Why We are Rehabilitating Gorillas
With special care, young rescued orphaned gorillas can be rehabilitated for future return to the wild, rather than being housed in a sanctuary.
Local authorities who rescue victims of the illegal trade in young gorillas, or who find infant gorillas whose mothers have been killed, ask us to care for the rescued gorillas. The orphaned gorillas are given medical care and appropriate food, helped to overcome their emotional trauma, and taught social and survival skills necessary for eventual re-release to the wild.
Since Dian Fossey’s time, gorilla conservationists have sometimes had to care for infant gorillas rescued from poachers. But these young gorillas are physically and emotionally fragile, and have usually suffered from extremely traumatic conditions.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International cares for rescued gorillas in Rwanda and the Congo, including mountain gorillas and Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorillas, with the goal of preparing them to eventually return to the wild, rather than living in a sanctuary. This will help them play a crucial role in the future of their endangered species. Due to the special care we and our partners the Gorilla Doctors provide, based on decades of study of wild gorillas, all of the gorillas in our care our currently thriving.
The ordeal of capture for orphaned gorillas
Poachers target infant gorillas in hopes of selling them to zoos or private collectors. Because adult gorillas will defend the infants in their group, the poachers typically kill one or more adults to capture one infant. They then may mistreat the already traumatized infants, confining them to small cages or sacks and failing to provide appropriate food. In 2007, two mountain gorilla infants were rescued after their families were found massacred in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park during a period of armed conflict. These infants needed significant medical attention, and were also traumatized, but are now doing well.
Caring for rescued gorillas
In addition to medical care and fresh food from their natural habitat, infant gorillas must receive from their human caregivers the attention, affection, discipline and protection that a gorilla mother would provide. As they mature, the infant gorillas are gradually introduced to others of their species and helped to develop the social skills they need for family life. The caregivers also provide enrichment toys and training to ensure that the youngsters develop normally and learn foraging and other survival skills.
Providing a more natural environment
We are able to care for up to 15 Grauer’s gorillas in a new state-of-the-art facility in the Congo: the GRACE center, located on forested land in a rural area. There, they are able to live together in a group and are prepared for eventual re-release to a wild environment. Six Grauer's gorillas that were being cared for by the Fossey Fund in Goma have been transferred to GRACE and six more in care in Kinigi, Rwanda joined them the following year. More infants rescued from poachers were sent to GRACE in 2011-12.
Recently, four mountain gorillas we cared for, including the two that were rescued in 2007, outgrew their temporary housing. The Congolese park and wildlife authority (ICCN) has provided them with a new environment full of trees and vegetation, on the edge of their original forest home. The Fossey Fund helped train ICCN staff in the special techniques required to care for young gorillas.