Dr. Jan examines Ndakasi’s hand.This blog was written by Dr. Jan.

The Gorilla Doctors and Virunga National Park staff have been working slowly but surely to integrate the only 4 captive mountain gorillas on earth into a family unit. As a family, the gorillas have a much better chance of surviving in wild should they be released. Adult female orphan Maisha and four-year-old girls Ndeze, and Ndakasi have spent the past month getting to know each other in the indoor enclosure at Senkwekwe Center. The plan was that Maisha would form a strong bond with Ndeze and Ndakasi so that when juvenile male Kaboko was introduced, she could defend them if/when Kaboko got rough, like he did on the first day of the introductions. 

Andre prepares Maisha’s favorite toy: A monster ball with fruit in its mouth.This morning Eddy and I were ready for anything, with darting equipment at hand, although we were fairly confident that things would go well.  The girls were in one room of the enclosure while Kaboko waited in an adjoining room. At 9:30am Virunga National Park Caretaker Andre opened the door between the two rooms, allowing Kaboko access to the girls. 

Maisha blocks the door between rooms so Ndeze and Ndakasi can have a break from Kaboko’s rough play.Maisha was a superstar.  As usual, Ndakasi was appropriately submissive to Kaboko, and Ndeze was initially frightened and whined a bit at Kaboko’s approach.  For the first hour or so, Maisha watched everything, and placed herself between Ndeze and Kaboko when things seemed to escalate.  At one point she sat in the door between the 2 rooms while Ndeze and Ndakasi relaxed with Kaboko in the other room. 

Kaboko takes some honey from Dr. Eddy.Sometimes all Maisha had to do was put out her arm or even glance at Kaboko to express her displeasure, and he ceased his pursuit of the little girls. Of course there was a bit of rough and tumble play, especially between Kaboko and Ndakasi, and Kaboko really seemed happy.   After the first hour or so, things really calmed, and the group could be found resting quietly, all in the same room. 

Snuggle time for Maisha and Ndeze.Maisha and Ndeze grabbed some cuddle time in the afternoon.  But Maisha was still vigilant – if either of the girls let out a squeal she made her presence known and Kaboko backed off – it almost seemed like a game!   Things are going so well that I suspect Andre will make the decision to keep them all together tonight. 

Day dreaming.Here is a video of Maisha and Ndeze cuddling:

It would be great to let them into the outdoor yard sometime soon, but the electric fence is not working and we’ll need to wait for the electrician.  Andre will also inspect all of the trees to be sure there has not been any branch growth that would allow Ndeze or Ndakasi to escape – they are a bit more agile than Maisha and Kaboko. 

Maisha enjoys her monster ball.At the end of the day we are all quite happy with the outcome of today’s integration. Can’t wait to see them all in their large forest enclosure one day soon!  Thanks to all who have helped make this a reality for these mountain gorillas.

Ndeze, Maisha, and Kaboko in the yard.Friday, April 22 Update:

Freedom! This past Friday, mountain gorilla orphans Maisha, Kaboko, Ndeze, and Ndakasi were released into their forest enclosure as a group for the first time. 

MaishaThe gorillas had been confined to their indoor enclosure for some time while the Gorilla Doctors and Virunga National Park caretakers worked on integrating them as a family. They were kept in the indoor enclosure to minimize the risk of injury during the delicate integration process.

Ndeze climbing a tree.

Dr. Eddy and Caretaker Andre opened the doors in the morning and the 4 orphans scrambled outside, seemingly in awe of all the lush vegetation. Maisha, Kaboko, and Ndeze walked off together, exploring the enclosure’s trees, bamboo patches, and vines, and eating wild foods. 

Kaboko enjoys some forest food.

Ndakasi, who has been quite timid throughout the integration process, wasn’t quite sure what to do in this new environment. She kept away from the others and paced in front of the night house, hoping to be let back inside.

NdakasiDespite her unease, Drs. Eddy and Jan feel she will come around with more time. It isn’t easy learning how to be a gorilla.

Update, Wednesday April 27

Today was the first day Ndakasi was calm and moving with the group – they all went inside together and are a happy family!

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