Efficient Cook Stoves Protect Gorilla Habitat & Human Health

When people think of GRACE, they likely think of the care we provide to orphan Grauer’s gorillas. But did you know that we also help conserve wild gorillas and their habitat? GRACE is located near the Tayna Nature Reserve, home to an important population of wild Grauer’s gorillas.

Three-stone stove (Photo: T. Bettinger)

While gorillas are not typically hunted in this region, habitat loss due to deforestation poses a serious threat to Tayna. People depend on wood to cook food, boil water, and provide heat for their homes.

The traditional stove is made up of three stones on which a pot is placed. These stoves use a great deal of wood, produce a lot of smoke, and cook very slowly. Wood has to be collected from the forest and then carried, sometimes as far as 5 km, back to people’s homes. This means women and girls, who are often the ones assigned this chore, spend hours each week on “wood duty” rather than on schoolwork or other more productive activities. Additionally, the smoke from the three-stone stoves poses serious health risks for those tasked with preparing meals.

Collecting and carrying wood is often a chore done by women and girls (Photo: GRACE).

One alternative for these problems is building stoves that burn wood more efficiently. In addition to consuming less wood, fuel-efficient stoves can be vented to direct smoke away from the users, they cook faster than traditional stoves, and they can accommodate up to three pots at one time. While fuel-efficient stoves are used in many places around the world, they have been met with mixed success. The appropriate stove design, the costs of construction and maintenance, and difference in taste of the food prepared have all been cited as factors resulting in low user acceptance.

Efficient stove models allow more than one pot to be heated at once (Photo: GRACE).

To determine if fuel-efficient stoves would be accepted by people living around Tayna and to quantify wood use, the GRACE educators conducted a survey of 100 households. They determined that 65% of households depend only on wood, while the remaining households use charcoal or a combination of wood and charcoal. The women expressed concern over eye and head aches, coughs and chest problems they get from being around smoke. They also reported that in recent years, they were having to walk farther to collect wood, as nearby sources were depleted. If affordable, the women were very keen to try a fuel-efficient stove.

GRACE Educator Gracianne Basyanirwa asks about cooking and wood use practices (Photo: GRACE).

With funding provided by a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund, the GRACE educators, working with a local women’s group, were able to launch a pilot stove project in 2018. They conducted a feasibility study with the local community to determine if the taste of food cooked on the fuel-efficient stove was acceptable, which type of stove worked best in the wet environment around Tayna, and also came up with a solution for building low-cost units. People in this region are very resourceful, and with encouragement from the GRACE team, they came up with an excellent option. Many buildings in the area are made from brick and after each building project, there are broken bricks that are tossed aside. Women gathered the broken and discarded bricks, and, working with a local craftsman, were able to construct stoves at a greatly reduced cost using just brick pieces, mud, and a small amount of metal.

A demonstration at International Women’s Day for how to build and use fuel-efficient stoves (Photo: GRACE).

In the year since the pilot project began, GRACE has helped place more efficient stoves in 60 households in the village closest to GRACE. The old cooking method consumed around 15 kg/wood/week while the new stoves use 8 kg/wood/week. This is a 47% reduction in wood consumption! In one year, that means from just one village, we have saved 24 tons of wood from gorilla habitat! The plan is to expand this program to two additional villages in 2019. Additionally, tree planting programs have been started to not only help reforest areas that have been cut but to also grow wood locally for household use.

“No smoke anymore in my kitchen. My kids are not disturbed by the smoke and can’t get eye ache anymore…I wish that all women build this stove.”

-Rozali, project participant

A participant in the stove project weighs the amount of wood she uses for her stove to quantify results (Photo: GRACE).

“We were traveling for long distances to look for wood. But now, some wood from my compound is sufficient.”

– Gloriose, project participant

Women plant trees to use for fuel (Photo: GRACE).

The women are very excited with their new stoves. They love being able to make a meaningful contribution to gorilla conservation, living healthier lives, being able to collect wood from their own compounds and reducing the time they spend on household chores. Listen to women share their experiences in a film produced by the GRACE education team:

-Blog post by Tammie Bettinger, Ph.D., Education & Community Program Consultant to GRACE

About GRACE: Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is the world’s only sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas. The largest primate in the world, Grauer’s gorillas only live in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Their numbers have dropped by nearly 80% in the past 20 years due to heavy poaching. They are considered one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world with only 3,800 remaining. GRACE cares for 14 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers and works to rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild. At GRACE the gorillas live in a single gorilla group that functions as a surrogate family and spend their days in 39 acres of forest. GRACE also partners with local communities on education and conservation initiatives to protect a critical population of wild gorillas living in Tayna Nature Reserve. For more about GRACE, visit: www.gracegorillas.org

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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.