We are heartbroken to report that Ntabwoba, a 13-year-old male Grauer’s gorilla living at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), passed away unexpectedly on November 5th. Ntabwoba was just making the transition from blackback to silverback and, with his charismatic personality, was a beloved gorilla to the staff and his fellow group members.

13-year-old Grauer's gorilla orphan Ntabwoba. Photo courtesy of GRACE.

13-year-old Grauer’s gorilla orphan Ntabwoba. Photo courtesy of GRACE.

Gorilla Doctors Regional Manager Dr. Jan Ramer traveled to the remote Kasugho region to assist GRACE staff and consulting veterinarians in treating Ntabwoba, who had fallen seriously ill two days earlier. Getting Ntabwoba emergency care was a team effort and staff from the Jane Goodall Institute and Disney’s Animal Kingdom also assisted GRACE and Gorilla Doctors.

“His condition was profound,” said Dr. Ramer. “The GRACE team worked so hard to give him round the clock care and Gorilla Doctors provided intensive medical care, but his encephalitis was too advanced. Combined with a stroke, little could be done other than to make him comfortable. He passed peacefully in the night.”

Ntabwoba, whose name means “fearless”, was the oldest gorilla in the group of 14 orphans at GRACE, and he assumed the role of group leader. He was confiscated from poachers in 2003 and was cared for by Gorilla Doctors and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in Rwanda before he was transferred with five other orphaned gorillas back to their native country of DR Congo in 2011 in an operation sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare [click here to read the blog]. He was arguably the most well-known Grauer’s gorilla orphan, having been featured in the 2005 book Gorilla Doctors by Pamela Turner.

Dr. Jan helping to move the Grauer's orphans to GRACE in 2011.

Dr. Jan helping to move the Grauer’s orphans to GRACE in 2011.

“This is such a difficult loss” said Dr. Ramer. “He was a beloved individual, and big part of the social group. I have such fond memories of Ntabwoba when he was a goofy, fun loving, mischievous juvenile at the Kinigi orphan facility. He knew how to break the wire and escape, and really all he wanted to do was show us he could get out – he always jumped right back in with the other gorillas! He was a gentle soul.”

As he found his place among the group of orphans at GRACE, staff noticed that he quickly became “the peacekeeper in the group as he was the first to welcome newly introduced gorillas. He could be mischievous at times but was also protective, intelligent, and curious, and was the first orphan to investigate anything new.”

“We want to thank our staff and partners who did everything they could for Ntabwoba,” Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director said. “We are mourning the loss of a remarkable gorilla, but also take comfort in knowing that, for the past 11 years, he lived a good life. Ntabwoba had a second chance that most orphaned apes never experience. We will honor his memory by giving his group the best life possible and by working to keep Grauer’s gorillas in the wild, where they belong.”

Eastern lowland gorillas – also known as Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) — are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and are found only in eastern DRC. Seriously threatened by habitat loss, human encroachment, illegal trade, disease, and regional instability, it is estimated that no more than 5,000 Grauer’s gorillas remain in the wild.

While losing Ntabwoba was heartbreaking for Dr. Jan, she “loved seeing the other familiar gorilla faces at GRACE.  I’m sure they are mourning Ntabwoba, but when I watched them in the yard Thursday morning they were enjoying the sun, playing and foraging normally – a bittersweet sight.”