This latest addition to the troupe of 6 gorillas was born to 'Matoko', a 10-year old female, who arrived at the project's rehabilitation centre when she was just 3 years old. She arrived into The Aspinall Foundation's care with another 3 year old female orphan of the bushmeat Trade called Likendzé. It is probable that the two girls were from the same gorilla family that had been brutally massacred by poachers hunting for bushmeat. So traumatized by the horror of what they had seen, Matoko and Likendze simply clung to each other in fear. Matoko would show her impressive teeth in a bid to protect herself and Likendze who would simply bow her head in fear. However, seven years later, in a true testament to the vital work of The Aspinall Foundation, Likendzé gave birth to the ninth baby just three weeks prior to Matoko. Both gorillas belong to a group introduced into the reserve in 2003, led by the dominant silverback male 'Makoua' who sired the world's first gorilla to be born to a reintroduced group back in 2004.
James Osborne, Chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, commented:
"We are delighted by the news of the birth of Matoko's infant, and indeed Likendze's before that. A mere seven years ago the infants were so traumatized that they refused to move. Now they have both given birth. Each birth reinforces the success of the reintroduction and we now have three viable groups of gorillas within the Lesio-Louna reserve."
This latest birth is the third for the Congo project in 2009, and is further confirmation of the success of this unique mission to return Western Lowland gorillas to protected areas in the wild.
The Aspinall Foundation has been working in the Congo and the Gabon towards the rehabilitation and reintroduction of Western Lowland gorillas for over 20 years. While the project initially focused on providing shelter and care to young orphaned gorillas whose parents had been killed as part of the ongoing bushmeat trade, the project has gradually evolved over the years to include reintroduction, ecosystem management, tourism, local community development projects and wildlife law enforcement. The reintroduction projects aim to re-establish viable, self-sustaining populations within the former range of the species and, thanks to the dedicated efforts of project staff, have had a high survival rate of over 80%, and have been extremely successful in terms of adaptation to forest life and reproduction.
While this most recent birth is yet another positive step towards achieving the project's goals, gorillas remain critically endangered in the wild - under threat from habitat destruction, hunting and disease. For more information on the project, please visit http://www.totallywild.net/
•Matoko and Likendze came into The Aspinall Foundation's care in 2002 as orphans of the bushmeat trade.
•The Aspinall Foundation manages two gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects, one in the Republic of Congo and other in the neighbouring state of Gabon where wild populations were hunted to extinction by the 1950's. Disease and the increase of commercialised hunting are threatening wild gorilla populations in both countries and orphans of this trade are often sold as pets. Local ministry officials confiscate these orphans and they are handed into our protection.
•After years of rehabilitation and care the orphans are released into the two protected areas, the Bateke Plateau National Park in Gabon and the Lefini Reserve in Congo. We have successfully reintroduced over 50 gorillas; 43 of these were orphans of the bush meat trade.
•Six of the gorillas in the Gabon were born at Howletts Wild Animal Park and were transferred to their natural home in August 2003. We are hoping to return a pair of young gorillas who have been rejected by their mothers, so they can join a wild group in Gabon.
•In the Congo we celebrated the first ever birth to a reintroduced gorilla. Teke was born in 2004 and he relishes his status as the son of the dominant silverback, Makoua. He grows in confidence every day, spending more time away from his mother foraging for food.
•In 2006 we celebrated three further births in the Congo, into a group lead by Djeke, that have been hailed around the world as the 'births of hope' for this critically endangered species. The three babies were named Elonga meaning 'success', Bonsomi meaning 'freedom' and Likamuisi meaning 'surprise'.
•Port Lympne Wild Animal Park near Ashford, along with Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury were set up by the late John Aspinall with the aim of protecting and breeding rare and endangered species with the view of returning them to safe areas in their native homelands. The Aspinall Foundation manages the parks and is funded solely from charitable donations which go towards this vital conservation work, both in the UK and abroad, including the world-famous gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects in Africa. A world-leader in conservation, The Aspinall Foundation has so far returned to the wild: Przewalski's horses, black rhino, Sumatran rhino, Cape buffalo, pythons and gorillas.