GRACE Celebrates 3rd Annual World Gorilla Day

On September 24, GRACE celebrated the third annual World Gorilla Day. This event is recognized globally and aims to honor gorillas, one of our closest living relatives, and also to spark action for their conservation. All four subspecies of gorillas are facing extinction, and Grauer’s gorillas, the subspecies at GRACE, is Critically Endangered and considered one of the 25 most endangered primates on earth. There are only an estimated 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas remaining in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo – the only place where they are found – after a loss of around 80% of their wild population in just the last 20 years.

Our goals on World Gorilla Day were to celebrate local pride in Grauer’s gorillas, empower kids as conservation leaders, and take real action to help safeguard nearby Tayna Nature Reserve, home to both wild Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees. We hosted several activities with our local communities and, throughout the day, 4,140 people participated. The first activity was tree planting. In an effort to prevent extraction of wood from gorilla habitat, we are piloting the production of fast-growing trees as a non-forest source of firewood for community members. Simultaneously, we are advancing the use of more efficient cook-stoves to decrease local demand for wood. Community members, young and old, participated in the activity, and 1,200 trees were planted.

Members of the women’s group choose trees from GRACE’s nursery to plant for the community wood lot (photo: GRACE).

Our second activity involved local youth. GRACE leads six conservation clubs that help kids in primary and secondary school build leadership skills and take action for conservation. Club members recently participated in a project that helped cultivate empathy for gorillas and are also active in key community behavior change projects, such as GRACE’s guinea pig husbandry program. For World Gorilla Day, club members took to the airwaves to talk about what gorillas mean to them. They spoke of their pride in having gorillas near their village, their commitment to protecting them, and how kids too can make a difference.

Read some excerpts from the World Gorilla Day youth radio program:

“I think that we are lucky because of the gorillas near us. Some people in other villages never got the opportunity, but we did at ours.” – Katembo, 14 years old

“I will never stop protecting gorillas all my life!” – Kavira, 12 years old

“I live in [another village] and after this I go home, I will talk to my parents and teach them it’s important to protect gorillas.” – Kakule, 13 years old

“Old and young, protecting the wild doesn’t need the age, just the courage.” – Mumbere, 12 years old

For our final activity, we held a competitive race. The goal of the Race 4 GRACE was to bring together people of different ages and backgrounds to represent their communities in a celebration of gorillas. The 1,400m race was a sprint relay and each team was made up of 7 people. Teams were named after a place in DRC where Grauer’s gorillas live: Tayna Nature Reserve, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Virunga National Park, and GRACE. The event was sponsored by a grant received from the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders, a group that led an international Race 4 GRACE last year to support GRACE on Giving Day for Apes.

View a slideshow from the Race 4 GRACE:

The race was especially exciting because it was the first ever competitive race in this area. Kakule, age 12, said, “For me, the world gorilla day is an unforgettable day in my life…It was my first time to see a race in our village. We thought it was only on television!” It was also special because the event brought together people of different ages and social groups. “This competition gives me the chance to play with old persons,” said Kavira, age 11. “And all of this because of protecting gorillas! From today I’ll be one of big people who will be protecting the nature.”

It was a close race, but the Tayna team eked out a victory in the end. Local talents were showcased, and Kanyere, an adult female spectator even remarked, “During this competition, women could also run as fast as men! We are equal!” Afterward, everyone celebrated with spontaneous song and dance. They even started chanting the names of the individual gorillas that live at GRACE.

Watch video clips from the Race 4 GRACE:

This year’s World Gorilla Day was a great success for GRACE, as we were able to inspire much local excitement and pride about gorillas, encourage commitment to their conservation, and lead real action to help preserve gorilla habitat. Conservation club member Kavugho, age 11, summed it up best: “The participation of people who came shows that gorillas are appreciated and worth to be protected by everyone.”

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:

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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.