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Six endangered Grauer’s gorillas were airlifted from a rehabilitation facility in Rwanda to a center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this weekend. The gorillas will remain at the center until they are ready to be released back to the wild. The two-day operation included a helicopter airlift with the primates moved one at a time from Goma to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center near Kasugho, DRC.
The gorilla move is being funded principally by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and organized by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (Fossey Fund). “IFAW was happy to help with the move and provide a helicopter to transfer the six orphan gorillas back to their country of origin,” said IFAW’s ER Program Director Dr. Ian Robinson. “Without a helicopter, these endangered gorillas would have travelled on treacherous roads for more than a day through conflict ridden territories.”
The six orphaned Grauer’s gorillas aged 5-8 years old were confiscated as infants and kept at a temporary facility in Kinigi, Rwanda. All of these young gorillas are the victims of poaching and lost their groups or families as a result. In an extraordinary conservation collaboration between Rwanda and the DRC, the gorillas were moved as infants to Rwanda to help a lone mountain gorilla habituate to other gorillas. Now the gorillas are back in their country of origin where they will be introduced to other rescued gorillas and prepared for eventual release to the wild. The center is the first facility of its kind in east central Africa, with room for up to 30 young gorillas to live in species-typical groups and roam through 350 acres of natural habitat. ”The rescue of these young orphaned gorillas and their move to the new GRACE center in Congo has been an amazing story of collaboration among many partners, each with special expertise,” said Clare Richardson Fossey Fund President & CEO. “We are grateful to IFAW for making the helicopter airlift to GRACE possible, so that gorillas can safely begin their new life in the best possible location, as they prepare for eventual re-release to the wild.”
Grauer’s gorillas (also known as Eastern lowland gorillas) are the largest subspecies of gorillas making them the largest primate in the world. Civil unrest in the DRC has devastated the local gorillas by lending the way to increased poaching and habitat destruction. This has caused the population of Grauer’s gorillas to plummet to less than 5,000 estimated individuals today. GRACE was initiated by the Fossey Fund at the urging of the Congolese national park service (ICCN), with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and design and construction assistance from Disney’s Animal Programs. The Fossey Fund and the Walt Disney Company are the first of several partners that will continue long-term funding and operation of the center. The transfer of the six orphaned gorillas also includes substantial assistance from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), ICCN, Disney’s Animal Programs, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and Tropicair