Gorilla Orphans Update

Four days before the fighting in DR Congo escalated, Magda (Dr. Braum) made a routine visit to check on the orphan gorillas in Goma.  I knew Magda’s visit had gone well.  Thanks to Linda Nunn at G4G and Jodi Carrigan at Zoo Atlanta, Mapendo, Ndeze, and Ndakasi each got five new toys!  But until this past weekend, I hadn’t looked at these photos.


Infant mountain gorillas Ndakasi and Ndeze in Goma, Oct 24, 2008.


Infant mountain gorilla Ndeze with a new toy.


Infant mountain gorilla Ndakasi with a new toy.


Juvenile Grauer’s gorilla Mapendo with a new toy.


Andre Bauma with Ndeze and Ndakasi.


Mapendo with Babo, one of her caretakers.

It’s been busy here as usual.   I try to carve out quiet time to review, crop, label, and shrink our project photos down to a Web-friendly or Word-doc-friendly size.  They’re part of our medical records, as well as a great way to share.  There’s also the time involved in trying to get them to upload to the Internet.  No matter how small I make the files, it doesn’t work until now, 4:30 AM.


 Ndakasi playing on her climbing structure.

The chaos in Goma also causes countless delays.  With our slow Internet and unreliable cell phone connections, it can take all day to get an update from Jacques and Eddy.  To add to the tension and worry about orphan gorillas, as if we needed more, lightning struck our electric fence at the facility in Kinigi, Rwanda ten days ago.  We’ve been scrambling to gather the right parts and finish the repairs ever since.  Ntabwoba, Itebero, and Maisha, know when the electricity to their fence is off, and if their caretakers aren’t watching, they’ll get out–not all the way out, but into the rear area or the kitchen, far enough to cause havoc.


Several of the orphan gorillas at the Kinigi facility in Rwanda watch their fence being repaired.

The box that supplies electricity for the Kinigi fence had not only burned up, part of the wire and insulators had disintegrated.  There was a hole in the cement wall big enough for a gorilla hand.  We needed to get new parts quickly.  Thank goodness for our friends, Ged Caddick, who runs Terra Incognita Tours, and Doug Braum, Magda’s husband.  Both happened to be here when we needed them.

b-doug-and-glenn-fence-repairs-kinigi.JPGDoug and Glenn set up the new electric fence box with no problems.

Ged stopped by our office to say hello just as our local electrician was telling me he could fix the box, which consisted of a few bits of plastic and burned up electrical parts.  I couldn’t imagine that anyone could put it back together, especially someone with no tools.  No way, I said, there’s nothing to fix.  We needed a new system, which I knew we couldn’t buy in Rwanda.  Ged came to the rescue.  He made a few phone calls to his friend Carol at Volcanoes Safaris in Uganda, got someone on the phone at a store in Kampala, talked back and forth with me about what we needed, made a decision, put all the expenses on his credit card, and arranged for two new electrical boxes to arrive by Sunday morning–one for now–and one for the next time lightning strikes.  A week later, back in his Tampa office, Ged wired our project even more money as a donation.  We cannot thank him enough!

Doug then spent the better part of a week putting the electric fence system at Kinigi back together while either Magda or Jean Felix did their best to distract the gorillas with attention, toys, and peanuts.  Glenn Bush, another helpful husband, also lent a hand.  Glen is married to Katie Fawcett, director of the Karisoke Research Center; he’d dealt with the fence once before and I think he was happy to have Doug’s help!  I’m sure neither planned to become experts at gorilla containment.  They are now.


Ndakasi and Ndeze playing in Goma.

But these weren’t the real reasons I’d delayed viewing the orphans’ photos.  The truth was that given all the subsequent chaos in Goma, I couldn’t bear to see happy gorillas and relaxed caretakers.  Finally, I realized that looking at the photos might cheer us all up a bit.

Andre Bauma with Ndeze.



Jacques and Eddy assure us that nothing has changed for the orphans so far.  They’re the same playful, well-fed creatures they were two weeks ago.  As for the caretakers, Andre and the rest of the team are determined to stay put, though I doubt they’re sharing as many smiles or looking as relaxed as they were during Magda’s visit.  For now, we’re taking things one day at a time.

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  1. Posted November 11, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Aw, thanks for the update, Dr. Lucy. They all, humans and non-humans, look great. The babies are really growing and Mapendo has lovely eyes. I hope things continue to stay calm for them. The news from Congo is all over mainstream media now, in fact NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” broadcast about it today. http://wamu.org/programs/dr/ There’ll be an audio recording on that site by tomorrow.

    Many thanks to Ged and everyone who helped with the electrical repairs. And many thanks to the caregivers in Goma for all their hard work in such horrible times.


  2. Posted November 11, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Please… I`m brazilian journalist and I need to know about gorillas baby Ndeze and Ndakari. Are they safe? How are they? In the moment I`m making a campaign for gorillas mountain (RDC)in the Brazil. I sent releases to midia about gorillas situation. I`m very worried with gorillas orphans of RDC.

  3. Lisa, California
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous pictures of the orphans. They are beautiful. I hope and prey that they and their caregivers stay safe. Thanks to you all for everything that you do. It’s amazing. Lisa

  4. Lucia Cristiana, Brasil
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    These babies gorillas are absolutely beautiful and healthy. Thank you very much Dr. Lucy.

  5. Pirjo,Finland
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you for these wonderful pictures. I still vividly remember how Mapendo looked when she was rescued and am so happy to see the difference in these new pictures. As for the two little ones they are just so beautiful.. Every day I wait for news that things will get better, so until then be safe and thank you for all your efforts to save these gorillas.

  6. Posted November 13, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Ndeze, Ndakasi and other gorillas babies need come out Goma… now. Laurent Nkunda is in Goma and he will continue attacks. Please… to run away from Goma. I`m brazilian journalist and in the moment I`m making a campaign for gorillas mountain (RDC)in the Brazil. I sent releases to midia about gorillas situation. I`m very worried with gorillas orphans of RDC. Look my blog http://jornalista.fatima.blog.uol.com.br

  7. Christine C.
    Posted November 13, 2008 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Dr. Lucy — thank you for this update…I can understand why you were hesitant to post it though with the situation what it is. At any rate, I am just thrilled to see Andre again and cannot believe how happy any healthy all of “our” babies look…Mapendo seems to have lost that haunted, hopeless look she had in her eyes during the days after she and precious Vumila were rescued.

    Give my best to Andre and all the caretakers and vets…I know this is a very trying time for all of you.

  8. Megan
    Posted November 13, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I feel so helpless and panicked and I don’t know what to do! What can I do??? I have donated what money I can but I don’t have much. Is there anything we can do???

    Thank you for showing these beautiful creatures. They are, as you all are, a glimmer of hope for us who cannot be there. They remind us of what we’re fighting for, as if we ever could forget… We are behind you every single step of the way!!!

    Please let us know what we can do and stay safe!!!!

  9. Theresa
    Posted November 15, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    God bless you all for your dedication and courage. It lightens my heavy heart just a bit to see the orphans doing so well. You were right Dr. Lucy, we need something to cheer us a bit. The situation there is disturbing and I fear for the people and the gorillas. Saying thank you doesn’t seem enough. Please stay safe, all of you. I am praying for a miracle every day!!

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