Gorilla Conservation on the Radio

In GRACE’s remote, poorly developed area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), people rely heavily on radio. Radio is the only way news and other information is communicated. This makes radio an attractive option for GRACE’s conservation education efforts. Not to mention, radio allows us to reach a larger number of people than would be possible if we relied solely on sending GRACE Educators in person, on foot, to far-flung villages lacking roads.   

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting our ability to do in-person training and education, we turned to our already successful radio programming as a way to continue and expand our conservation outreach.

In a major new project now underway, we’re bringing messages about hygiene and the threat of human-wildlife disease transmission to remote communities in close proximity to Tayna Nature Reserve.

About Tayna Nature Reserve

GRACE is located on the northeast border of Tayna Nature Reserve and is the only international NGO working in this remote area. Tayna is special because it is:

  • 900 square kilometers of tropical forest;
  • a community-managed reserve;
  • within the Albertine Rift, one of the most biodiverse regions on the African continent; and
  • one of the eastern-most locations for Grauer’s gorillas.

The communities living closest to Tayna Nature Reserve are only accessible by foot and require several days travel.

This makes radio an excellent tool for GRACE!

Can You Hear Us Now?

More than just sending conservation messages out on the airwaves and hoping for the best, our new project aims to assess how effective radio is as an educational tool in our region.

Regular in-person outreach to the remote Tayna communities is not feasible for GRACE. Our new project will verify that community members can indeed tune in to our programs from their villages. At the same time, it will assess the potential of radio communication to change attitudes and behaviors.

Our hope is that GRACE can use radio as a tool in scaling up our already successful community conservation projects that have been piloted with the three villages closest to GRACE.

Dramas, Interviews, and a Special Song

Designed with help from GRACE’s expert education advisors, the radio campaign uses a mix of dramas, informational sessions, and interviews with leaders and influencers – as well as a special song written by GRACE Educator Sims Guy. The program is delivered in a mixture of Kiswahili and Kinande languages.

The Tayna radio station estimates its audience is 60,000 people. Our project focuses on the listening behavior of communities in close proximity (within 15 kilometers or roughly 9 miles) of the reserve itself.

The project was designed during the ongoing COVID pandemic, and following an 18-month Ebola outbreak which came within 15 kilometers of GRACE. Our themes then are no surprise: hygiene and the conservation threat of human-wildlife disease transmission.

Our efforts focus on behaviors related to hand-washing, wearing facial coverings, and building “tip taps” or other hand-washing stations.

This project offers GRACE an opportunity to bring educational programming to people living in remote areas where formal education is nonexistent or of very poor quality. We expect the increased access to be well received, as education is highly valued in Congolese culture.

Getting the Basics: Pre-Assessment Survey

Community engagement team members trained by GRACE Educators recently completed a one-month-long survey of households living in and around Tayna Nature Reserve. The goals of the survey were to:

  • Determine actual and potential listeners of the Tayna radio station to help estimate the geographic reach of radio broadcast.
  • Establish baseline information on people’s:
    1. knowledge of local wildlife, threats to wildlife and forest habitat, wildlife protection laws, and the role of hygiene in protecting gorillas;
    2. attitudes toward the reserve and protecting the forest and wildlife; and
    3. current practices that impact the forest and/or wildlife, such hygiene practices, hunting and forest resource use.

Using information gathered from the survey, we will identify behaviors contributing to local threats to gorillas. While the initial campaign focuses on hygiene practices, future programs will be developed to address other threats identified in the survey.

Along with our survey, we are working to make sure all communities have access to a radio by giving out one solar-powered radio to each of the 21 Barazas (extended family groups) in the survey area.

What Does This Have to Do With Gorillas Again?

Improving hygiene and reducing the risk of disease transmission is critical for people and gorillas, given the recent Ebola outbreak and current COVID-19 pandemic and measles outbreak.

Disease is one of the three major threats to gorillas in DR Congo. (The others are hunting/poaching and habitat loss, destruction, and fragmentation.)

People in and around Tayna Nature Reserve do not hunt apes, but they do hunt other wildlife which results in them entering the reserve. Raising awareness that bushmeat is a disease transmission route and teaching good hygiene practices helps address disease risks for people and gorillas.

Barriers to Behavior Change

Underlying many of the major threats to gorillas and their habitat is the extreme poverty prevalent in GRACE’s region. Our survey highlighted some of the shocking barriers to adopting simple hygiene practices like hand-washing.

While living in proximity to a tropical rainforest, many people face challenges accessing water and particularly soap in their homes. With soap unavailable, some use ashes as a substitute.

Though the challenges are substantial, they also highlights how simple, low-cost solutions like a tip tap water station could have a major impact on improving hygiene. For GRACE, this is motivating. We know that protecting healthy forests and gorilla populations requires actions to promote the health and well-being of people too.

Tune in Next Time

The hygiene and human-wildlife disease transmission radio programming developed as part of this project is currently playing on air. At the same time, we are studying the pre-assessment survey data to improve our understanding of local communities in this region.

After the campaign, we will conduct a post-assessment and ask questions to assess whether the radio campaign was able to improve knowledge and attitudes and teach conservation-friendly behaviors to listeners. We will also ask if people listened to the radio programs and, if so, whether they prefer one type of programming over the others (drama, interviews, others). Data from this project will inform our future radio programming plans and other conservation education efforts.

Be sure to “tune in” next time, as we share the results of our surveys and feedback from the communities.


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 gracegorillas.org

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Female

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.

Male

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.

Female

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.

Female

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.

Female

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.

 

Female

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.

Female

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.

Female

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.

Male

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!

Male

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.

Female

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!

Female

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!

Female

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.

Female

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.