GRACE History

2003 2003
2008 2008
2009 2009
2010 2010
2011 2011
2012 2012
2013 2013
2014 2014
2015 2015
2016 2016
2017 2017
2018 2018
2019 2019
2020 2020
2021 2021
2022 2022
2023 2023


  • 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


  • Four more gorillas arrive from different locations in DRC
  • Six gorillas arrive from Rwanda and 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
  • U.S. operations established and first Executive Director hired
  • 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





  • GRACE and Réserve des Gorilles de Tayna (RGT) completed the first-ever great ape survey of the entire 900 km2 Tayna Nature Reserve
  • GRACE distributed solar-powered radios to 21 Barazas and launched a special campaign focused on the connection between human health and gorilla health
  • Call to action 10 Ways to be a Hero for Grauer’s Gorillas was launched
  • Signed agreement with Virunga National Park and Re:Wild and started working on the reintroduction project


  • Inside Tayna Nature Reserve, GRACE and RGT co-lead a brand new gorilla monitoring and protection program which confirmed the presence of healthy populations of Grauer’s gorillas and  Eastern chimpanzees, and provided a rare glimpse into the biodiversity of Tayna
  • Special exchange project with Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) and the Los Angeles Zoo (L.A. Zoo) where Members of GRACE Conservation Clubs in DRC and students in Los Angeles took part in a cross-cultural learning program featuring two gorillas, Lulingu at GRACE and Angela at L.A. Zoo
  • Conservation education programming brought to more than 30,000 people in three nearby villages: Katoyo, Kasugho, and – for the first time – Kagheri


  • GRACE was reaccredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)
  • Habitat under GRACE management expands to 500,000 acres
  • GRACE and Rainforest Trust partner to secure the important Usala biodiversity corridor
  • Began an Education expansion project to Bunyatenge

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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.