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.

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.

In 2018, we found Mazuka caught in a snare. She had been trapped for a few days, her foot was badly hurt and septic and needed to be amputated, despite the tremendous efforts of our rangers and gorilla doctors. She now lives at the gorilla sanctuary and has successfully integrated with her fellow gorillas.

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.

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.