“The Tea” on Grauer’s Gorillas, and well, Tea!

At the beginning of January 2021, eight boxes of chamomile tea were carefully packed into a diplomat’s suitcase in Scotland and fast pathed aboard a plane to Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). A big favor was underway. The matter was too important to risk the delays of normal mail.

This was just the first leg of the journey. The tea’s destination was extremely remote: Kasugho, a tiny village in North Kivu. From Kinshasa, two private plane rides carried the tea to Butembo, the largest town with an airstrip in a remote corner of the eastern DR Congo. The tea was collected in Butembo and driven 80 km (~50 mi) along muddy, rugged roads to meet its lucky recipient, Muyisa.

Muyisa had no idea this special delivery was coming, and certainly no clue about the lengths taken especially for her. That’s because Muyisa is a 10-year-old, 65 kg (145 lb.) orphaned Grauer’s gorilla.

She lives at GRACE, the only sanctuary in the world for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas like her. Rescued as infants from the illegal wildlife trade, every gorilla at GRACE suffered the trauma of losing their family to poaching. Muyisa is no exception.

Gorilla Care During Difficult Times

Muyisa was rescued as an infant on the border of Rwanda and DR Congo. She was confiscated from poachers, who had killed her family and were looking to sell her illegally.

Muyisa was found badly stressed, coughing, and with nasal discharge. Upon confiscation, rescuers took her to Rwanda for care. Then, due to insecurity, Muyisa was not able to return home to DR Congo for the next three years.

During this time, she lived alone with only a human caregiver. Though she was well cared for, the trauma of losing her family and stress from living in isolation resulted in some unusual behaviors. She began plucking her hair as a method of self-soothing and coping.

A Gorilla Family for Muyisa

When Muyisa arrived at GRACE, she was physically embraced by the other gorillas and integrated seamlessly into the group. She was already four years old at the time of her arrival. But, she still wanted older females to carry her, likely because she had missed this physical bond as an infant.

To celebrate this homecoming, her name was changed from the Rwandan word “Ihirwe” to the Congolese word “Muyisa,” both meaning “luck.”

A Cup of Tea to Calm

Muyisa’s plucking symptoms greatly reduced after she joined the surrogate gorilla family, but they did not disappear. Just like in people, sometimes old gorilla habits die hard. Although Muyisa receives award-winning care at GRACE, she still plucks her hair from time to time, leaving her with bare patches.

There is no concern for Muyisa’s welfare beyond the hair loss. She is a very sociable and much-loved member of the GRACE family group. But at GRACE, we strive to provide the most comprehensive animal care and welfare for each individual gorilla.

Luckily, our expert team of animal care and husbandry advisors offered a creative idea!

GRACE’s world-class animal husbandry experts prescribed Muyisa to take chamomile tea twice a day. Advisors knew of anecdotal cases in which tea calmed anxious behaviors in primates.

Gorilla Caregivers: Tea Taste Test

Like all of the staff at GRACE, Animal Care Manager Dalmas Kakule cares deeply for the gorillas. He works hard to ensure they receive the best care possible.

Chamomile tea is not found in GRACE’s region of DR Congo. Dalmas wanted to be sure it was suitable for Muyisa, so when the tea arrived, he tasted it first. Dalmas declared the chamomile tea was “Good! It is very good.”

Tea for Muyisa Shows Promise

Dalmas and the care team at GRACE began offering Muyisa tea in early Spring 2021. They report that Muyisa drinks it without hesitation. It is adorably cute, rather noisy, and seems to be effective!

While she still had flare ups, today Muyisa’s behavior and hair seems to be much better than before. This could be from the tea, or it might be the special attention Muyisa receives (Dalmas reports that the other gorillas seem a little envious!). Either way, we are happy to report that Muyisa is enjoying her special delivery from Scotland to DR Congo!

So that’s “the tea” on gorillas and tea…it just goes to show that we really are a lot alike. Next time you take tea, to destress or unwind after a long day, imagine Muyisa sipping her chamomile in eastern DR Congo.

To support Muyisa and her continued care, consider a donation to GRACE.

 

Help GRACE Gorillas


About 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 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.