For everybody else in Goma, Tuesday morning was like any other – sunny, hot, noisy, busy.  When Ndeze and Ndakasi woke up they had no idea that this day would change their lives.  But for Dr. Mike, Dr. Eddy, Dr. Jacques, Sandy (she’s in charge of gorilla orphan care in DRC and Rwanda) and me, this was a huge day.  Dr. Mike, Sandy and I traveled to Goma Monday night and met with Dr. Eddy, Dr. Jacques and Samantha from ICCN (Congolese wildlife authorities; Institut Congolais pour la Conservacion de la Nature.) to go over the final detail of the move.  We could barely contain our excitement, and tried to plan for every contingency.  We had veterinary equipment and a plan to handle almost any situation.  ICCN supplied a special truck with an enclosed bed where Andre and the girls would ride on a mattress. There was another truck for all the household equipment, and the MGVP truck.  We felt like we were ready!

We met at 6:00 Tuesday morning at the small house in Goma where Ndeze and Ndakasi have been living for the past 2 years.  We Gorilla Doctors decided to give the girls a bit of oral sedative to be sure they tolerated the 2 hour truck ride from Goma to Rumangabo.  They had spent the past 2 weeks climbing all over the truck and were very comfortable in it, but had not been in it on a long ride over bumpy roads, so we were being cautions.  After they took their medicine, they climbed right into the back of the truck with Andre, their caregiver, and we were off!

Dr. Mike, Emmanuel and Sandy, waiting for the girls to get into the truck

Our little procession was led by the truck carrying Ndeze and Ndakasi, with Emmanuel (Director of Virunga National Park, the oldest National Park in Africa) at the wheel and Dr. Mike riding shot gun, just in case veterinary attention was needed on the road.  Dr. Jacques drove our truck, with Dr. Eddy, me and Sandy on board, along with Dr. Arthur, one of the ICCN veterinarians.   Samantha followed in the truck carrying all the household goods to be moved into the new facility.  We tried to be inconspicuous as we rolled out onto the streets of downtown Goma.

That’s the truck carrying Andre and the girls safely tucked into the back, with Nyiragongo spewing steam in the foreground

The paved road through Goma was crowded with people, but soon gave way to a gravel road for the next hour and a half.  Nobody paid much attention as we passed by, thankfully.   They had no idea that one of these trucks was carrying 2 orphan Mountain Gorillas!  We got a call from Andre about 30 minutes into the trip, who reported that the young gorillas were actually playing, behaving normally!  What great news!  We drove on, passing through village after village, with the active volcano Nyiragongo always visible.  Finally we came to a small corridor of the Park that crosses the road about 30 minutes from our destination.  The air was fresh and vegetation lush, a hint of what Ndakasi and Ndeze would find at their new home.  Then came another call from Andre – Ndeze was asleep and Ndakasi had vomited, but was now resting in his arms.  Probably motion sickness, poor girl!  Nothing to worry about.

We finally arrived at Virunga National Park Headquarters in Rumangabo.  It was cool and the air was full of birdsong.  Green plants dominated the landscape.  It was nothing like their hot, dusty house in Goma which was about a mile from the airport.

Ndeze and Ndakasi’s new home

It was time to carry the girls from the truck to their new home.  They clung to the caregivers as we walked down the forest path.

All at once it was over – Ndeze and Ndakasi were safely delivered to their cool, quiet forest home!  We all breathed a sigh of relief!  Now the fun part – watching these baby girls explore their new forest home for the first time.  Dr. Eddy put on his coveralls and mask to join Andre and the other caregivers in the enclosure, just in case anything unforeseen should happen.  The girls were happy to have another playmate!

Dr. Eddy with Ndakasi in her new home

We all wondered if they would be nervous or intimidated by the change in environment, but our concerns were unfounded.  The presence of Andre and the other caregivers provided Ndakasi and Ndeze with the confidence they needed to begin exploring almost immediately.  They stuck close to the caregivers, but enjoyed foraging through the lush vegetation.  They found one of the banana trees that ICCN had planted several weeks ago, and in short order they had it toppled and began eating it just like big gorillas!  They looked like they didn’t have a care in the world.

Ndeze and Ndakasi destroying a small banana tree that had been planted weeks before, for just this purpose

We all watched through a small window, trying not to disturb as the girls settled in.  We were thrilled.  Sandy cried. Samantha couldn’t stop smiling.   At one point I asked Andre “Are you happy?”  He smiled his brilliant smile and said “Yes, I am very happy” as Ndakasi climbed onto his lap after a big meal of banana tree.  We are all happy.  It is a tragedy that these little girls are not growing up with their families in the forest, but this is the next best thing.  They are finally in the right climate, at the right altitude, with natural vegetation all around them.  A good place for orphaned Mountain Gorillas to learn to be gorillas.

The girls resting with Andre after a couple of hours exploring their new home

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