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Gorillas Orphaned by Hunters Begin Journey Back to the Wild

Six orphan gorillas, rescued from the illegal bush meat trade, have begun new independent lives on a lagoon island outside Loango National Park in Gabon, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) said today.

“This is the first step in a reintroduction project that is hoped will allow them to return entirely to the wild and follows a three-year-long ‘rehab programme’ to prepare them for release,” SCD said in a statement.

SCD, an affiliate of Africa’s Eden, an eco-tourism company, has conservation partnerships with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Max Planck Institute, the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project (FVGP), and Gabon government agencies. Loango National Park is located on the African coast and is famous for its surfing hippos.

“Halfway through the Year of the Gorilla, the transfer [of the orphans] marks the beginning of the gorillas’ independence. They have exchanged their human-built shelters for the palm-fringed forested islet where they can now live in relative safety from threats from poachers or other predators,” SCD said.


The relocation was supervised by Nick Bachand, director of the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project, and his team of Gabonese keepers.

“We all felt a hint of sadness as the gorillas left the place where their journey started,” said Bachand, a veterinarian. “But this was instantly replaced with a mountain of pride when we observed some of the gorillas starting to build their own nests to sleep outside overnight.”

Building nests is an important indication of the young gorillas’ progress during this second phase of their rehabilitation, SCD explained.

Photo courtesy SCD B.V.

The six gorillas, three females and three males varying in ages from two to seven, were orphaned by the illegal bush meat trade.

The oldest male, Gimenu, 7, was rescued in an emaciated state from a zoo in Gabon where he had spent three years in complete isolation, SCD said. He is accompanied by Sindila, 4, an abandoned male found by tourists on a river excursion, and Ivindo, also 4, flown in from the Ivindo National Park in 2005.

The youngest female, Wanga, 2, was left on the doorstep of a conservationist’s home in the southern half of Loango National Park, while the other two females, Cessé and Eliwa, 3 and 2, were donated by another great-ape rescue center in Gabon.


“The gorillas have spent the past two and a half years undergoing daily forest rehabilitation accompanied by their keepers on Evengue Island, located north of Loango National Park,” SCD said.

A small team of local keepers will continue to monitor the progress of the gorillas from a base camp in the center of Orique island, where their new home is.

The Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project comprises a sanctuary and rehabilitation program. All its resident gorillas were rescued after the parents were killed illegally by hunters for bush meat. “The sanctuary provides a safe home for gorillas that can never return to the wild as they lack the critical survival skills usually taught by their parents in the first six to eight years of their lives,” SCD said.

“The younger gorillas are part of [the project’s] rehabilitation program, however, and have undergone its quarantine and socialization stages. They now have the potential to be reintroduced into the wild, although many challenges and uncertainties remain.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has identified the use of reintroduction projects as part of a global strategy for the survival of the world’s endangered great apes, SCD added. “The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) works closely with the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project and focuses wherever possible on reintroduction programs.”

Said Doug Cress, executive director of PASA, “We have to find ways to restore value to Africa’s forests, and reintroduction places focus on the African wildlife in the African forests.

“It’s no good for any of us to aspire to having the world’s largest captive population of chimpanzees or gorillas–even if we are saving lives. That is not conservation and it is not sending messages that can be translated into environmental action.”

“It’s no good for any of us to aspire to having the world’s largest captive population of chimpanzees or gorillas–even if we are saving lives. That is not conservation and it is not sending messages that can be translated into environmental action.”

The orhpan gorillas’ return to the wild in the Gabonese equatorial forest is expected within two to three years.

“In the meantime, the project is working hard to raise local and global awareness on issues facing the gorillas, to encourage research that emphasises the needs of the local people, and to integrate responsible tourism, as part of a national and international effort to save the gorilla from extinction in the wild,” SCD said.