The Many Faces of a Grauer’s Gorilla Group

Grauer’s gorilla is the largest subspecies of eastern gorilla and the largest living primate in the world. In 2016, Grauer’s were reclassified as Critically Endangered, with the population estimated at 3,800– and declining at 5% per year. We focus our efforts on the upland sector of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  This area is home to an important population of Grauer’s gorillas, and one that is actually increasing due to strong efforts by Congolese park authorities and other conservation partners.

We collaborate with Congolese partner organization Primate Expertise (PEx) led by founder and executive director Dr. Augustin Basabose, with whom we worked for many years on mountain gorilla conservation. Together we are addressing two of the major threats to great apes, poaching and habitat loss. Methods include research and monitoring, combined with reforestation of degraded lands.

Meet the wildlife stars of our work with PEx in DRC: Grauer’s gorillas photographed for us by independent photojournalist Allison Shelley. The Chimanuka group is named after the silverback gorilla who leads this group of 19.

Chimanunka and rangers by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_BlogGrauer’s gorilla Chimanuka the silverback (left); Rangers cut through thick forest during a four-hour trek to guide photojournalist Allison Shelley to the Chimanuka group (right), in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, eastern DRC.

Stories and Faces From the Chimanuka Group

At an estimated 30 years old, Chimanuka has a special history. Half of the gorillas in the area where Chimanuka lives were killed during a violent period of conflict in eastern DRC in the late 1990’s. Chimanuka is one of the few silverbacks who survived. He was then a solitary male but formed his own group in 2002. He is known to be extremely tolerant towards people and exhibits great patience with the younger gorillas in his group.

Chimanunka and Nbanga by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_BlogGrauer’s gorillas Chimanuka (left) and Nabanga (right) in Kahuzi-Biega.

Marhale and Nabanga playing by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_Blog
Grauer’s gorillas Nabango and Marhale play in Kahuzi-Biega. 

In the Chimanuka group, the blackback named Nabanga (pictured above) acts as a surrogate mother to the juvenile Marhale. Marhale was orphaned at a young age and initially cared for by Chimanuka, an unusual role for a silverback and group leader.

Meteo and Marhale by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_BlogGrauer’s gorillas Meteo (left) and Marhale (right) in Kahuzi-Biega.

Pori Blackback and Uhuru by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_Blog

Grauer’s gorillas Pori and Blackback (left), and Uhuru (right) in Kahuzi-Biega.

Mulenge and Numbi by Allison Shelley_Wild Earth Allies_2018_BlogGrauer’s gorillas Mulenge (left) and Numbi (right) in Kahuzi-Biega. 

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