Our
Mission

Our Mission

Our
Programs

Our Programs

GRACE
History

GRACE History

Team
GRACE

Team GRACE

Partners &
Supporters

Partners & Supporters

Organization
In-Depth

Organization In-Depth

GRACE is hiring! Learn more now…

GRACE is looking for a new Executive Director

GRACE is seeking applicants for the position of Executive Director. Located in North America, the Executive Director will report to the GRACE board and lead the all-Congolese team in the DRC. Learn more via the link below. If you know someone in the nonprofit field who would be a good candidate for this position, please share this link: https://gracegorillas.org/2019/07/31/hiring/.

Learn more about the opportunity and how to apply here.

Our Mission

Our vision is a healthy, stable population of wild Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is no longer threatened and is a source of pride for the Congolese people.

Our mission is to provide excellent care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas and work alongside Congolese communities to promote the conservation of wild gorillas and their habitat.

It Takes a Village

GRACE Center was built on land donated by the local community and we work hand-in-hand with them on all aspects of our work. In order for this project to succeed it needs to be embraced by local communities and ultimately championed by the Congolese. A major focus of our work since beginning in 2009 has been capacity building to help our talented Congolese team make this project their own. In 2016, we appointed our first Congolese Director and our DRC operations are now entirely run by Congolese nationals. We continue to build conservation leadership and skills with a focus on youth and women in local communities.

A Future for Gorillas, Built on Community

Importance of Tayna

GRACE Center is located in a remote area next to the Tayna Nature Reserve, a priority habitat for Grauer’s gorilla conservation since around 300 gorillas live there (8% of remaining wild population) along with other endangered wildlife including chimpanzees and okapi. GRACE is the only conservation NGO located in this region and therefore plays an important role in protecting this stronghold for gorillas.

Commitment to Sustainability

We’re committed to using clean, renewable energy whenever possible. Our forest enclosures and nearly all of our daily operations run on solar power and we are adding more solar capacity each year. We also established a farm in 2016 to ensure the gorillas in our care have a steady supply of food that doesn’t deplete the environment around GRACE. We grow natural gorilla vegetation, such as elephant grass, to supplement what the gorillas forage for in the forest.

Role of Zoos

GRACE partners with leading AZA-accredited zoos because they are the world’s experts in caring for non-wild gorillas. Through regular onsite visits and year-round remote meetings, experienced practitioners in veterinary care, animal nutrition, gorilla management, and behavioral research play a critical role in training our Congolese staff to care for gorillas. Zoos also contribute expertise in conservation and humane education, facility design and construction, and even IT & graphic design. Zoo advisors become important ambassadors for GRACE.

“Using our knowledge to help manage gorillas that could represent the future of their species is awe inspiring. It’s the highlight of my career.” – Beth Schaefer, General Curator, Los Angeles Zoo

Located in DRC near the Tayna Nature Reserve, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (or GRACE) is the world’s only sanctuary for rescued Grauer’s gorillas. GRACE nurses orphans back to health then gives them the chance to be with other gorillas again. The 14 gorillas at GRACE – all orphans – form a tight-knit surrogate family. The ultimate goal is to reintroduce them back into the wild. More than just a sanctuary, GRACE also works with local communities on conservation education, forest protection, & sustainable livelihoods to help secure a future for orphan gorillas and their wild counterparts and to foster a peaceful coexistence between humans & gorillas.

Strategic Priorities

1) Gorilla Rehabilitation

Provide life-saving care for gorillas illegally captured from the wild that prioritizes the welfare of every individual and maximizes the possibility for gorilla reintroduction.

2) Gorilla Conservation

Reintroduce orphaned gorillas back into the wild as part of a conservation plan for Grauer’s gorillas and aid in the protection of Tayna Nature Reserve, a key gorilla habitat.

3) Conservation Education

Promote understanding, appreciation, and conservation action for gorillas through education programs for youth and adults.

4) Community Engagement

Assist Congolese communities with finding sustainable solutions for co-existing with wildlife and promoting local conservation leadership.

GRACE History

  1. • First Grauer’s gorilla confiscated

  2. • Kasugho chosen as location for GRACE
    • Partnership formed with local communities & Tayna Center for Conservation Biology. Community donates land to build GRACE
    • Pre-construction site work and road construction begins

  3. • Construction of GRACE Center begins
    • Disney ships a container of gorilla facility materials & medical supplies to GRACE
    • Project leader Alecia Lilly of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International unexpectedly passes away; Disney assumes project leadership
    • First educator training workshop held

  4. • Phase 1 of construction completed: Gorilla Night House, Outdoor Yard, Vet/Office Block
    • First four gorillas arrive from Goma via UN helicopter
    • Rabbit husbandry project initiated with local women’s group

  5. • Four more gorillas arrive from different locations in DRC
    • Six gorillas arrive from Rwanda; all are integrated into one group
    • First educational radio drama produced

  6. • GRACE Oversight Committee formed
    • GRACE incorporates in State of Georgia

  7. • Formal U.S. Board of Directors established
    • First Executive Director hired & U.S. operations set up
    • GRACE Animal Care & Welfare, Education, and Vet Advisory Groups established
    • Two gorillas arrive from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park

  8. • GRACE gets 501(c)(3) non-profit status in U.S.
    • Gorilla arrives from Rwanda via UN helicopter
    • Phase 2 of construction completed: GRACE House
    • GRACE Center Manager Jackson Mbeke wins Disney Conservation Hero award

  9. • Phase 3 of construction completed: 24-acre gorilla forest enclosure
    • GRACE joins the Conservation Action Plan for Grauer's Gorillas
    • Gorilla behavioral monitoring program launched
    • Gorilla arrives from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park
    • Formal launch of program for local visitors
    • Facility Manager George Kakule wins Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award

  10. • Phase 4 of construction completed: Gorilla Night House Expansion & Quarantine Facility
    • Gorilla arrives from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park
    • Youth Conservation Clubs established. GRACE gorilla food farm established
    • GRACE becomes Congolese NGO
    • GRACE appoints first Congolese Director & entire DRC team now staffed by Congolese nationals
    • GRACE wins AZA International Conservation Award

  11. • Formal planning begins for gorilla reintroduction
    • Celebration of first World Gorilla Day
    • Construction begins on GRACE Education Center & second gorilla forest habitat
    • Community survey conducted - results show widespread local support for GRACE's work

  12. • Construction of second 15-acre gorilla forest enclosure completed
    • GRACE Education & Community Center opens
    Fuel-efficient stove and domestic animal husbandry projects begin with local communities
    • GRACE DRC Director Jackson Mbeke wins Born Free Compassionate Conservation Award
    • GRACE DRC team named Disney Conservation Heroes
    • 2nd largest Ebola outbreak occurs in GRACE's region

  13. • GRACE becomes the first great ape sanctuary in Africa to be fully accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)
    • GRACE partners with the Annenberg Foundation and Explore to install Africa’s first live-stream gorilla camera at GRACE Center
    • GRACE receives funding and makes preparations for critical census of wild gorillas and chimpanzees

  14. • New Executive Director hired to lead GRACE U.S. organization

• First Grauer’s gorilla confiscated

• Kasugho chosen as location for GRACE
• Partnership formed with local communities & Tayna Center for Conservation Biology. Community donates land to build GRACE
• Pre-construction site work and road construction begins

• Construction of GRACE Center begins
• Disney ships a container of gorilla facility materials & medical supplies to GRACE
• Project leader Alecia Lilly of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International unexpectedly passes away; Disney assumes project leadership
• First educator training workshop held

• Phase 1 of construction completed: Gorilla Night House, Outdoor Yard, Vet/Office Block
• First four gorillas arrive from Goma via UN helicopter
• Rabbit husbandry project initiated with local women’s group

• Four more gorillas arrive from different locations in DRC
• Six gorillas arrive from Rwanda; all are integrated into one group
• First educational radio drama produced

• GRACE Oversight Committee formed
• GRACE incorporates in State of Georgia

• Formal U.S. Board of Directors established
• First Executive Director hired & U.S. operations set up
• GRACE Animal Care & Welfare, Education, and Vet Advisory Groups established
• Two gorillas arrive from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park

• GRACE gets 501(c)(3) non-profit status in U.S.
• Gorilla arrives from Rwanda via UN helicopter
• Phase 2 of construction completed: GRACE House
• GRACE Center Manager Jackson Mbeke wins Disney Conservation Hero award

• Phase 3 of construction completed: 24-acre gorilla forest enclosure
• GRACE joins the Conservation Action Plan for Grauer’s Gorillas
• Gorilla behavioral monitoring program launched
• Gorilla arrives from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park
• Formal launch of program for local visitors
• Facility Manager George Kakule wins Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award

• Phase 4 of construction completed: Gorilla Night House Expansion & Quarantine Facility
• Gorilla arrives from Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park
• Youth Conservation Clubs established. GRACE gorilla food farm established
• GRACE becomes Congolese NGO
• GRACE appoints first Congolese Director & entire DRC team now staffed by Congolese nationals
• GRACE wins AZA International Conservation Award

• Formal planning begins for gorilla reintroduction
• Celebration of first World Gorilla Day
• Construction begins on GRACE Education Center & second gorilla forest habitat
• Community survey conducted – results show widespread local support for GRACE’s work

• Construction of second 15-acre gorilla forest enclosure completed
• GRACE Education & Community Center opens
Fuel-efficient stove and domestic animal husbandry projects begin with local communities
• GRACE DRC Director Jackson Mbeke wins Born Free Compassionate Conservation Award
• GRACE DRC team named Disney Conservation Heroes
• 2nd largest Ebola outbreak occurs in GRACE’s region

• GRACE becomes the first great ape sanctuary in Africa to be fully accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)
• GRACE partners with the Annenberg Foundation and Explore to install Africa’s first live-stream gorilla camera at GRACE Center
• GRACE receives funding and makes preparations for critical census of wild gorillas and chimpanzees

• New Executive Director hired to lead GRACE U.S. organization

Our Programs

Gorilla Rehabilitation

Specialized Infant Care

Nearly all of the orphans at GRACE were confiscated before the age of 3. In the wild, they would be inseparable from their mothers, as weaning age is between 3-4 years old. Thus, when infants arrive to GRACE, they need intensive, around-the-clock care. It is impossible to replace a mother’s support and affection, but we provide the best substitute care possible.

Following IUCN guidelines, new arrivals are immediately paired with a human caregiver who attends to their every need, 24 hours a day. This includes grooming, feeding, exercising, providing medical care, and playing with the infant. Infants spend their day in the forest with their caregiver so they can explore and refamiliarize themselves with their natural habitat. At night, they sleep together like a mother and infant would do in the wild.

Joining the Group

Human care is necessary in this initial quarantine period, but we aim to place the infants with other gorillas as soon as possible. Only gorillas can help restore some normalcy for these infants so they can begin the process of reintegrating back into gorilla life. Once their health has stabilized, infants are introduced into a social group with other orphans, some of whom were rescued years ago so are now adults. Fortunately (and somewhat miraculously!) in every case, older females have become surrogate mothers to infants, carrying and playing with them and protecting and supporting them as they develop relationships with members of the group. We’ve observed that bonds between infants and surrogates are strong and they remain so for years. GRACE’s socialization strategy helps young ones overcome the stress and trauma of capture and loss of their mother and social group. The gorillas at GRACE have become a surrogate family for each other.

A Natural Diet

We strive to ensure that the gorillas get the most natural diet possible to benefit their health and increase their chances of success, if they are selected for reintroduction. Around 90% of the diet at GRACE consists of plants that gorillas

typically eat in the wild and they forage for most of it on their own in our large forest habitats. The supplemental food we provide is locally grown.

In 2016, we established a farm at GRACE to grow vegetation as well as fruits and vegetables for the gorillas. We also created a recipe for nutritional biscuits, and our caregiver team bakes biscuits for gorillas on site each day.

A Forest Home

GRACE is located in former Grauer’s gorilla habitat, and we built the world’s largest gorilla enclosures to give the orphans a safe space to access native foods and practice survival-critical skills such as nest making and coordination of group travel.

In 2018, we will complete a 15-acre addition to our original enclosure, giving gorillas access to a total of 39 acres of forest. This large construction project also provided more than 250 local jobs.





Gorilla Conservation

Tayna Nature Reserve

GRACE is located next to the Tayna Nature Reserve. Grauer’s gorillas have not been recently surveyed in Tayna, so the exact number of resident gorillas is unknown. Around 300 gorillas is estimated, which would be 8% of the remaining wild population.

Gorilla Reintroduction

GRACE is not intended to be a permanent home for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas, but rather a place where they can heal and learn the skills they need to make it in the wild. Therefore, reintroducing gorillas back into their natural habitat is an important aim of the project.

Though the reintroduction of great apes is a complex and challenging undertaking, successful reintroductions have been done with western lowland gorillas. Reintroductions of Grauer’s gorillas have not yet been attempted, but several factors indicate that this conservation approach is worthwhile. First, gorilla censuses and habitat assessments underway as part of the Conservation Action Plan for gorillas and chimpanzees in eastern DRC show isolated Grauer’s gorilla sub-populations that will likely to go extinct unless new individuals (i.e. genetic diversity) are introduced. Second, census work is not finding Grauer’s gorillas in areas thought to be suitable gorilla habitat, making these potentially ideal sites for reintroduction.

Every day we are getting closer to our reintroduction goal. In 2015, we opened a 24-acre forest enclosure that allows the gorillas daily access to a large tract of their natural habitat. Accessing this forest will help the gorillas learn how to forage on their own and interact with their environment within the confines of a safe zone. We are also conducting behavioral and health monitoring to help identify which gorillas are suitable candidates for reintroduction and to devise specific management practices for those who still require more rehabilitation.

Conservation Education

Despite living in close proximity to gorillas their entire lives, many local people have never actually seen a gorilla and know little about them. This lack of understanding can create a culture of fear and make conservation objectives difficult to achieve. Education therefore must be part of the solution and is therefore central to our mission. Our programs train educators, engage schoolchildren and community leaders, partner with women’s groups, and raise awareness through regional and local campaigns. We also collaborate with local communities to implement real conservation actions.

Education Programs:

1. Local Visitor Program – Though GRACE is not open to the general public, as part of our education strategy, we invite community leaders and schoolchildren to GRACE to learn about and observe gorillas in a structured visitor program. It is a powerful experience for participants.

2. Conservation Clubs – GRACE leads 6 youth conservation clubs that create an opportunity for kids to make a difference for conservation. They take field trips to observe wildlife in the forest and lead clean-up campaigns to help keep their villages heathy. Clubs emphasize important life skills like leadership and teamwork. We partner with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoot program for some of our activities.

In 2017, conservation clubs started tree nurseries at GRACE and at their schools and grew, planted, and cared for more than 3,000 trees. 40 secondary students in youth conservation clubs also began volunteering on GRACE’s gorilla food farm once a week after school.

“I volunteer to contribute to the diet of the GRACE gorillas, which are our pride” – Deborah, age 20

3. Community Outreach – GRACE also works with local communities to implement conservation actions, ranging from installing latrines to promote good hygiene to teaching new behaviors to encourage more sustainable use of resources. Educators use a variety of methods, including presentations at football matches or other community gatherings and regular radio broadcasts that reach up to 40,000 listeners.

In 2017, GRACE partnered with the community to equip the local radio station with solar power, install latrines and hand-washing stations at a primary school, and conduct surveys for information about local rubbish disposal and firewood use.

Community Engagement

Creative solutions are needed to help people and gorillas coexist and thrive now and into the future. We partner with Tayna-area communities to implement practices designed to benefit families as well as gorillas and other resident wildlife. Currently, we are focusing on:

Food Insecurity

Renewed armed conflict in the region has recently displaced families from their home villages. When they return, livestock often is gone, having been eaten or stolen. Many people turn to hunting wildlife to meet their needs and this can threaten gorillas either directly or indirectly (if they get caught in traps set for other animals). We are working to shield vulnerable people & wildlife during food-insecure times by supporting domestic livestock initiatives started by local women’s groups.

In 2018, GRACE will lead a training on guinea pig husbandry and welfare and help women’s groups develop a plan to expand their guinea pig program.

Fuel-Efficient Stoves

In our region, wood is the primary source of fuel for cooking fires. As the human population expands, there is more intrusion into gorilla habitat to collect firewood. GRACE is working with women’s groups to build and install more efficient stoves to significantly reduce the amount of wood needed per household. Cooking more efficiently helps families too. Collecting firewood is hard work and takes much time and effort. Women and children, those primarily responsible for collection, will be freed up for other activities and breathing cleaner air in their kitchens.

In 2018, we are piloting several models of fuel-efficient stoves and we will expand this effort to significantly decrease household firewood use in multiple target communities.

Focus on Women

Many of our community engagement initiatives have a deliberate focus on women. As farmers and collectors of firewood and water, women are the primary users of natural resources. It is therefore critical that they have a seat at the table in conservation. Women also have their finger on the pulse of their communities so they can advise on what conservation approaches will and will not work and can encourage behavior change in others.

We are also committed to empowering women in a traditionally male-dominated society widely known as one of the “most dangerous places in the world to be a woman” due to high sexual assault rates associated with past and ongoing armed conflicts.

In 2016, GRACE partnered with the local community to build a public market space so women could buy and sell their goods in hygiene conditions while protected from the weather.

Each year on March 8, International Women’s Day, GRACE sponsors a public event that gives women a platform to discuss issues that matter to them. It is the largest celebration of the year and is attended by over 2,000 people, many walking long distances to participate.