Celebrating World Gorilla Day 2022 in DR Congo

Every year on September 24, GRACE celebrates World Gorilla Day with the communities in eastern DR Congo who help make gorilla rehabilitation and conservation possible. This year, turnout was higher than ever! Celebrations took place at the same time in three villages: Katoyo, Kasugho, and for the first time ever, Kagheri.

More than 11,000 people took part in the day’s gorilla conservation and education events! Across the three villages, activities included speeches, songs, processionals, educational presentations and much more.

Working Together for Gorillas and Communities

For weeks leading up to the big day, GRACE Educators were busy preparing events. GRACE Educators worked with local officials, women’s groups, churches, community associations and students from 22 schools to make the expanded celebrations possible. Working together was especially important in Kagheri, where events were carefully designed in order to celebrate World Gorilla Day in this village for the first time.

[After so much planning, we were] “proud that the team brought World Gorilla Day celebrations to three villages at the same time.” – Gracianne Basyanirya, GRACE Educator

World Gorilla Day joins together people from around the world to raise awareness for gorillas and their conservation. For GRACE staff, who dedicate their passion and purpose to caring for rescued Grauer’s gorillas every day, there is so much to celebrate!

World Gorilla Day in Katoyo and Kasugho

In the villages closest to GRACE, Katoyo and Kasugho, over 4,000 people gathered to celebrate gorillas. GRACE Educators Gracianne Basyanirya and Guy Simisi (Sims) Mumbere led events in these two villages. They organized speeches, songs, processionals, educational presentations and village cleanups. Enthusiasm from local community members was high!

“To see the local authorities, kids, and women all participating together on this day – seeing everyone dancing and singing for gorillas – really made me happy.” – Guy Simisi (Sims) Mumbere, GRACE Educator

Students from GRACE Conservation Clubs presented stories and poems to event attendees. They shared thoughts on why gorillas are important, how people can protect gorillas, and what makes nearby Tayna Nature Reserve special. Everyone in the audience cheered as these young conservation heroes spoke!

Gracianne and Sims also led each village in a community-wide cleanup. Together, they collected over 1,000 pieces of rubbish (including plastic bottles and bags) from homes and common areas. Together, participants brought the rubbish to a community disposal site. This reinforced the importance of working together to clean up the environment.

Special World Gorilla Day Events in Kagheri

Kagheri is a new village for GRACE’s conservation education and community engagement programs. In recent months, GRACE Educators have worked with local association SPEED-RDC to get to know Kagheri and better understand community members’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around gorilla conservation.

World Gorilla Day in Kagheri was the first major community engagement program for GRACE, and it was a huge success!

 “All of the community – including the soldiers, local leaders, teachers – everyone was involved in the activities throughout Kagheri. Since that day, people have known what GRACE is, where we are located, and what we do. They have promised to welcome us for future activities in Kagheri.” – Josias Kambale Kamaliro, GRACE Communications Manager

In partnership with GRACE, SPEED-RDC led a processional for gorillas through the center of Kagheri. People of all ages were able to get involved in the celebration. An invited representative from Tayna Nature Reserve, the community-managed reserve near GRACE, spoke to the residents of Kagheri and answered their questions about gorillas and the forest. This was an important moment for building trust and understanding between the community and the different conservation groups working in the area.

A drama about gorilla conservation presented in the center of Kagheri drew in large crowds to watch. Later in the day, a film created by the GRACE Education Team taught more than 5,800 people about gorillas. For some in attendance, this was their first time seeing footage of Grauer’s gorillas. The team also designed and distributed brochures for people to learn more about gorillas and GRACE.

“Kagheri is a new area for us, but it was memorable and something we have been thinking about for a long time. Now, the community here really respects and understands our mission and message as GRACE Educators. This event gave us roots in Kagheri and will help us continue to grow into additional villages.” – Honoré Kambale Masumbuko, GRACE Education Manager

Connecting Communities for Gorillas

In all three villages, over 300 community members participated in a Pride Wall where Educators posed three questions:

  1. What do you know about gorillas?
  2. How do you feel about gorillas?
  3. What have you done to protect the forest for people and gorillas?

Community members shared their responses by writing answers on the Pride Wall. This allowed people of all ages and backgrounds to express their ideas and share how they take action to protect gorillas.

Led by GRACE Educators, community members also shared their dedication to gorillas and conservation on the local radio station, Radio Tayna. Their voices carried throughout the Tayna area, reaching thousands of listeners on World Gorilla Day.

Gorilla Conservation Led by Congolese Communities

Located in a biodiversity hotspot and one of the last remaining strongholds for eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer’s gorillas, GRACE is on a mission to inspire 100,000 hearts to take conservation action. Thanks to the dedication of the GRACE Education team and the support of local communities, we are proud to report that over 11,000 people (including 5,800 new contacts) took part in World Gorilla Day!

As deforestation and habitat loss continue to threaten Grauer’s gorillas, GRACE Educators are working to bring conservation education to more communities. Grauer’s gorillas are only found in eastern DR Congo, so building trust and connections with communities in the region is critical.

The GRACE Education team is already planning for next year’s World Gorilla Day events, with a goal to expand the celebrations even farther. Commitment to community-led conservation from GRACE supporters, donors, and team members in DR Congo is making a difference for people and Grauer’s gorillas in eastern DR Congo.

To support GRACE Gorilla Caregivers and all of our conservation and education work in eastern DR Congo, 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.