We are happy to announce that Lulingu was successfully integrated into the gorilla group at GRACE! Lulingu arrived at GRACE in late June (see blog post) after being cared for briefly at Centre Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro and the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. She was rescued in February 2016 near Kahuzi-Biega National Park from poachers aiming to illegally sell her (see Virunga’s blog post). Lulingu spent five months in quarantine at GRACE where she was cared for around-the-clock by two expert caregivers, Devotte Kavira Kihira and Kambale Muviri. She was 18 months old when she arrived, one of the youngest gorillas at GRACE to date.
“Because of her young age, we went slowly with her quarantine program to make sure she was well prepared for integration,” said Dalmas Kakule, Animal Care Manager. “Honestly, though, she surprised us. She is an exceptional gorilla — very easy-going and strong — so we expect her to do really well in the family group.”
Integrations are carefully orchestrated and overseen by GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group, which consists of gorilla experts who have supervised dozens of gorilla integrations in zoos. Lulingu was first introduced to the gorillas from afar, then up close. Integration day was the first time she was able to physically interact with the gorillas.
On the morning of Lulingu’s integration, the caregivers made sure they had thought of every detail so things would go smoothly. They weighed Lulingu one last time, did a final health exam, and rehearsed everyone’s role. “It was such a happy day for the staff,” said Executive Director, Dr. Sonya Kahlenberg. “Our aim is for these gorillas to have a family again, so our ultimate reward is watching the little ones join the group. When Lulingu was accepted by the gorillas, staff members were so pleased they were high-fiving and hugging each other in celebration!”
Lulingu was initially introduced to alpha female Pinga. Pinga scooped her up immediately and began walking around, holding her in a protective posture, just like a new gorilla mother. Once they had become acquainted, the pair went outside to join the rest of the group. Four young females — Muyisa, Ndjingala, Isangi, and Kalonge — gathered around Pinga to inspect the newest group member. Despite all the excitement, Lulingu remained calm and started foraging alongside Pinga. Lulingu even appeased the eager young females by riding on their backs for short distances.