Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

2017
07.31.2018
Rangers Project
On #WorldRangerDay, we are so proud of the efforts of our rangers, who show dedication and resilience, despite the dangers they face.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.22.2018
Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, receives his PhD
Congratulations to Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, who received his PhD from the University of Kinshasa last week! Ephrem has been r...

Explore EPHREM BALOLE, MANAGER OF VIRUNGA SARL, RECEIVES HIS PHD

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
06.06.2018
Rangers Project
We are so proud that Jolie, one of Virunga’s female rangers, shared her story of what motivated her to become a ranger at the European Devel...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
06.05.2018
Fallen Rangers Project
Representatives from the Rumangabo Widows sewing workshop attended the European Development Days conference in Brussels, where they showcase...

Explore FALLEN RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
05.31.2018
Virunga coffee launches!
One for the coffee fans out there: every purchase of Higher Grounds' Kawa Kanzururu Coffee goes towards supporting the development work of V...

Explore VIRUNGA COFFEE LAUNCHES!

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
05.31.2018
Rangers Project
We are so delighted to share the news that the mountain gorilla population has surpassed 1000! Incredible news for Virunga and incredible news for conservation, and testament to the continued work of Virunga's Rangers in ensuring the protection of the species.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
02.13.2018
Fallen Rangers Fund
Children of the fallen Rangers playing in the child care center at the widows workshop! On-site child care reduces the initial stressors tha...

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
12.05.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A total of 68 widows and 190 children of fallen Rangers, are now, thanks to the Fallen Rangers Fund, being offered financial support, education, and meaningful employment.

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
09.11.2017
Rangers Project
Today, Park Rangers along with the Gorilla Doctors team successfully located the Rugendo group and removed a deadly snare from the arm of yo...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.30.2017
Rangers Project
Happy World Ranger Day! We are extremely proud and grateful to all our Rangers. These men and women are deeply committed to Virunga and ensu...

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
07.29.2017
Rangers Project
Last week marked the completion of 5 months of incredibly tough training for Virunga's newest Rangers. 6500 applied, 81 made it through.

Explore RANGERS PROJECT

Group 2 Created with Sketch.
01.12.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A beautiful selection of napkins made by the widows of fallen Rangers are on sale at Mikeno Lodge.

Explore FALLEN RANGERS FUND

Group 2 Created with Sketch.

Photo Credit: Brent Stirton; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo Credit: Adam Kiefer; Logo Credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Photo credit: Orlando von Einsiedel

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: David Shepard

Explore Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area

Unlike anywhere else in the world, Virunga National Park contains some of the greatest national treasures on earth

About Virunga

Learn more

Stability through sustainable development in the eastern Congo

The Virunga Alliance is working to create an alternative economy that enables surrounding communities to benefit from the National Park

Virunga Alliance

Learn more

Meet the heroes who risk their lives to protect the Park’s wildlife and local communities

Rangers’ work is critical to the stability of the Park and the safety of the lives that surround it

Rangers Project

Learn more

Meet the orphan gorillas of Virunga’s Senkwekwe Center

The world’s only sanctuary caring for mountain gorillas separated from their families by poaching or conflict

Gorilla Orphan Project

Learn more

The Gorilla Orphans Project

About the Project

Virunga National Park’s headquarters at Rumangabo is home to the Senkwekwe Centre, the world’s only facility for orphaned mountain gorillas. With expert staff who provide daily care for the orphans, who were each separated from their family due to the impact of poaching, the Senkwekwe Centre is a unique sanctuary offering the gorillas the chance to lead happy and secure lives in their forested enclosure.

History of the Project

In early 2009, Park Rangers regained control of Virunga after a period of armed conflict. Shortly after, Park staff began raising awareness of two young orphan mountain gorillas who were in their care. Orphans Ndeze and Ndakasi had been forced by the circumstances of war to live in a tiny compound in the nearby city of Goma. Unlike their natural environment, Goma is heavily polluted, noisy, and largely built on a lava flow devoid of vegetation.


Once the Southern Sector was once again secure, a team set out to raise money to build a care facility at the Park headquarters in Rumangabo. The site chosen for the facility was perfect: lush forest, teaming with wildlife, expansive – and safe.


As 2009 drew to a close, Park staff kicked off an intense online campaign, and in a matter of two months, raised $211,000. The World Heritage Organization matched every dollar donated by caring individuals around the world. The Murry Foundation and Howard G. Buffett Foundation also provided critical funding.

The “Senkwekwe Center” was soon built and the orphans living in Goma were promptly transferred to their new home. The Center is named after the dominant silverback of the Rugendo group, who was murdered in 2007, along with three other members of his family.


At the end of 2010, two more orphan mountain gorillas, Maisha and Koboko, were transferred to the Senkwekwe Center. They came from Rwanda where they had been living in a small facility. The four gorillas settled in nicely and soon became a tightly knit family. Sadly, both Koboko and Maisha are no longer with us, having passed away due to health complications.


The Senkwekwe Center also plays a critical role in rehabilitating orphaned eastern lowland gorillas confiscated from animal traffickers. Once rehabilitated, these gorilla orphans are transferred to the GRACE facility for eastern lowland gorillas also located in eastern DRC.

01
/
10
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.
Stroke 3 Copy Created with Sketch.

NDAKASI

Ndakasi was two months old when she was found clinging to her murdered mother. Thanks to the loving care of Senkwekwe Centre staff and veterinary experts, she survived.


In June 2007, Rangers found Ndakasi’s mother dead, having been shot at close range. Ndakasi – barely two months old – was found clinging to her mother. She was badly dehydrated, in shock, and very frightened.


Andre Bauma was called in to try to keep her alive through the night, although no one thought she would make it. Through a torrential rain storm that lasted all night, Andre held baby Ndakasi tightly to his bare chest to keep her warm and give her comfort. Miraculously, she made it through and has now grown into a happy, healthy and boisterous adolescent.


Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

NDEZE

In 2007, Ndeze’s mother, Safari, was brutally murdered, along with four other adult gorillas, including silverback Senkwekwe.


This unthinkable crime came to be known as the Rugendo Massacre, and was featured as Newsweek’s cover story on 5 August, 2007. It was the worst gorilla killing in the Park’s history.


Ndeze was found by Rangers several days later clinging to the back of her brother. Because Ndeze was too young to survive without her mother’s milk, vets had to intervene and rescue her. Carer Andre Bauma and his colleagues became vitally important in giving Ndeze the security and love she needed. Ndeze and Ndakasi were introduced at temporary facilities in Goma, where they quickly formed an intense bond. Today, in their permanent home in Rumangabo, they still maintain this extremely close relationship.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

MATABISHI

Matabishi was discovered alone in a field outside Virunga National Park in late June 2013. It is suspected that he had been held captive by poachers, as he had injuries on his back, possibly from a rope restraint. Virunga’s Rangers slept in the cornfield to protect the infant until the Gorilla Doctor team arrived to transport him for a medical check at the Senkwekwe Centre.


Innocent Mburanumwe, Virunga’s Deputy Director and Chief Warden of the Southern Sector, named the orphan “Matabishi,” which means “bonus” in Swahili: as Park Rangers found that no other families appeared to be missing members, so Matabishi was an unaccounted for extra.


Matabishi was carefully introduced to the Senkwekwe Centre’s other gorillas, and quickly became part of the family, being instantly accepted by the matriarch, Maisha. Maisha sadly passed away in summer 2017 due to health complications.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

MUSUKA

In June 2017, Rangers discovered a baby female mountain gorilla caught in a poacher’s snare. The baby had suffered a severe foot injury from the snare and was in a critical condition, having been alone in the jungle for several days.


It was hoped that she could be treated and reunited with her family, but after closely examining her wound, they found the infection had already set in. There was no choice but to perform a field amputation of her foot.


The procedure was a success, and the orphan was immediately taken to the Senkwekwe Center. Over the next twelve hours, the team worked to stabilize the baby gorilla, and despite many close calls, she pulled through thanks to the care of the Senkwekwe team and the Gorilla Doctors. Originally named Yalala - the young gorilla was renamed ‘Musuka’ after her miraculous recovery - her name means ‘resurrection’ in Swahili.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

PONGO

The Senkwekwe Center is also home to an orphaned bushbuck named Pongo, who was found injured in the grounds of the Park headquarters at Rumangabo.


Pongo and the Center's most recent addition Mususka formed an unusually close bond during Musuka's rehabilitation following her foot amputation. Pongo was also cared for by the Center staff, and remains a resident in the forested enclosure.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Read More

Close

The Daily Routine

As gorillas are large powerful creatures, it can be a difficult task to care for them - and a clear daily routine is important for the orphans.


Wake-up begins around 6am when the gorillas begin to play and receive their breakfast. They are let out into the garden at around 7:30am where they spend the majority of their day playing and eating. When they were much younger, constant care was needed as they were still very young to be on their own, but today they can be left free without a caretaker within the garden.

At 4pm it is time to return to the enclosure for the night. This entails a bribe of more food to get the orphans back from their playground. Here they remain until the following morning. Dinner comes in the form of porridge with added nutrients and probiotics which is served at around 5pm.


They are put to bed with a bunch of fresh leaves for them to build a basic nest. The leaves come in the form of a wild celery, which is also edible.

The Future

A plan for a large outer perimeter fence is in place with an inner perimeter around Mikeno Lodge and the rest of Rumangabo. This will give the gorillas much more natural habitat to live in and enjoy the forest as if wild. Once the fence is erected it will take some time to monitor their acceptance of their new living quarters.

Feeding by the Center's carers will still continue as they do not have the knowledge of the surrounding area to gain all the necessary nutrients. It is hoped they will stay out of the enclosure at night and build nests as they already do within the Senkwekwe Center, but it may take time to adjust from what they have known for the past years sleeping indoors.

Join the efforts to protect Virunga National Park