New Gorilla Rescue Center to Open in Eastern Congo, Founded by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
U.N. Peacekeeping Mission Will Airlift Orphaned Gorillas to New Facility
The first wave of 10 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers in Rwanda and Congo are getting ready to be airlifted to the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC), where they will learn to behave like wild gorillas in the first-ever rescue center for Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorillas. Starting in late April, the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in DRC will begin transporting the young gorillas to the new Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center, called GRACE.
Currently under construction, GRACE, which was initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International with advice on design and systems provided by experts from Disney’s Animal Programs and Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), will initially house 10 orphaned gorillas currently living in temporary facilities under the care of the Congolese Park Authority (ICCN), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), as well as the Fossey Fund.
“This facility provides a critical opportunity for us to help many more young gorillas that have been victimized by poaching, armed conflict, or habitat destruction, and also to strengthen our partnership with the people who are the true stewards of the land and the animals,” says Fossey Fund President and CEO Clare Richardson. “The gorillas that have come to our care have been traumatized by violence and mistreatment. They need a great deal of attention to help them recover physically and psychologically and to teach them how to survive in the wild.”
Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, and, like mountain gorillas, are considered at high risk for extinction within several decades. It is estimated that as few as 5,000 Grauer’s gorillas may remain in the wild but more data are necessary to determine the true numbers. Years of civil unrest in the region have likely affected gorilla populations in some areas.
While efforts to protect the gorillas and their natural habitat continue to increase in east Africa, the number of orphaned gorillas has also increased in recent years. In the past, most illegally trafficked gorillas died before they could receive proper care. In addition, it is estimated that for each rescued gorilla, four adults were likely killed during its capture. The existence of the new GRACE center is expected to help end this illegal gorilla trafficking, since local authorities are more likely to rescue captured gorillas if they know there is somewhere they can take them.
The new facility will be large enough to serve up to 30 gorillas when fully completed and will include a center for conservation education and public information.
"A sanctuary in east Africa dedicated to gorillas has been one of PASA's priorities for almost a decade," says Doug Cress, executive director of Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA). "Our member sanctuaries care for almost 100 gorillas, but none in east Africa, and many orphans confiscated over the years in the region died before we got them to safety. We are confident the GRACE center will have a profound impact on conservation efforts in the region.”
“The MGVP is extremely pleased to see these orphans move to the Fossey Fund’s new GRACE facility,” says MGVP Executive Director Mike Cranfield, D.V.M. “This move greatly improves their living conditions and potential for long and healthy lives.” The MGVP has provided all the veterinary care for the orphans since the moment they were rescued.
The GRACE center was built on land donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB), with initial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Disney’s Animal Programs, and Pan African Sanctuary Alliance. The center will be a joint initiative of the Congolese wildlife conservation authority (ICCN) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, along with other groups.
“Walt Disney World Resort’s commitment to conservation and the environment extends well beyond our theme parks and into communities around the world,” said Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., vice president of Disney’s Animal Programs. “The GRACE Center is a shining example of the way conservationists and communities can work together towards a shared goal. In addition to rehabilitating gorillas, the GRACE project focuses on engaging neighbors from the local community.”
The GRACE center is located next to some 222,000 acres of forest in the fully protected, community-based Tayna Nature Reserve, which was established by local Congolese leaders and has obtained official protected reserve status from the Congolese national government. The center will offer educational and economic resources to the people of the region, and will make a priority of training and hiring local people. It will also provide opportunities for scientists and TCCB students to conduct research and for members of the public to participate in guided nature treks. TCCB students are designing a program of conservation education that they will provide for visitors and the local community.
“This is also a tremendous opportunity to build on the enthusiasm and pride that the Congolese people have shown in creating a series of community-based nature reserves and protecting their land and wildlife,” says James Desmond, D.V.M., the Fossey’s Fund’s newly appointed director of the GRACE center.
About the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. Founded by Dr. Dian Fossey as the Digit Fund and renamed after her death, the Fossey Fund operates the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, and maintains a staff of scientists, trackers and anti-poaching patrols in Volcanoes National Park. The Fund also works with community-managed reserves and national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and operates extensive education, health and other community outreach programs. For more information visit www,gorillafund.org