Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage
Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage is one of the places in Virunga National Park close to Mikeno Lodge where orphaned gorillas are given a second chance to live. Mountain gorillas are undeniably the most amazing apes in the world. Encountering them at any time is a memory to behold. These mountain gorillas can only be found in the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tourists can opt to go on a gorilla trekking safari from any of these three countries but gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park of the Congo, in particular, is an opportunity to visit a gorilla orphanage center- Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage. This is the only gorilla orphanage center in the whole world.
Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage is located at the headquarters of Virunga National Park just near to Mikeno Lodge. Senkwekwe is named after the great silverback that led the Rugendo gorilla group the massacre that saw most of the members being killed by rebel groups that were hiding in the game park in 2007. The orphaned gorillas Ndakasi and Ndezi were the reason for the birth and formation of the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage to provide a suitable home or place for their rehabilitation. The decision to set up the center to cater for the young mountain gorillas that have lost their parents and family due to poaching, animal trafficking and the waging war between the rebels and the government forces was made and has since been the only place known to have mountain gorillas in captivity and they do actually survive.
The orphanage has well trained caretakers, veterinary doctors and other staff that make up a great team that takes good care of these orphaned and injured mountain gorillas. Every single mountain gorilla has his own caretakers who feed and offer any sort of help to them. The caretakers stay with the mountain gorilla orphans fulltime and they ensure that they are well fed and monitored of any mood changes and signs of sickness.
The Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage offers a rare opportunity for the lovers of these primates to contribute directly to sustaining them while viewing them and observing them. A visit to this orphanage gives travelers an opportunity to have an awesome time with these gorillas while interacting with them, learning their behaviors, taking photos and videos of them.
Apart from mountain gorillas, the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage also rehabilitates young Eastern lowland gorillas often from Kahuzi Biega National Park that ae rescued from poachers and animal traffickers. These gorillas are treated for a given period of time after which they are transferred to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center which is a center for the orphaned lowland gorillas. Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage has also impacted the communities around through their outreach and educational activities.
Maintaining mountain gorillas in captivity is very hard and expensive given that they cannot actually survive while in captivity. It takes a lot for Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage to pull this off given the volatile conditions that affect the area from time to time. If not for the significant funding from well-wishers, generous individuals and a number of gorilla conservation organizations like Gorilla Doctors, Dian Fossey Foundation, Gearing Up 4 Gorillas, the World Heritage Organisation among so many others, the project could not have been a success.
There are over six (6) orphaned mountain gorillas that have lived at the orphanage since its inception I 2010. These gorillas stay in the orphanage for the rest of their life and it is from here that they form their own families for reasons among others that they get too used to humans and depend on them greatly and the comfort and privileged life of the enclosed orphanage that they are so used to cannot favor their adapting to the wild. It could be difficult for them to go for food on their own and the different dynamics of the wild gorilla families. Some of the mountain gorillas that have since been in Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage include the following;
This is a ten-year-old female mountain gorilla that survived the 2007 massacre of the Rugendo family by rebels that were hiding in the park. At the time that this gorilla became orphaned with her sister Ndeze, Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage had not been formed yet. They were rescued and sheltered in a house in the town of Goma. The conditions were however not good as it was not spacious thus difficult to maintain good hygiene and the place was noisy and dusty for the gorilla. Upon the completion of the orphanage, they were transferred there and have since lived there in complete peace and comfort.
Ndeze is a sister to Ndakasi and also survived the massacre of their family in 2007. This gorilla, in particular, was found clinging to the breast of her dead mother known as Safari who was a much-loved member of the Rugendo family under the leadership of Senkwekwe. They were later transferred to the orphanage when it was completed after some time in Goma town.
Maisha was born in 2001 and was the first orphan to be received at the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage when completed. Maisha, which means life was born at a very volatile period where rebels were hiding in the Virunga National Park and they kept clearing vegetation for their hiding. This gorilla was taken as captive in 2004 to a cave in Rwanda. The rumors of her presence their reached the Rwanda police and the staff of Volcanoes National Park and they set out to rescue her. At the time of the rescue, she was very thin and in poor health and it is thanks to the Gorilla Doctors that she survived. When she recovered from her poor health and trauma, she was transferred to the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage in 2010 when it was completed and she was 9 years then. As the oldest member that was in the group, she took up the leadership role and was always protecting and kept order in the group. With time, Maisha started developing a low appetite and diarrhea which persisted for a long time that she succumbed to it.
Yalala, a female gorilla, belonged to the Kabirizi family but was found lying on her back after being caught in a snare set up by poachers. She was abandoned by her family after they tried to set her free but failed. Her foot had been severely hurt that it had to be amputated when she was taken to Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage.
Kaboko, a male gorilla, was also caught trapped in a snare that was set up by poachers. The snare had inflicted a deep wound on his right hand which also required and immediate amputation. Playful and mischievous as Kaboko was, he had stomach/intestine infections. He however in the 2012 unrest in the park and heavy gunfire that took place is believed to have stressed him further leading to his death at an early age of five only. The Gorilla Doctors at that time had returned to Rwanda due to the unrest in the Congo and could therefore not save him.
This young male was rescued and transferred to the orphanage in June 2010. Found in an abandoned corn field near the park, it is believed that it was the poachers that had left him there. Maisha had a soft spot for Matabishi and took great care of him as though she birthed him. She mothered him up by carrying him on his back, grooming and protecting him from the stubborn youngsters in the orphanage.
Those who would wish to volunteer with the orphanage can get in touch with the management of Virunga National Park. Visitors staying in Mikeno Lodge do not pay to visit the orphanage. Those that are residing with other lodges contact the park for a visiting possibility. You can have this put as part of your activities while visiting and doing any activities in the park.
A visit to the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage gives a chance to closely have an exceptional interaction with these gentle hurt and orphaned mountain gorillas whose behaviors are quite different from those in the wild, all at the same time contributing to their recovery and conservation and rehabilitation efforts. You can book for a visit to the orphanage at the Mikeno Lodge or have a trusted tour operator do it for you.