Gorillas in Virunga national park
Gorillas in Virunga National Park have been one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Gorilla Trekking.
Virunga National Park is a re-known Africa’s oldest park which is part of the Virunga conservation area situated in the Albertine rift valley in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga national park covering a large area of 8,090 square kilometers has Goma as the nearest city. This park stretches through semuliki rift valley, the Rwenzori Mountains, shores of Lake Kivu, Mikeno volcano. It is at altitude ranges of 680 meters and 5,109 meters above the sea level. Virunga national park established in 1925 is a UNESCO world heritage site because it is one of the most biologically diverse areas on a plant enclosed with a numerous number of magnificent Godly creation which are distinct to this are making it a unique tourist destination.
Virunga national park hosts two active volcanoes i.e. mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira, on the slopes of these volcanoes and the park at large is composed of 2077 plant species with riverine forest, tropical forest, wetlands, grasslands, and papyrus. In these thick forests and vegetation cover there lie numerous wildlife species with mountain gorillas as the most famous animal in the park attracting a lot of tourists for the breath taking gorilla trekking safari activity.
Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park are fascinating critically endangered animals. These Gorillas huge primates are fur covered animals who are fond of living in colder temperatures in the thick forests of mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira in Virunga national park. Mountain gorillas are smaller than the eastern lowland gorillas with males at a mean weight of 195 kilograms and height of 168 centimeters, females are at a mean weight of 100 kilograms and height of 140 centimeters, mountain gorillas have thicker and longer fur which makes them different from other Gorillas. Mountain Gorillas look slightly similar but they have unique features which differentiate adult male from adult female as adult male have extra pronounced bony crests on the very top and back of their skulls which gives their heads a more conical shape while the female has less pronounced crests.
In the deep forest of Virunga national park is where the breathtaking mountain gorilla trekking takes place before these wild gorillas are open and presented for trekking they undergo a habituation process intended to make them comfortable and used to human presence. Habituation process is a process where wild gorillas are trained for both tourism and research purposes, this process is carried out by a team of researchers and monitoring which takes 3-4 years.
Gorilla trekking in the democratic republic of Congo’s Virunga national park is permitted to only tourists who are in possession of a gorilla trekking permit, gorilla trekking permit costs USD 400 and purchased at the offices of Virunga national park. Gorillas trekking in Virunga national park takes place in the habituated gorilla group families that is
- Rugendo gorilla family: Rugendo gorilla family is one of the oldest gorilla families in Virunga national park habituated in 1989, formerly led by rugendo (father of Humba) and under his leadership the group consisted of 18 members with two silverbacks Rugendo the leader and his son Humba by 1997 which resulted into conflicts and power struggle. In 1998 Humba the son broke away from the group leaving with 10 members to form his own group called Humba gorilla family, this left Rugendo gorilla family with 8 members. Currently, the group is led by a dominant silverback bukima and after grabbing a sub-adult gorilla from Mapuwa gorilla family, the group is currently composed of 9 members.
- Mapuwa gorilla family: Mapuwa gorilla family formerly led by a dominant silverback Mapuwa son of Rugendo, is found in Jomba near Bunagana on Congo Uganda border, Mapuwa left his father’s group along with 2 adult females (Jicho and Mafaze) to form his own family in 1998. He was a courageous silverback who protected his family tirelessly through constant violent struggles where he came out as a victor and through these struggles he was able to more members to his group. Mapuwa’s courage is evidenced when he attacked and defeated Pilipili a well-known strongest silverback in Virunga national park, after defeating him he stripped off all his members and added them to his group. Currently, Mapuwa gorilla family composed of 22 gorilla individuals is led by a powerful dominant silverback MVUYEHURE.
- Humba gorilla family: Humba gorilla family located in bukima sector of Virunga national park is the calmest, wonderful and most tourist preferred gorilla family to trek in Virunga national park. Humba gorilla family currently composed of 9 members is named after its powerful and humble dominant silverback Humba who split from RUGENDO gorilla family which was led by Rugendo his father, humba a dominant silverback is a brother to silverback Senkwekwe who was murdered by unidentified armed men on 22nd July 2007.
- Kabirizi gorilla family: Kabirizi gorilla family formerly known as Ndungutse named after its very humble and giant silverback who was assassinated in 1997 after being caught in a crossfire between Congo’s army and the rebels, currently kabirizi family is composed of 19 gorilla members under the leadership of a powerful humble silver back kabirizi. This amazing group is trekked from Bukima patrol post.
- Lulengo gorilla family: Lulengo gorilla family formerly known as Musekura group is also found in jomba area near Bunagana on Congo and Uganda border, in memory of Lulego a dominant silverback and Virunga national park’s technical director who lost his life to a land mine the group’s name was changed to LULENGO. Silverback Lulengo is a born, former member of the Rugabo gorilla family the first habituated gorilla family in the mikeno sector and a son to a dominant silverback Rugabo a leader of Rugabo gorilla family who was shot dead by poacher during the great lakes refugee crisis. After the death of the leader, the group was left in the care and leadership of the black back Lulego and currently, he is the dominant silverback of the group composed of 9 members.
- Munyaga gorilla family: Munyaga gorilla family was habituated in 2008 and named after its leader munyaga, this wonderful group famous for a bold headed silverback Kadogo and twins birthed by an adult female Bilali (though died in their infant stage) is located and tracked in the bukima sector of Virunga national park. After power struggles and conflicts, munyaga was dethroned and succeeded by silverback Mawazo who also lost his power to silverback Gasore who is the current leader of the group which is composed of 7 members.
- Nyakamwe gorilla family: Nyakamwe gorilla family is one of Virunga national park’s newly habituated gorilla family, this gorilla family is currently the second-largest gorilla family in Virunga with 11 family members. Nyakamwe gorilla group is named after its leader, the dominant silverback Nyakamwe.
- Bageni gorilla family: Like Nyakamwe gorilla family, the Bageni gorilla family is also a newly habituated gorilla family in Virunga national park and the largest family. Currently, this group of 22 family members is experiencing power struggles and conflicts which are majorly between two silverbacks that is Kanamaharagi and Kitagenda. Because of this conflict, there is a threat of the group splitting.
HOW TO ACCESS VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK
Virunga National Park is situated in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many travelers to Virunga National Park fly to Kigali International Airport as the easiest route and connect to Gisenyi town which is approximately a 2-hour’s drive to reach the park’s headquarters at Bukima. Tourists from Uganda access Virunga national park using Bunagana- Congo border in Kisoro town and take a ride to bukima which is an hour’s drive. By air from Uganda, Ethiopian Airways operates single flights weekly to Goma.