The arrival of six orphan gorillas at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center after their long journey from a temporary facility in Kinigi, Rwanda on July 23-4 caused great celebration among the people of the village of Kasugho, the neighboring population center. Families from Kasugho were among those who created the community-based Tayna Gorilla Reserve and the community college, the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB), that donated the land for GRACE. Kasugho has been designated a Model Conservation Village by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which gives technical assistance and other support to the reserve and the college. Villagers helped construct GRACE and their women’s cooperative supplied the bricks. They clearly take pride in the project.
From very early in the morning of July 25, people from Kasugho village began to dance in the gorillas’ honor. By midday all was ready for the official ceremony to be held at TCCB. Participants in the transfer attended the ceremony, and thanks were given to the partners who worked together to finally make possible and safe the gorillas’ transfer: the Fossey Fund; the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project; the International Fund for Animal Welfare; the Rwanda Development Board (RDB); L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN); Disney’s Animal Programs and Tropic Air Kenya.
A special thanks was given to the local Kasugho community and TCCB, who donated a part of their forest to GRACE to host those gorillas that were confiscated from poachers, giving them a chance to be released eventually and live free in a wild environment.
The ceremony continued with a joint cocktail and a performance of a traditional dance, which is usually performed only on special occasions such as the initiation of the territory’s new kings (Mwamis). With this dance the community blessed the gorillas and gave them protection and good luck for the future.
In the afternoon, some of the local authorities — Mwamis and officials from TCCB and the park authority — visited GRACE and all 13 of the Grauer’s gorillas now hosted there. All the gorillas were well. Integration of the new arrivals with those already in residence has begun very well, with both groups showing curiosity about each other through vocalizations, chest beating, sniffing, etc., and few displays.