Mountain Gorilla Sanctuary

The Gorilla Orphans 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.

The circumstances which led to Matabishi being abandoned in a cornfield in June 2013 are unknown, though it is suspected due his injuries that he had been captured and restrained by poachers who sought to trade him illegally.

Since recovering from his injuries at the Senkwekwe Center, Matabishi has continually grown in both confidence and stature, leading to his natural self-proclamation as the group’s dominant gorilla.

In 2017, Rangers 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. Even with her disability, Mazuka had three happy years at Senkwekwe Center, before passing away in March 2021 following a short illness.

Sadly the Senkwekwe Center lost another mountain gorilla in September 2021, Ndakasi having succumbed to prolonged illness. There remain two gorillas at the center, Matabishi and Ndeze, who are enjoying a semi-wild enclosure that better reflects their wild habitat, constructed with the help of the GRACE foundation in 2022.

Although Virunga’s Park Rangers make great efforts to reduce the threats that mountain gorillas face, the Senkwekwe Center is always ready to take in mountain gorillas who become orphaned through snares, conflict or by any other means.

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 6:00 am when the gorillas begin to play and receive their breakfast. They are let out into the garden at around 7:30 am 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 4:00 pm 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 5:00 pm.

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.


Support Virunga's Conservation Efforts