Saambili is named for Congolese gorilla keeper Aldegonde Saambili, whose life work is caring for orphaned gorillas at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Center (GRACE) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The staff at GRACE act as surrogate mothers to orphaned gorillas, which involves round-the-clock care (a gorilla mother doesn’t put her baby down for many months after birth). Saambili joined a troupe of nine gorillas: four bachelors who live in the South habitat, and the family in the North habitat, which consists of the silverback Subira, Saambili’s mama Hope, Megan, and Shanta.
In a lot of the pictures, Saambili appears to be smiling. But according to Tamara, gorillas don’t really smile in the same way humans do.
“They have a relaxed facial countenance when they are content,” she said. “Saambili’s needs are always met because Hope is such an excellent mother, so she is almost always happy and comfortable. We haven’t really seen her be unhappy or fussy, even when she was teething.”
Gorillas only have babies about every five years. It takes that long for a gorilla mama to teach her baby everything s/he needs to know. I asked Tamara about the reason she continues to work with the primates.
“Gorillas are some of the most amazing animals I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” Tamara said. “They have so many similarities to humans – they communicate, laugh, play, mourn, and rejoice. Even after 19 years, they still surprise me. I defy anyone to meet a gorilla and not be moved.” I can’t help agreeing with her: When you see Saambili and Hope together, you know that you are witnessing the loving bond of two amazing, soulful animals.