Gorilla Orphans

at the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Center

About this Project

The Senkwekwe Center, located at park headquarters in Rumangabo, is the only facility in the the world that cares for mountain gorilla orphans. Each of the four gorillas living at the center was victimized by poachers or animal traffickers, and likely witnessed family members being murdered. Thanks to the financial support of individuals around the world – and the loving care provided by their human caregivers – the orphans now lead happy and secure lives in their forested enclosure. The orphans also receive veterinary care from the Gorilla Doctors, arguably the most skilled and experienced gorilla veterinarians in the world.


In early 2009, Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode and park rangers regained control of Virunga, following the arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. Shortly after, park staff began raising awareness about the two young orphan mountain gorillas that were in their care. Orphans Ndeze and Ndakasi had been forced by the circumstances of war to live in tiny compound in the capital city of Goma. Unlike their natural environment, Goma was heavily polluted, noisy, and largely built on a lava flow devoid of vegetation.

With the southern sector once again secure, a team set out to raise money to build a care facility at 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. Tragically, Koboko died during the latest conflict. Although the official cause of death was attributed to a gastrological infection, the sounds of mortar fire and machine guns severely stressed Koboko, and likely led to the collapse of his immune system. The latest addition to the Senkwekwe Center is Matabishi, a young male that was found alone and outside the park boundary near Bikenge. Poachers who feared they would be arrested by Virunga’s rangers likely released Matabishi. After a 6-month quarantine, Matabishi has joined Ndeze, Ndakasi, and Maisha.

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

News from the Gorilla Orphans

Meet the Orphans

Maisha 9 year old gorilla orphan


Female, 12 years old

Nine-year-old Maisha is the matriarch of the family. Everyone who knows mountain gorillas says she has a particularly beautiful face.

In 2004, Maisha was confiscated from a gang of poachers who had kept her in the most appalling conditions. She was tied inside a sack and hidden in a cave for two weeks, only occasionally let out to eat maize and sugar cane. By the time she was rescued, she was in pretty bad shape – thin and very low blood protein. She has recovered beautifully, but tends to show aggression around food, probably due to the trauma of her capture.

Ndakasi 6 year old gorilla orphan


Female, 9 years old

Ndakasi was 2-months old when she was found clinging to her murdered mother. Thanks to the loving care of Andre and MGVP vets, she survived.

In June 2007 rangers found Ndakasi’s mother dead with one bullet lodged in her brain and another in her arm. She had been shot at close range through the back of the head in what amounted to an execution. The Rangers found bananas near her body, and they suspected that the killer used the food to lure the animal to its death. Ndakasi – barely two months old – was found clinging to her dead mother. She was badly dehydrated, in shock, and very frightened.

Ranger 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. MGVP gorilla vets continued her care and she recovered slowly. Ndakasi was later joined by orphan Ndeze and the two became inseparable in their house in Goma before moving to the newly built Senkwekwe Center in 2010.

Ndeze 6 year old gorilla orphan


Female, 9 years old

Ndeze, just months before her mother, father, and other members of her family were murdered in the Rugendo Massacre.

In 2007, Ndeze’s mother, Safari, was brutally murdered by armed men and set on fire, 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 August 5th, 2007. It was the worst gorilla killing in the park’s history. Ndeze, and what was left of her family, 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 breast milk, vets had to intervene and rescue her. Caretaker Andre became vitally important in giving Ndeze and Ndakasi the security and love they needed. For the two young gorillas, Andre is like their parent, and he refers to them as “his girls.”

Kaboko 7 year old gorilla orphan


Male, 9 years old (deceased July 2012)

After a snare caused terrible injury to Kaboko’s arm, he managed to do everything a gorilla needs to do with just one hand.

In March of 2007, 3-year old Kaboko was found in the resort town of Gisenyi, just over the border from Congo, with a terrible wound to his right arm just above the wrist where a snare was deeply embedded. Gorilla vets from MGVP couldn’t save the hand so it had to be amputated.

Although the physical wound healed quickly, it took about a year for Kaboko to recover from what appeared to be depression, solitary behavior, and suspicion of both gorillas and humans. He is now part of the mountain gorilla family at the Senkwekwe Center and is socially normal. He even manages to climb trees with one hand and beat his chest like all normal males do.

Update: Kaboko died in July 2012 from gastrointestinal complications, just as M23 rebels overran park headquarters in Rumangabo. Kaboko was severely traumatized by the sounds of bombs and gun fire and it is believed the cumulative effects of these weakened his immune system. The Gorilla Doctors were unable to reach him because of the intense fighting.


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