Gorilla Trekking In Congo

Gorilla Trekking is one of the activities done in tourism sector in Democratic Republic of Congo. DRC is located in the Central part of Africa the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, second largest after Algeria and 11 largest in the world. It is also referred to as Zaire, DRC, DROC, and Congo- Kisansha. It is originally a French colony, French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba are the common languages used. Congo is known for it is a vast country with immense economic resources ranging subsistence hunting and fertile soils, forestry and mining industry with large deposits of minerals including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, cassiterite (tin ore) and coltan – to timber and oil

The tourism industry is also promising in Congo however the insecurity has slowed down the number of tourist’s entry in Congo. The DRC has experienced frequent unrest in the eastern part of the country. It is noted that not all national parks in Congo are safe for tourism activities.

Congo is the Only Country that has both Mountain Gorillas and Low Land Gorillas, Tourists that chose Congo as their tourism/safari destination are mostly interested in trekking the Gorillas. There are 2 parks where this activity can be done namely: Virunga National Park a home for the mountain gorillas and Kahunzi Biega habitat to the eastern low land gorillas. These have been identified as some of the safe national parks for tourists in Congo.

Tourists can trek to see the mountain and lowland gorillas in wild, meet pygmies still practicing their traditional way of life in the forests, spot bonobos and okapi two rare species not found anywhere else on earth, and climb to the summits of active volcanoes and see a boiling lava lake in the crater of Mount Nyiragongo.

The Gorilla trekking activity starts with a morning briefing from the guides. Hiking starts at the center for the park and may last 1 to 6 hours depending on the movements of the group that will be allocated for you to trek and which family to spend time with.

The trekkers are expected to carry the following with them: to put on clothes that brand with nature, good hiking gears like boots, rain jackets, camera gargets and packed food. On encountering the magnificent creatures, the trekkers are allowed to strictly spend one hour with the gorillas.

Gorilla trekking is done in the wilderness and not in the zoo. This means that you have to hike through the jungles, the steep slopes to look for these impressive primates and all these require you to be physically fit and stable. Be aware that the rainforest terrain can be muddy and steep, and the hike may take from 30 min to 3 hours before the group encounters a gorilla family.

Though the hike can be strenuous, travelers report that the overall experience is easy to tackle. Ultimately endurance training will help trekkers be physically capable.

Which Other Attractions Does Congo Has?

Congo has quite a number tourism attractions such as:  Virunga National Park, Garamba National Park, Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Kundelungu National Park, Maiko National Park, Mangroves National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Salonga National Park, , Upemba National Park‎. 21 Roman Catholic cathedrals, 7 museums, sports venues, Lake kivu, Lake Tanganyika the deepest lake in world shared with Tanzania Lake Albert and Edward shared with Uganda. The famous second largest river in the world, River Congo second to Amazon, river Ruvuma, River Rufigi , Boyoma Falls, Inga Falls, Livingstone Falls, Lofoi Falls, Mambatuta Falls, Mambilima Falls, Petites Chutes de la Lukaya, Yellala Falls. Maringa-Lopori-Wamba Landscape, Massif D’itombwe, Ngiri Reserve, Réserve Abumonbazi, Réserve Naturelle Lomako Yokokala, Rubi Tele Hunting Reserve, Sankuru natural reserve, Tshuapa–Lomami–Lualaba Conservation Landscape and the culture.

Mountain Gorilla Trekking In Congo

Mount Gorilla trekking can only be done in the three neighboring countries namely; Uganda in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park, Congo in Virunga National Park and Rwanda in Volcanoes National Park which make up the Virunga Conservation Area.

Gorilla trekking is quite a spectacular interesting experience recommended to tourists who plan to visit any of the 3 above mentioned countries.

 

Virunga National Park.

Virunga National Park is situated in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was created in 1925, among the first protected areas in Africa and second oldest in the world (after Yellowstone). It covers an area of 8,090 km2, altitude ranges from 680 m in the Semliki River valley to 5,109 m in the Ruwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National Parks . Virunga National Park also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramseur site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga National park stretches from the northern part of Lave kivu and close to Goma Town

It was gazetted to protect the endangered Mountain Gorillas which can also be found in Uganda and Rwanda Only. Around one third of the world population of critically endangered mountain gorillas live in the lush volcanic forests of Virunga National Park. Mountain gorillas are subspecies of the eastern gorilla, are shy and gentle creatures that live in groups of 2 to 30 individuals.

Virunga National Park is also well known for its bird, mammal and reptile concentration more than any other protected areas in Africa.  Some of the notables include the chimpanzees, Elephants, red-tailed monkeys, De brazza’s monkey, blue monkey, golden monkey, Dent’s Mona monkey, and Hamlyn’s monkey, Central African red Colobus mantled guereza, grey-cheeked mangabey, black and white Colobus monkey and olive baboons and many other animals. The traces of Virunga’s rich diverse ecosystem that includes block mountain, volcanic mountains, the Albertine rift, craters and crater lakes, rainforests, woodlands, open grasslands, swamp and wetland vegetation amongst others extend into Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable, Queen Elizabeth, Semliki, Ruwenzori and Mgahinga National Park as well as Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Gorilla Families in Virunga National Park

There are 8 Gorilla families in Virunga National park which have been habituated for trekking as mentioned below;

Rugendo Family

This group is found in Bukima area, it is among the first habituated gorilla groups 1989 and 1997 the group had about 18 individuals with two silver backs. It currently has six individuals of gorillas including three Silver backs. It was led by Rugendo the father of Humba but currently Bukima a solitary silver back is the head. Only 8 Individuals stayed with Rugendo after Humba split from his father Rugendo. The Gorillas from the adult female Safi who gave birth to Katembo, and Neza also gave birth. The group suffered from a tragedy on 15th July 2001 Rugendo the Silver back was shot dead just 40 meters from the park boundary in the clashes between the military and the Interahamwe militia. In 2007, was attacked unfortunately  4 Gorillas were shot dead including 3 adult females (Safari, Neza, and Mburanumwe) and the Senkwekwe who was the leader Silver back a successor of Rugendo.

Humba Family

In Bukima sector of the Park close to Goma is the Humba family, it is composed of 16 Gorillas including 2 Silver backs and led by Humba silver back. The group is known for its tranquility which attracts many tourists and ranges like to track it. Humba’ brother Senkwekwe Silver back was executed on 22nd July 2007 by unidentified gun men. Humba split from Rugendo (His father) in 1998 from then, he has been a Silver back up to now

Munyaga Family

It was initially known as Buhanga family, it is found in Bukima close to Goma and has 7 gorillas with 2 silver backs. The family was first led by Munyaga who was a Silver back and the dominant adult female is named Bilali. She came from Rugendo group, later had 2 babies which died at infancy stage. Munyaga also disappeared the group is under Mawazo a silver back who lived with Buhanga until 1997, then joined Karatega, then went back to Buhanga in 1998 and then, a month later, he joined the Munyaga Family.

Kabirizi Family

This group was known as Ndungutse family because by then it was led by Ndungutse Silver back who was assassinated in 1997 after being caught in crossfire between the DR Congo army and Rwandan rebels near the Bukima patrol post. This family is currently composed of 34 Gorillas including 2 Silver backs. The group is also found in Bukima sector which is close to Goma and the group is led by Kabirizi Silver back, he is known for being protective of his family.  The group name is streamed from an ICCN Director who died in a traffic accident in the late 1990s. Previously, the silver back Kabirizi was not born in habituation it was a wild gorilla, after habituation he was named the head of the family in 1998.

Mapuwa Family

This group is found in Jomba area of Virunga national park near the Congo-Rwandan border known for its violent leader Mapuwa a silver back known of protecting his family even during hard times.  Mapuwa Rugendo’s son left his father’s family in 1995 at around the same time his brother Ruzirabwoba also left the Rugendo family for solitary life.

Lulengo family

This group is found in Jomba near Bunagana (Congo-Uganda border). Initially, the group was called ‘Musekura’ after changing the name to Lulengo in the memory of the Technical Director of Virunga National Park who was killed by a land mine. The group consists of 6 gorillas and 1 silver back Lulengo being the head, born from Rubago the first gorilla family to be habituated in Mikeno Sector.  After his father Rubago was shot dead by poachers 1994, the family was left in the hands of his sons Lulengo (Black back), Pili-Pili, Mareru and Nvuyekure (Juvenile). Lulengo took over leadership.

There are several accommodation options in and outside the park. Mikeno Lodge which is the most luxurious lodge situated inside the park, Bukima tented camp and Tchegera Island Tented camp which is located outside the park on the northern part of Lake Kivu and Nyiragongo Volcano Summit Shelters.

 Eastern Low land Gorilla trekking in Kahunzi Biega National Park.

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located near the western bank of Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border a protected area near Bukavu town in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It covers an area of 6,000 square kilometers.  Kahuzi-Biega is one of the biggest national parks in the country. It is the only place in the whole world where the Eastern low land Gorillas can be seen, an endangered category under the IUCN Red List. It was by Belgian photographer and conservationist Adrien Deschryver in 1970. Kahunzi Biega National Park derives its name from park the two dormant volcanoes, Mount Kahunzi and Mount Biega which are found within its vicinity. Dwelling in both mountainous and lowland terrain. In 1980 the park was named was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its peculiar biodiversity of rainforest habitat and its eastern lowland gorillas. The eastern lowland gorilla or Grauer’s gorilla is a subspecies of eastern gorilla endemic to the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The park also has other attractions besides the Lowland Gorillas, it is endowed with flora and fauna. The swamps, bogs, marshland, riparian forests, wet equatorial rainforest, swamp and peat bog, swamp forest, high-altitude rainforest, mountain rainforest, bamboo forest and subalpine. Dry savannah, and grasslands, as well as the endemic plant Senecio kahuzicus. Among the 136 species of mammals identified in the park, the eastern lowland gorilla is the most prominent. The number of Lowland Gorillas has been reducing over the years due to insecurity in DRC currently over 500 gorillas are recorded in the park

Other primates include the eastern chimpanzee, Olive baboon, owl-faced monkey. Some of the mammals include the bush elephant, bush buffalo, hylochere and bongo, Aquatic civet, eastern needle-clawed galago, Maclaud’s horseshoe bat, Ruwenzori least otter shrew, and Alexander’s bush squirrel, African forest elephant, Albertine owlet, Mount Kahuzi climbing mouse, Maclaud’s horseshoe bat, Lowland bongo, African forest buffalo, Hippopotamus Giant forest hog, Leopard, Ruwenzori otter shrew, , Yellow-crested Helmet-shrike, Congo peafowl, African green broadbill, Rockefeller’s sunbird.

Gorilla families in Kahunzi Biega National park

Kahuzi-Beiga national park has 9 families of gorillas but two are habituated for visitors. The rest are still under habituation process. You can spend your time with them as they do their daily duties like waking up from their nests, feeding the young ones, playing with the young ones and other amazing things they normal do until when they starting making a new nest for the night. These families are led by one silverbacks, females, infants, juveniles and sub silverbacks.

Chimanuka family

This family consists of 37 members, stemming its name from their head Chimanuka. Made up of 19 babies and 17 females with one silverback who heads them. It is prestigious for having four sets of twins something that is rare in the family of the eastern gorilla population

Mugaruka family

The Mugaruka family has only one member that is Mugaruka. He is said to have lost females and infants in a fight with Chimanuka. He is now leaving solitary life with one hand after losing the other because of the poacher’s.

Tourists that visit Kahunzi Biega are always interested in trekking the above two habituated families since they are easily accessible.

Mankoto and Mpungwe families

It should be noted that these two families are under the habituation process which will total 4 habituated gorillas groups adding on the above mentioned families.

 

Gorilla Permit fees in Congo

Visitors are expected to book the lowland gorilla trekking safari with a safari company in this case Engagi Safaris is always at your service to organize for you this wonderful experience. Congo’s gorilla permits are cheaper than those for Uganda and Rwanda that is why tourist who are interested in gorilla trekking prefer to track the gorillas here. Congo Gorilla permits can be booked through Engagi Safari or directly from Virunga National Park Headquarters. A gorilla permit in Congo for both Virunga and Kahunzi Biega costs $400 which is $200 less than $600 charged by Uganda and $900 less than $1500 charged by Rwanda gorilla permits. More so, in low season of the year, Congo gives discounts on its permits which is not the case for Uganda and Rwanda. 30% of the money collected by the park goes to communities surrounding the parks, and the rest is divided between Virunga’s conservation  and funding for the country’s national park service and for those and choose to track the eastern low land gorillas, the money is paid to kahuzibiega.org which manages Kahuzi Biega National Park.

The Gorilla trips are cheaper in the DRC than in neighboring Rwanda or Uganda. The park is also less congested compared to other tracking centers like Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda. Virunga is still fresh for new discoveries since it has not had a lot of tourism activity for a long time since its inception and it would be a good idea for those who want research and adventures of the same kind.

SAFETY CONCERNS

It should be noted that Virunga National Park was closed in June, 2018 and re-opened on  15th February,2019, this was due to  the murder of a park ranger and the kidnapping of two British tourists and their driver, the park, a major driver of tourism to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park rangers are committed to protecting the park and the nearby communities from the Mai Mai rebels.

The security situation in the area around Goma and Virunga’s southern sector are quite stable at the moment. However, given the region’s history we keep a very close eye on the situation and receive regular updates from the park itself. Be alert to the risk of street crime and armed robbery at all times. Foreigners are at particular risk of street robbery in Kinshasa, especially near hotels and supermarkets in the center of town. If the situation changes for the worse, which we do not anticipate, we will let you know. The good news is that Virunga does have a refund policy in place for lodging and permits should the security situation require that a trip be cancelled.

However it is a different story when it comes to south kivu in Eastern Congo where Kahuzi Biega National Park is located. The park is safe for tourists and hasn’t faced any insecurities since it was put under the wildlife conservation society. It has developed and gained the momentum of visitors who are eager to trek the Eastern lowland Gorillas.