Pinga gets her name from the village in eastern DRC where she was rescued from poachers in 2004. Her rescuers said that from the moment they saw Pinga, they knew that she was a gorilla destined to be in charge! Pinga has always been very wild-like in that she is not oriented toward people much at all, a promising quality that will make her a strong candidate for reintroduction. She lived in Rwanda with six other orphaned Grauer’s gorillas until this group was transferred by helicopter to the newly built GRACE Center in 2011. The seven gorillas joined four other gorillas that had arrived to GRACE three months prior. No one was sure how Pinga and Mapendo, the bold alpha female of the original GRACE group, would get along when the groups were integrated. But Mapendo immediately recognized Pinga as the group leader and did not object when members of ‘her’ group–Amani, Ndjingala, and Kighoma–opted to follow Pinga.
Pinga remains the oldest and top-ranking female in the GRACE group. In the past, other gorillas have assumed some leadership of the group, including 13-year-old male Ntabwoba who unfortunately died suddenly in 2014 just as he was reaching silverback status. After Ntabwoba died, Pinga led the group until 2016 when male Kighoma took over. The transfer of power was marked when the rest of the group began to follow Kighoma instead of Pinga in the forest. Although it is rare for a female to lead a gorilla group in the wild, Pinga was a vigilant protector and maintained peace within the group, just as a good silverback would.
Pinga’s strong, dominant personality makes her an excellent leader, but she has a gentle and nurturing side as well. She’s been the surrogate mother to almost every orphan gorilla at GRACE. Her latest charge is female Lulingu, a very busy little gorilla. Pinga has her hands full tending to her, but also still provides protection and comfort to Shamavu, even though he is old enough to be independent. When she’s not focused on mothering responsibilities, Pinga’s favorite pastime is eating (her favorite is banana trees), which is evidenced by her impressive size of 95 kilograms! She also enjoys lounging around and playing with her adoptive kids after a big meal.
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