Engage Local Communities

A future for gorillas, built by Congolese communities.

GRACE was founded on the principle that for gorillas to be protected, we must work hand-in-hand with
the local communities that share their tropical forest habitat.

Local and Indigenous communities protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They are the experts when it comes to protecting and restoring our planet’s tropical forests. 

A strong conservation ethos has existed in our region for generations. Communities near GRACE have a strong connection to the forest. As a community-led organization, GRACE respects this relationship and operates under the blessings of traditional kings (mwamis) and in partnership with local governance structures.

Mwami Stuka, a traditional king, places the cornerstone for the GRACE santuary which operates on land donated by the community.

GRACE Aspirations for
Engaging Local Communities

We are passionately committed to community-led conservation as a basis for our work.

We invest in building capacity in DR Congo so that local communities have the tools and resources for excellent conservation area management.

We nurture strong in-situ conservation partnerships, especially with local Congolese organizations.

We seek a conservation model that allows communities, biodiversity, and forests to flourish.

We advocate for the voices of women and youth in conservation decision-making. 

GRACE partners with local communities on conservation education, forest protection, and sustainable livelihoods to help foster a peaceful coexistence between humans and gorillas.

Focus Projects

Engaging Youth

School Programs

Youth are the fastest growing and largest demographic in DRC and GRACE seeks to empower the next generation of conservationists. GRACE offers classroom visits with highly trained educators for students in grades Primary 3 and Primary 6. Over a series of visits, GRACE educators deliver lessons designed for young learners that focus on fostering pride and empathy for Grauer’s gorillas, other wildlife, and forests. Rooted in conservation education best practices, these lessons seek to increase knowledge, promote positive attitudes towards wildlife, and inspire simple and age-appropriate actions to protect wildlife and wild places.

GRACE provides education and sustainable livelihood programs to more than 60,000 people per year.

“Old and young, protecting the wild doesn’t need the age, just the courage.”

Members of GRACE Conservation Club join hands while singing a song about gorillas.

Conservation Clubs

GRACE supports conservation clubs at primary schools near the sanctuary. These conservation clubs are open to any interested youth in the region and are inclusive of all students, ranging in age from 3 to 20 years old. 

Guy Simisi Mumbere (GRACE educator) shares how humans impact the forest with help from a student.
A student reads descriptions of ways that gorillas care for their infants to the class.
Students receive "Gorilla Hero" cards after completing lessons with GRACE educators.
Honoré Kambale Matsumbuko (GRACE Education Manager) discusses animals of the Congo Basin with a student.
Gracianne Basyanirya (GRACE educator) shares "Animals of Congo" booklets with students after completing lessons.
Gracianne Basyanirya (GRACE educator) shares "Animals of Congo" booklets with students after completing lessons.

Engaging Women

Many of GRACE’s community engagement initiatives focus on the important role of women. As farmers and collectors of firewood and water, women are the primary users of natural resources. As primary caregivers in the home, women are also the first educators and role models for sustainable behaviors. Women have their finger on the pulse of their communities so they can advise on what conservation approaches will and will not work and encourage behavior change in others. Therefore, it is critical that they have a seat at the table in conservation decision-making.

Alternative Protein Projects

GRACE is working to shield vulnerable people and wildlife during food-insecure times by supporting domestic livestock initiatives started by local women’s groups. We also invite local community members to the GRACE farm where they can learn about beneficial planting techniques, irrigation, soil science, and crops that can be added to the farms or gardens in their compounds.

Fuel-Efficient Stoves

In our region, wood is the primary source of fuel for cooking. As the human population expands, there is more intrusion into gorilla habitat to collect firewood. GRACE collaborates with women’s groups to build and install fuel-efficient stoves to reduce the amount of wood needed per household. Collecting firewood is challenging work and takes time and effort. Women and children, those primarily responsible for collection, will be freed up for other activities and will breathe cleaner air in their kitchens. GRACE continues to support trainers from the Women’s Associations in leading these workshops; together we have built over 1,000 stoves in the surrounding area and counting!

A trainer from the Women's Association demonstrates an improved fuel-efficient cookstove.
GRACE educators share conservation information to an estimated 15,000 people during their weekly "Echoes of GRACE" broadcast on Radio Tayna.

Engaging Communities


GRACE educators regularly broadcast conservation-themed programming on the local radio station, Radio Tayna. Their program, Echoes of GRACE, features content delivered in local languages and through a variety of methods, including dramas, interviews with local leaders and influencers, and song. 

In 2021, GRACE completed its first-ever evaluation of radio programming and confirmed that radio was an effective tool for increasing conservation knowledge in DR Congo. Radio Tayna estimates its total broadcast area at 40,000+ people, making radio a valuable tool for educating and engaging with communities in the greater Tayna region.


Each year, GRACE educators host large-scale community events to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and World Gorilla Day (September 24th). These are highly anticipated by the communities, with more than 6,000 people in each village participating in each event.

The events provide opportunities for the community to come together and celebrate the importance of gorillas, the forest, and conservation. They often involve public speeches, special radio broadcasts, presentations from school children, pledge walls, music, dancing, and a group conservation activity such as picking up litter or planting trees. The events raise awareness and provide a collective sense of commitment to conservation among community members.

Women from the community of Kagheri participate in a processional to celebrate International Women's Day.
GRACE staff members celebrate World Gorilla Day.

“Women are important in the conservation of nature because they are the first educators; from their education, they guide their children on the conservation of the nature.”

Community Engagement Facts

  • 91% of lands occupied by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are in good or moderate ecological condition.
  • Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities protect approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity through stewardship of Indigenous-managed lands.
  • Most people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo rely on agriculture and forest resources for their survival. This makes them the most invested custodians of these ecosystems.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.