Gorilla Livestream Debuts at GRACE

September 24 is World Gorilla Day. Just in time for the celebration, we are launching a pioneering project — a 24/7 gorilla livestream from GRACE! This exciting initiative is in partnership with Explore, a philanthropic multimedia organization that sponsors the largest live nature network with almost 200 wildlife cameras around the globe.

“We are grateful to Explore for having the vision for the gorilla cam,” said Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director. “When they approached us with this idea, we knew this could turn into something special, and it has. How incredible that anyone, anywhere can now log onto the web and see the gorillas in our remote part of Democratic Republic of Congo!”

See the GRACE Gorilla Cam in action:




Three fixed cameras were installed outside the two forest enclosures at GRACE, which encompass 39 acres of natural forest habitat where the gorillas spend their day. This habitat is key for their rehabilitation as it allows them to forage for the majority of their food and practice other skills needed for survival in the wild. Currently one camera is active and the others will come online later. “The camera has already picked up incredible footage,” Kahlenberg said. “So, in addition to just being a neat thing to have, we anticipate that it will help with both our day-to-day animal management as well as some of our behavioral research objectives.”

But getting to today has not been easy. The project setup spanned more than two years, due in large part to GRACE’s remote location in Eastern DRC, which drastically increased the complexity of logistics needed to deliver the livestream technology to GRACE and get it operational. Two shipments from the U.S. and Europe were sent to Rwanda via Kenya then on to DRC. Then a container filled with equipment had to travel overland on trucks to GRACE’s mountainous region. This was difficult as the road conditions are notoriously poor in GRACE’s region. “We knew the contents inside the container were very fragile, so we were stressed,” said Jackson Kabuyaya Mbeke, GRACE DRC Director. “Luckily, we have drivers at GRACE who are experts at navigating the bad roads we have here.”


The political climate also factored into the drawn-out project timeline, as a presidential election in 2018 sparked unrest in the region, increasing the risk for the overvisibility, mediumjvisibility, large several days. Jackson Mwenge, GRACE’s Goma-based Administrator, managed the transport logistics. “The chvisibility, mediumivisibility, large risk of insecurity along the road,” he said. At one point, the truck even had to join a convoy with security escort to ensure safe passage. However, when the truvisibility, mediumsibility, largeACE, it was a cause for celebration. “After reaching the site, everyone was happy, singing and dancing,” Mbeke recalled. The complex logistics didn’t end with arrival of the equipment at GRACE, however, as the deadly outbreak of Ebola virus that began in August 2018 made it difficult to bring installers to GRACE to actually set up the cameras.

Team GRACE members Jonathan Katsongo and Sims Guy capture footage on one of Explore’s mobile cameras – which supplement the fixed cameras used for the livestream – as the GRACE gorillas return from the forest (photo: GRACE).

“It really was one challenge after another with this project,” said Kahlenberg. “But we just kept putting one foot in front of the other to make progress whenever we could.” The Explore team felt it was the most complex installation they have done to date. Jonathan Silvio, Director of Technology at Explore, said:

“Explore’s Manager of Field Operations, Joe Pifer and I often say that sending a camera to space was a less complicated task, which is true! Between the safe delivery of equipment (over land, air and water) through very challenging events, remote communication, off-grid power, satellite delivery with wireless networks, and then the actual systems integrations – I’m very proud of this collaboration and achievement.”

“I hope these cameras bridge worlds, and extend the mission of this extremely rare and meaningful organization and location,” said Explore’s Silvio. From the GRACE perspective, Kahlenberg added, “It’s our hope that people are as captivated by the gorillas as we are and that what they see inspires them to support our efforts to safeguard the gorillas’ future.”

The still images in the selection below were captured on the GRACE Gorilla Cam in its first two weeks of operation by the Explore community. The gorillas are best seen at 2 am – 3:30 am and 5:30 am – 7 am Pacific Daylight Time (due to time difference with DRC) when they pass near the camera on their way to and from the forest. But viewers can also rewind the feed to catch what they missed, if they can’t make that time window.

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Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S. that operates the world’s only sanctuary for Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorillas in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The largest primate in the world, Grauer’s gorillas only live in war-torn eastern DRC. 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 individuals remaining in the wild. GRACE cares for 14 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers and works to rehabilitate them so they can one day 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 protected forest habitats. GRACE also leads field research and 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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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.