VIDEO: Updated: Celebration as The "Kinigi Six" Gorillas Land in Congo

UDPATE: 8.9.11 - On July 23-24, 2011, Six confiscated orphan Grauer's gorillas, aged 5-8 years old, were moved from a temporary facility in Kinigi, Rwanda to a rehabilitation center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Grauer’s gorillas were in Rwanda because of an extraordinary conservation collaboration between Rwanda and the DRC. Several years ago a lone mountain gorilla female, Maisha, was alone with little chance of learning to be part of a group. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund was caring for four Grauer’s gorillas in Goma and the wildlife authorities of both countries agreed to place the gorillas together in a facility in Kinigi, Rwanda to help the lone mountain gorilla female to become habituated to other gorillas.

With the socialization efforts successfully completed, the Grauer’s gorillas who had outgrown their current facility needed to return to their original habitat. The International Fund for Animal Welfare provided an emergency rescue grant to fly the six gorillas to Kasugho, DRC, and the newly built GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) Center. The 'Kinigi 6' joined 7 other orphan Grauer's gorillas at GRACE where the goal is to rehabilitate the gorillas for release back to the wild.

In the video above, experts from IFAW, Disney Animal Programs, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund talk about the complicated mission of moving six orphaned Grauer's gorillas back to their homeland in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the threats that gorillas face today. To learn more about this operation and how you can help with other IFAW wildlife rescues, go to today.

Orphan gorillas arrive back home in Congo after successful airlift operation.

ORIGINAL POST: 7.25.11 - The GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) center in Kasugho, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) doubled in capacity this weekend and is now home to 13 Grauer's gorillas!

For an operation that has faced setbacks for more than three years, these last two days went surprisingly well. A perfect combination of good planning, efficient execution and of course, a good dose of plain ol' good fortune.

After all, we are in the heart of Africa. A place where one must surrender to the unexpected and store a good measure of patience and persistence within. And one of the key elements for us this weekend was the weather. Many of you've seen the movie and I can confirm that yes, these gorillas ARE in the mist. Mist, haze, fog, cloud cover, the usual occurrences in eastern DRC, not a helicopter pilot's best friend. Fortunately our pilot Ben from TropicAir was on his game this weekend.

I can't say enough about the drive shown by everyone involved. When Saturday morning arrived, an army of vets, caretakers, wildlife specialists and other staff in two different countries focused on a single objective: bringing Pinga, Dunia, Serufuli, Ntabwoba, Itebero and Tumaini back home where they belong.

Thanks to IFAW, Dian Fossey Fund International and several other groups, six endangered Grauer's gorillas were airlifted from a rehabilitation facility in Rwanda to a center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on July 23rd and 24th 2011.

Now, good planning did not eliminate the need for quick improvisation. Last-minute decisions were made to make this a safer and quicker move for the gorillas. The order in which they were flown, the helicopter drop-site, the procedure to move them into the quarantine facility, all had to be adjusted last-minute.

But enough on the logistics, I'm sure you all want to read about the gorillas.

It would be a lie to say that the gorillas had a good time this weekend. After all, catching a ride on a helicopter is not a gorilla's idea of a good time. The primates were immobilized several times during the process and moved from transport crates to 4X4s, to stretchers, to the helicopter, back to stretchers and finally into quarantine at arrival to GRACE.

That amount of sedatives would give anyone a hangover and some of the gorillas were not impressed at all. Slowly but surely each has started to recover and wisely, most of them are still sleeping it off. But let me tell you, the GRACE center is a beautiful, state of the art facility with an adjacent protected area, home to some of the last remaining wild Grauer's gorillas, simply perfect.

One of the best scenes this weekend was the indomitable curiosity of the resident orphans at GRACE that immediately scuttled over to try and get a peak at the new arrivals. They all seemed to very calm and quite excited about having others there. They kept vocalizing, introducing themselves to the fellow Grauers and thumping their chests as all gorillas do. We are all very anxious to know how their integration will go once they have cleared quarantine!

It was an incredibly emotional moment for everyone involved. At last, the gorillas were home. Celebrations are underway in Rwanda and DRC tonight, all toasting for a bright future for the Kinigi Six. And hopefully one that will include a release back to the wild in the near future.

But wait, that's not the end of it. We will continue updating you on the progress of the gorillas and hope to share more photos and video of the move in the next few days.

Also, before signing off, I would just like to acknowledge all of the groups involved in the move - without this collaborative approach none of this would have become the reality it is today!

-- MB

The move of the gorillas was funded principally with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - and organized by the Dian Fossey Gorillas Fund with assistance from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB),  ICCN, Disney’s Animal Programs, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and Tropicair.

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