GRACE celebrates World Okapi Day

Okapi are beautiful, elusive animals in the giraffe family. They are well adapted to their dense forest environment, having excellent hearing, strong bodies for moving through the forest, and oily hair which acts as waterproofing. Their distinctive, striped rump markings function as camouflage in the light-soaked understory, helping them hide from leopards, their main predator. They move quietly and are almost impossible to observe in the wild. Check out this new, rare camera trap footage of a wild okapi at Okapi Wildlife Reserve:


October 18 marked the second annual World Okapi Day.  Once again, GRACE educators and other staff led the local community in the festivities. GRACE’s focus is on Grauer’s gorillas, so why celebrate a forest giraffe?

Despite being very different animals, Grauer’s gorillas and okapi actually have a lot in common. Both are only found in remote parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), sometimes even in the same forests. Okapi are thought to live in the northwestern part of Tayna Nature Reserve, which is the reserve near GRACE that is home to around 300 Grauer’s gorillas. Because they live in areas that are difficult to access and study, both okapi and Grauer’s gorillas are not well known to the western world. Okapi were not even described scientifically until the early 20th century! Nevertheless, both animals are a source of pride for the Congolese people. In DRC, you will see okapi depicted on water bottles and stamps and gorillas on statues in hotels and along roads. Because both animals are well-known locally, they have an important role to play as conservation ambassadors and umbrella species. If we protect them, we protect all species that coexist in their habitats. Therefore, it is very important to celebrate okapi!

GRACE staff dressed in black and white to honor okapi.

Around 2,000 people took part in the GRACE World Okapi Day festivities. GRACE staff set the tone by dressing in brown, black, and white to symbolize okapi colors. We also hosted a movie event for our staff and showed films about local wildlife. GRACE educators Sims Guy Mumbere and Gracianne Basyanirwa took to the airwaves at our local radio station, Radio Télévision Communautaire Tayna, to talk about the significance of World Okapi Day and about the importance of conserving Tayna Nature Reserve. Radio is a wonderful educational tool in Congo because it allows us to efficiently reach a large audience. Our radio station recently experienced power issues but thanks to our partners, Nashville Zoo, the radio now runs on solar power. We’re back on the air!

GRACE Educators Sims Guy Mumbere and Gracianne Basyanirwa talk about okapi conservation and World Okapi Day on the radio.

Educators also spent time with pupils at nearby Muyisa Primary School where they gave lessons about okapi and wildlife conservation. The children then had fun making okapi drawings.

Pupils draw okapi.

Our education program always tries to link conservation messages with conservation actions. One popular action is planting fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus to help prevent erosion, a problem in our mountainous area, and also to provide an alternative to extracting trees from gorilla habitat for people’s fuel and building needs. In the past year, we have planted over 3,000 trees with our conservation clubs and local women’s groups. The men of the village wanted to pitch in as well, so our tree planting this time involved the women’s groups plus men both from the local football team and elders from the community. We planted 450 trees! We closed the day with a football match, since no celebration in Katoyo is complete without one! It was a great opportunity to deliver conservation messages to a large audience.

A village elder helps plant trees in honor of World Okapi Day.

We are proud to celebrate okapi and will continue to work to conserve them along with Grauer’s gorillas, and all of DRC’s wildlife. To learn more about okapi, download this fact sheet (which also features a photo of GRACE gorilla Tumaini!) and visit the website of Okapi Conservation Project.

Footballers celebrate World Okapi Day

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, watch our video, and follow us on social media (Facebook: GRACE4gorillas and Twitter: @GRACEgorillas). 


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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.