Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center
To provide rehabilitation facilities and care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), live only in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are highly endangered due to widespread habitat destruction, poaching and other threats associated with living in an area with one of the highest human population densities in Africa. War has ravaged this region for decades, greatly exacerbating threats to wildlife and forcing many people to rely on the forest for their subsistence. Many wild animals have suffered under this strain, but Grauer's gorillas have fared particularly poorly. They have lost over 50% of their habitat since the 1990s. Their population has plummeted by as much as 75% since the 1960s, with less than 10,000 individuals – perhaps even as few as 2,000 – now remaining. These last gorillas occur in small, fragmented populations, which further endangers them due to problems with low genetic diversity. Some isolated populations have already gone extinct. Grauer's gorillas were recently recognised as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world; they were the only ape to make this list.
A symptom of the dire situation for wild Grauer's gorillas is the growing number of infant gorillas being confiscated by authorities in DRC from illegal poachers, traders and people keeping them as pets. The Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center was built in 2009 to provide state-of-the-art care for these orphans, with the aim of eventually reintroducing them back into the wild. GRACE is located near Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern DRC, a remote habitat that is a high priority for conservation because it is home to a significant number of Grauer's gorillas and is part of a critical wildlife corridor connecting Maiko and Kahuzi–Biega national parks. Communities in the Tayna region are uniquely supportive of conservation. They created the reserve to protect their ancestral land, and established the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, the first university dedicated to training future African conservationists. GRACE works within this supportive environment to raise awareness about and build capacity for gorilla conservation.
GRACE's educational programmes teach school children and adults about the Tayna forest and its wildlife and about Congo's wildlife protection laws. Through hands-on activities, they also encourage individuals to get involved with conservation. GRACE also works with community groups to promote sustainable livelihoods and alternatives to bushmeat, both to reduce pressure on the forest and to improve circumstances for area families. Additionally, GRACE works to train local people in gorilla care and conservation science to work towards the goal of these communities taking gorilla conservation into their own hands. To help develop and implement these programmes, GRACE partners with many collaborators in DRC as well as international zoos and other organisations that contribute their expertise in areas such as veterinary medicine, behavioural science, animal husbandry and education.
WAZA Conservation Project 13005 is implemented by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, with support provided by Disney's Animal Kingdom, Houston Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo and Nashville Zoo. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature and Tayna Center for Conservation Biology.
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