are a partnership.

Kalonge, one of the orphan Grauer’s gorillas at GRACE (Photo courtesy of Liz Williamson).

Our work together is also strategic for gorillas because people’s homes and fields border Tayna Nature Reserve, which is home to around 300 Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorillas, about 8% of the remaining wild population.  GRACE is the only conservation NGO working in this area, so an important part of our education and community outreach mission is to cultivate a local conservation ethic that will ensure good stewardship of the reserve and its resident wildlife, both now and into the future.  World Gorilla Day provided an opportunity to bring our conservation message to a large audience.  And large it was!  We anticipated around 1,500 people but ended up hosting nearly 3,000!  People walked for miles to participate.  We have hosted celebrations before, but this was by far our most popular event.

World Gorilla Day procession through the village.

We kicked off the day with a procession through the village that announced the event.  It was led by schoolchildren and members of GRACE’s youth conservation clubs who carried the World Gorilla Day banner designed by our education team.  GRACE staff, local football teams, and women’s groups followed and led the crowd in drumming, singing, and dancing.  The size of the procession swelled along the route as people spontaneously joined.  The procession ended at the Tayna radio station where GRACE unveiled a new gorilla mural created by a local artist in honor of World Gorilla Day.  The radio station is a valued asset belonging to the community, so having the gorilla mural there is significant.  The message given at the dedication was that “gorillas are part of this community”.

Dedication of the new gorilla mural at Tayna radio station.

The celebration then moved to the nearby Tayna Center for Conservation Biology where GRACE educators gave presentations about what makes gorillas special.  The community theatre group also used skits to convey messages about threats to gorillas.  Next, the GRACE staff performed “Song for a Gorilla“, which was composed by our educators to celebrate gorillas and the community’s important connection with them.  The crowd then joined the GRACE staff in drumming and dancing.

GRACE educators discuss why gorillas are special and community actors act out a skit with anti-poaching message.
It was a packed house on World Gorilla Day at the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology.

Kids in attendance drew pictures of gorillas, and the GRACE staff also led a tree-planting activity to link the messages delivered with direct conservation actions.  Participants planted native trees as well as fast-growing eucalyptus trees, which can be harvested later for firewood so that people avoid using trees from gorilla habitat.  Most of the trees were grown on GRACE’s farm, a project being led by the youth conservation clubs.  In total, 900 trees were planted by the community for World Gorilla Day and they will be cared for by the conservation clubs and local women’s groups.  The day ended with a friendly World Gorilla Day football match between the neighboring villages of Katoyo and Kasugho.

The community planted 900 trees for World Gorilla Day!

So why did so many people show up for World Gorilla Day?  Some clues came during our community ‘open mic’ session.  Jackson Mbeke, GRACE DRC Director, who helped organize the celebration said, “Young and old, everyone wanted to speak about how they felt about gorillas and GRACE.”  Mbeke continued, “People were saying that in the past this area was just the bush and its people were invisible to the world.  Now, the gorillas and GRACE project have held up a flag saying that we are here and we matter.  Gorillas have brought jobs, respect, and recognition for this remote area.  People are proud of that and want it to continue.  That’s why they came and also why there is hope for gorillas here.”

Katoyo team poses before the match begins.


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 with the ultimate goal of returning gorillas to the wild. GRACE 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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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.