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By Dr. Joost Philippa

Gorilla Doctors helped the Congolese wildlife authority rescue a baby gorilla late last month. Baby Lulingu is alive and well and safe at the Senkekwe Center in Virunga National Park.

The Kahuzi Biega National Park director received a call on February 29 from Lulingu and Nzovu ranger station about reports of a captive baby gorilla. Local community leaders of the area reported to have negotiated carefully with rebels in the forest who had recently captured her. She was named Lulingu after the place from which she was rescued.

Lulingu is most likely a Grauer’s gorilla, as there are no mountain gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park, although we don’t know her true origin. Genetic testing will confirm her species. Judging by her size and her teeth, we think she is about one year old.

Lulingu was taken to Lwiro Primate Sanctuary (CRPL), close to Bukavu (South Kivu), where initial care was provided. Dr. Martin took the overnight ferry from Goma to Bukavu to check on Lulingu’s health: fortunately, she appeared to be in good condition and fit to travel.

She was kept safe in CRPL for several days until transport to Senkwekwe Center at Virunga National Park headquarters could be arranged. Dr. Martin accompanied her to Senkwekwe by plane (a lot faster than the usual boat to Goma and slow car journey over dirt roads to Rumangabo). The plane was piloted by Virunga National Park Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode and Virunga National Park pilot Antony Caere. A short stop was made in Goma due to bad weather, but after 20 minutes the journey to Senkwekwe continued.

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While the team and Lulingu were waiting out the heavy rain in Goma, I was in a car on the way to Rumangabo. As we got close to Virunga National Park headquarters, we spotted a plane flying overhead (one that did not have the UN marking like many planes and helicopters which usually fly over) – I was really relieved to see that the team was also nearly there.

Upon arrival we took Lulingu to the quarantine unit and did a quick health check before it got dark. With orphans, this can be done while they are resting comfortably on your lap and does not cause them any additional stress. Auscultation of her lungs and heart sounded normal. She was active, alert, bright-eyed, and inquisitive as a healthy gorilla baby should be. She had a small wound from the chain, which the rebels used to restrain her, so we treated the wound while she was happily eating the fruit we provided.

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I was touched by how Babo and Philippe, the very experienced caregivers, who will be spending day in and day out with little Lulingu, approached and comforted her and made her feel right at home using comforting gorilla grunts. They will spend a lot of time together during the quarantine period, after which she will be transferred to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center in eastern DRC (GRACE), where she will join the other Grauer’s gorillas in their spacious natural enclosure.

The next morning wild baboons and blue monkeys provided an early morning wake-up call by using the roof of my tent as a play area. Together with Dr. Martin, we checked Lulingu one more time as she was sitting outside. The four mountain gorilla orphans who live at Senkwekwe were on the other side of the wall, and seemed to instantaneously understand that there was another gorilla nearby. I spent the morning watching Matabishi, Ndeze, and Ndakasi high up in the tree as they watched this new baby, and vice versa – a very special experience.

Gorilla Doctors has treated more than 25 Grauer’s gorilla infants orphaned by poachers in DRC, and we provide ongoing medical care to the four mountain gorilla orphans who live at the Senkwekwe Center, as well as the Grauer’s gorilla orphans at GRACE, in partnership with the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

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