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.
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 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:
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:
Poaching for food (called bushmeat in Africa) or wildlife trade (baby gorillas like Lulingu can be sold, illegally, at a high price)
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.
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: www.gracegorillas.org.
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