An Anniversary We Don’t Celebrate

Today, May 16th, is a somber day at GRACE. It is the anniversary of Lulingu’s rescue. Lulingu is the youngest of our 14 orphaned Grauer’s gorillas. The rescue of a baby gorilla is a heartbreak for GRACE because we know an entire wild gorilla family has likely been killed. So it isn’t a day we celebrate. But it isn’t a day we forget either.

Despite her tragic beginnings, we are in the business of happy endings at GRACE.

Watch Lulingu’s full story in the heart-warming, family-friendly 20-minute video produced in partnership with GoPro.

Key topics and times highlighted below.

00:00 – Arrival at GRACE

01:15 – Time for Quarantine

07:16 – Gorilla giggles (too adorable for words, just watch!)

07:36 – Getting ready for Integration and a new adoptive mom for Lulingu

10:40 – The reasons why Grauer’s gorillas are critically endangered

12:42 – A bitter-sweet farewell for the caretakers (tissue warning!)

13:25 – The big day dawns: time to integrate with the adoptive family

14:53 – Success! (We are pretty good at integrations at GRACE, if we do say so ourselves. We have done A LOT of them with a 100% success rate!)

??:?? – TBD. The final happy ending would be Release into the wild. There are many complex considerations required when planning reintroduction. GRACE is active working through much of the necessary research, census, location selection, safety considerations, monitoring and other success criteria currently to evaluate possibilities.

Lulingu’s Story

Step 1: Rescue (00:00)

Two-year-old Lulingu was rescued from an armed group that held her captive after killing her family. She is named after the village where she was rescued near Kahuzi Biega National Park in the DR-Congo. She was transported to Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park, and then flown to GRACE with our staff chaperoning the terrified little bundle of baby gorilla, who clutched her new caregiver for all she was worth.

Step 2: Quarantine (01:15)

Lulingu’s first few months at GRACE were spent in quarantine. She was immediately assigned two caregivers, Ms. Devotte and Mr. Muviri. It is hard work looking after a baby gorilla. They need care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just like a human baby!

This phase of gorilla rehabilitation involves tasks like getting the infant used to the caregivers, learning to drink from a bottle, and getting used to our food and water. Oh, and lots of play and tickling and baby gorilla adventures.

As you can imagine, the bonds formed between the caregiver and Lulingu are strong. The caregivers can be simultaneously delighted and broken-hearted when a rescued gorilla gets integrated into the GRACE group after quarantine (just watch the 20-minute video around the 12:40 minute mark!). However, the baby gorillas go off without a backward glance and seem much happier being with other gorillas.

Preparing for Integration (07:36)

We also had to get Lulingu ready for her new surrogate family. She observed them through the fence for a while, and got to play in the gorilla night house while the staff cleaned it up each morning. This introduced her to her future family’s smells, and helped develop her gut biome to be compatible with her family-to-be.

The staff watched closely to see which of the adult females in the gorilla family seemed most interested in Lulingu from a distance, and most likely to “adopt” her successfully. Pinga seemed to be the best fit. The dominant female at the time, Pinga has shown herself to be a superstar adoptive mom over the years.

Step 3: Integration (13:25)

On the big day, all the staff at GRACE were there to watch, with hearts in their throats. Introducing a baby gorilla to the group is a potentially dangerous situation. Happily, Pinga took charge as Lulingu’s adoptive mom without hesitation and was immediately protective and loving towards her. What a huge relief for everyone at GRACE! And for Lulingu, who seemed right at home.


Lulingu Today

Lulingu has captured the hearts of our staff and supporters. You might say she is a mini, rather hairy celebrity on social media. Her “tickling” video is the number one social engagement video we have ever released! But sweet Lulingu deserves all the attention. These days Lulingu is happy and settled with her adoptive family. She is the spoiled “baby” at GRACE and is very loved because of it. She is extremely playful and needs lots of action.

She can sometimes be a little ornery – during quarantine she used to try and sneak away from her caregivers and try to play with other staff. We try not to humanize the gorillas at GRACE, since we are working to be able to release them into the wild one day. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of discipline to not let everyone play and cuddle with the babies during this period, but we don’t.

So, you will appreciate why today brings a sobering reminder of why GRACE was formed. We wanted to provide safe, caring shelter for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas, integrate them into an adoptive gorilla family, and return them to the wild one day.

If you want to be part of the solution for Grauer’s gorillas, we welcome your support:

Help GRACE Gorillas

Why Are Gorillas Orphaned?

A rescued baby gorilla always worries us at GRACE. It invariably means something tragic has happened, and the rest of the gorilla family is likely no longer alive. Grauer’s gorilla numbers have plummeted almost 80% in the last 20 years, leaving them on the brink of extinction. They are only found in eastern DR-Congo, in a region where they are under threat from three major fronts:

  1. Deforestation
  2. Poaching for food (called bushmeat in Africa) or wildlife trade (baby gorillas like Lulingu can be sold, illegally, at a high price)
  3. Disease

Because the area is desperately poor, these threats are complex, with origins in severe deprivation and poverty. The majority of wealth generated from these activities does not benefit the local population.

GRACE is the Only Sanctuary for Grauer’s Gorillas

GRACE was formed as a refuge for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas – the only one in the world. We have done an excellent job caring for rescued gorillas, becoming the first Great Ape sanctuary in Africa to be accredited by The Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).

Over time, we have added conserving wild Grauer’s gorillas to our vision. In addition to our sanctuary work, we pour a lot of energy, time, skill and capacity-building into their area of the DR-Congo to promote education and community engagement to conserve Grauer’s gorillas.


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:

Help GRACE Gorillas


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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.