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We don’t know how little Lulingu ended up with an armed and dangerous group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but it’s safe to assume her wild mother did not give her up without a fight - probably at the expense of her life.
In February 2016 a one-and-a-half-year-old female infant gorilla, later named Lulingu, was confiscated from this armed group in South Kivu Province of eastern DRC. Lulingu was given emergency medical care then transferred to Virunga National Park, which had served as her temporary home while genetic tests were run to determine her subspecies. Lulingu was confirmed to be a Grauer’s gorilla and needed to be airlifted to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center so she could be with other Grauer’s gorillas to begin her rehabilitation journey.
The transfer was coordinated by GRACE, Gorilla Doctors, Virunga National Park, and Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, with support by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
GRACE is the only sanctuary that provides long-term care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas. Located in a remote part of North Kivu Province, eastern DRC, GRACE currently cares for 13 gorillas, ranging in age from 3-15 years. A key goal is to reintroduce the orphans back into the wild, if feasible. But GRACE’s ultimate commitment is to the welfare of each gorilla, and we are therefore dedicated to providing life-long care for individuals that require it.
Transfer day arrived and Lulingu was calm and slept in her caregiver’s arms during the one-hour plane ride. Once in the car, she was curious, often looking out the window as she sat on her caregiver’s lap.
On her first day in the GRACE forest, Lulingu immediately climbed up a tree and began eating Myrianthus fruits, a gorilla favorite. She then climbed to the top of another tree and promptly made a nest. GRACE Animal Care Manager, Dalmas Kakule, wasn’t surprised. “We sometimes think that these gorillas need us, but they already know how to be gorillas. They are the ones that teach us.”
Lulingu is in quarantine at GRACE to ensure she is healthy and adapts well to her new environment. When ready, she will be introduced to the 13 other orphan gorillas at GRACE that live in a surrogate family group and range within the world’s largest gorilla forest enclosure. When new gorillas are young like Lulingu, one of the adult females in the group typically ‘adopts’ them and assumes responsibility for mothering and teaching needed skills (e.g., foraging, nest-building, etc.) Lulingu will be the youngest gorilla at GRACE but will have many playmates, as there are several young ones in the group.
Grauer's gorillas only live in eastern DRC and are classified endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Justification for the listing is “due to high levels of exploitation, and loss of habitat and habitat quality as a result of political unrest and expanding human activities…”. Their population has plummeted by nearly 80% over the past 20 years. There are now only about 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas remaining in the wild.
Lulingu will be part of a gorilla group again and have access to a forest environment and a natural diet. She may one day even be able to return to the wild and live out the life that was stolen from her by poachers.
-- Gail A'Brunzo
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