The past few weeks have proved to be busy at the Kinigi orphan facility as we prepare the mountain gorillas for their move to the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park and the Grauer’s gorillas for their move to Grace (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) in Kasuo.
The gorillas have been enjoying a fair amount of additional enrichment. Their transport crates are set inside their enclosure for them to explore and familiarize with.
A new game of sweet/bitter juice given in small portions by a syringe on the bottom lip has been started each evening and morning. When familiar with this procedure, the gorillas will likely take their oral sedatives on the transfer day. Sounds simple, but it took a fair amount of training for the keepers and gorillas to take the dose of juice in a way which will be useful for medication. If a gorilla takes the medicine on the tongue (which they invariably try to do) she or he may spit it out if the taste is not enjoyable. On the other hand, if they receive medication on the inner surface of the lower lip, where there are no taste buds, it will smudge all over their big lip before they even taste it. Too late to spit it then and the medication will be easily absorbed!
New keepers have come from DR Congo to spend some weeks in Kinigi in order to meet and build the base for their future relationships with the gorillas. Even if meeting the new people is stressful at the beginning, after few days the gorillas will adjust and start enjoying their new friends.
This week most of the Kinigi orphans happily welcomed Andre Bauma-Muhindo, a Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) ranger and the head gorilla caretaker at Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. He came from Rumangabo to meet mountain gorilla orphans Maisha and Kaboko before they join Ndeze and Ndakasi, who are under his care at the Senkwekwe Center. Andre has never before worked with Maisha and Kaboko, but the Grauer’s gorillas orphans, especially Pinga and Tumaini, are his old friends. He helped care for them after they were confiscated in DR Congo years ago. It was amazing to see Pinga, who never welcomes new visitors nicely, to say hello to Andree in a friendly calm manner. She obviously remembered him even after years of separation!
The gorillas are being moved in accordance with the Confiscated Gorilla Scientific Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives from Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda; the Transboundary Secretariate; and the NGO’s participating in gorilla conservation in the area including the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. They are going to semi-free ranging situations where they can learn to be more independent in the forest. The caregivers known to the animals will accompany them for at least the first two to three months to help them with the transition. The ideal end goal is reintroduction to the wild, but this will only be done after careful consideration of their progress on an annual basis.
Gorilla Doctors Eddy and Jacque will continue to provide veterinary care for the mountain gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Center, Ndeze and Ndakasi, and soon Maisha and Kaboko. We’ll miss them in Rwanda, but know this is the best situation for these wonderful creatures.
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