We are thrilled to announce that on October 23, 2020, GRACE was recognized by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) with their First Annual Outstanding International Sanctuary Award.

GFAS is the only globally recognized organization providing standards for identifying excellence in animal sanctuaries. The outstanding sanctuary awards, presented by the GFAS Board or Directors, recognize excellence in:

  • humane and responsible animal care;
  • professionalism and ethics;
  • organizational sustainability;
  • public engagement;
  • and contributions to, and leadership within, the sanctuary field.

In September 2019, GRACE became the first great ape sanctuary in Africa to receive GFAS accreditation. Accreditation itself was a major honor because it validated the work that the GRACE DR Congo staff perform each and every day for the gorillas. “Everyone was so happy when this was announced,” DR Congo Director Jackson Kabuyaya Mbeke said. “Staff members were hugging and jumping up and down. Really, this team loves their job and wants to do all they can to help the gorillas. I am so proud of them and of GRACE.”

From Humble Beginnings…

When GRACE was being built in 2009, most staff members had never even seen a live gorilla. In just seven short years, however, the daily work of running a sanctuary for 14 gorillas – along with GRACE’s conservation education and community engagement efforts – were all run by Congolese staff.

DR Congo staff continue to receive support from expert advisors and GRACE staff in the United States, but the transformation from never having seen a live gorilla to excellence in gorilla sanctuary care results as much or more from the deep commitment and incredible work ethic of the staff.

This work is never easy. The sanctuary’s remote location in eastern DR Congo adds to the difficulty of daily operations. Then there are the unexpected challenges such as fighting forest fires without access to water, repairing collapsed bridges, and sometimes working without electricity. On top of these challenges, recent years have seen insecurity, a major Ebola outbreak, and now COVID-19.

GRACE Advisor Beth Schaefer works with GRACE caregivers on gorilla care protocols.

…To Excellence on an International Stage

Despite the many difficulties, GRACE staff have persevered. They continue to provide excellent care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas and demonstrate success in conservation education and community engagement. In a virtual award ceremony on October 23, GFAS Board Member Katie Moore presented GRACE’s award, noting how “Through all of the years of challenges, GRACE has continued to build a community and build awareness” around protecting Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorillas in eastern DR Congo.

Accepting the award for GRACE, Executive Director Tommi Wolfe had this to say: “I am delighted and honored on behalf of the team in Congo to accept this award. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of our Congolese staff, the sanctuary has become such a hub of positive influence for the area around GRACE. We have an enormous sense of gratitude to GFAS and the sanctuary communities for the rigor that accreditation has added to our systems and processes, and we are grateful for this wonderful recognition.”


About GRACE: Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is the world’s only sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas. The largest primate in the world, Grauer’s gorillas only live in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 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 remaining. GRACE cares for 14 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers and works to rehabilitate them so they can 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 39 acres of forest. GRACE also 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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