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.

GRACE cares for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas and also helps protect their wild counterparts (photo: A. Bernard/GRACE)

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).

Community tree planting was led by GRACE’s Farm manager, Faustin Kibwana. (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.

A conservation club member explains why he loves gorillas on the local radio station (photo: GRACE)

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.”

Representatives from the women’s group hold up banners with conservation messages as they cheer on the Race 4 GRACE (photo: GRACE).

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

Help GRACE Gorillas