Rewild Grauer's Gorillas

GRACE operates a safe refuge at our sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
We are pioneering methods to safely rewild these gorillas.

Grauer’s gorillas are critically endangered, with only 6,800 remaining in the wild. The illegal wildlife trade, poaching, and habitat loss are significant threats to these gorillas that are only found in a limited range in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Since 2008, we have operated the only sanctuary offering hope and refuge to rescued Grauer’s gorillas.  

We are actively exploring and pioneering methods to return rescued gorillas to wild forests where they belong.

The rescued Grauer's gorillas at GRACE form a thriving, close-knit surrogate family.

GRACE Aspirations for Rewilding Gorillas

We believe every Grauer’s gorilla matters.

We work to understand, protect, and increase Grauer’s gorilla numbers in the wild.

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

Focus Projects

Rescue

Our Congolese team manages an award-winning sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas that is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

The GRACE sanctuary supports the national wildlife authority, Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), to combat the illegal wildlife trade by providing a home for confiscated gorillas.

The gorillas at GRACE spend time in expansive natural forest habitats (39 acres in total!) where they climb, forage, play, and rest throughout the day.

Meet the Gorillas

Every gorilla at GRACE has their own story of resiliency. Each one suffered the trauma of losing their families, and each went on to heal, grow, and eventually thrive at the GRACE sanctuary.

Rehabilitating Gorillas

Rescued gorillas arrive at GRACE traumatized and in poor health. They are assigned special caregivers around the clock until they are strong and healthy and ready to meet their surrogate gorilla family.

GRACE employs a large team of highly skilled Congolese caregivers who dedicate their lives to rescued Grauer’s gorillas. This award-winning team is supported by a world-class group of expert animal-care advisors.

Watch this heartwarming 22-minute documentary detailing the rehabilitation of our youngest gorilla – Lulingu.

When infant gorillas arrive at the sanctuary, they require hands-on care until they are healthy enough to join the surrogate family.
The rescued Grauer's gorillas at GRACE form a thriving, close-knit surrogate family.

Rewilding Gorillas

Rewilding gorillas is complex and difficult. Nonetheless, GRACE continues to work toward our goal of releasing healthy gorillas back into the wild.

GRACE is working with a global panel of expert advisors and Congolese partners to move toward rewilding the sanctuary gorillas utilizing the IUCN Ape Release Guidelines.

We are moving slowly and carefully, with the welfare of the gorillas being our top concern. We will not release any unless there is a great chance for a successful outcome.

The Plight of Grauer’s Gorillas

Just 6,800 Grauer’s gorillas are thought to exist in the wild today. Their numbers have plummeted over the last 20 years. They are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered.

Their endemic range is eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a hotspot for biodiversity. Unfortunately, their range coincides with an area of insecurity and economic challenges.

The main threat to Grauer’s gorillas is hunting for bushmeat.

Facts

  • There are 2 species of gorilla – western (Gorilla gorilla) and eastern (Gorilla beringei). These are further divided into 4 sub-species: western lowland (Gorilla gorilla gorilla); Cross River (Gorilla gorilla dielhi); mountain (Gorilla beringei beringei); and eastern lowland, also known as Grauer’s (Gorilla beringei graueri).
  • Gorillas spend the first 3 years of their life close to their mother, learning what to eat, how to make a nest, and how to behave as a young member of a family.
  • Grauer’s gorillas are sometimes called the Pride of the Congo because they are only found in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Gorillas use vegetation to make a nest to sleep in each night. Young gorillas will share a nest with their mother until they are old enough to make a nest on their own.
  • Silverback gorillas are the male leaders of the group. They are responsible for protection of the family and guiding the daily movements of the group, but they also regularly engage in play with the infants and other young family members.

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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.