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Guide to Gorilla Trekking in DR Congo

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Congo Gorillas

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is exceptionally natural paradise! It refuges a number of large apes including the critically endangered mountain gorillas that can be sighted within the jungles of the Virunga National Park as well as the lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park and Maiko National Park.

Where to Go Gorilla Trekking

Currently gorilla trekking is conducted in two national parks within the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Virunga National Park in the Eastern part of the country and the Kahuzi Biega National Park in Southern DR Congo.

Virunga National Park

The popular Virunga National Park lies in Eastern side of DR Congo and besides the mountain gorillas it offers refuge to world’s most powerful volcano the Nyiragongo Mountain which comes with the largest, powerful and most fiery Lava Lake that can be spotted at a distance, making it one of the best destinations for mountain gorilla trekking and thrilling adventures of lifetime. For visitors on safari to Virunga National Park, gorilla safaris can be incorporated with the hiking adventures from Nyiragongo Mountain or Mount Nyamulagira which all offer breathtaking experiences of lifetime. The park also offers refuge to chimpanzees, the rare golden monkeys.

The Virunga National Park was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site mainly to protect its endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife species in the habitat.  More than 200 mountain gorillas call Virunga National Park their home. Virunga Conservation Area was founded in 1925 by King Albert 1 of Belgium and it features as one of the oldest protected areas in the continent. This park was expanded to the North to cover the Rwindi plains, the Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Edward in the North.

After 35 years, Virunga National Park boundary had shape, poaching reduced and sustainable tourism was realized due to the work of Congolese rangers and the devoted park wardens. Land remuneration and park resource access especially through fishing and hunting by the local residents adjacent to the park remained as a big a challenge and attempts were made to curb them down. After attaining independence in 1960, the DR Congo gradually deteriorated including the state of the national park. It was only in 1969 that president Mobutu began to have personal interest in conservation that the park had to revive.

The Virunga National Park was therefore renamed and the first Congolese Wildlife Authority was formed. However, the Virunga National Park has currently gained the greatest potential in terms of tourism and it is undoubtedly one of the excellent places to realize dreams with the world’s impressive Apes while on safari in DR Congo. Without habituated gorilla groups, the possibility of tracking the rare mountain gorillas becomes challenging however, over eight troops have been habituated for gorilla tourism in the Virunga National Park and they include Lulengo, Munyaga, Bageni, Mapuwa, Humba, Rugendo, Kabirizi and Nyakamwe family. Visitors are assigned to only one group to track in a group of eight people and only one hour is allowed for you to strike your imaginations with these large Apes while in their natural habitat.

Kahuzi Biega National Park

Kahuzi Biega National Park is the second destination that offers tourists yet another chance to catch a glimpse of another group of gorillas known as the Eastern Lowland gorillas. This park is situated in Bukavu town in Eastern DR Congo. It is found near the Western bank of Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border. It was established in 1970 by the Belgian photographer and conservationist Andrien Deschryver, and it was named from Mount Kahuzi and Biega and these are the two dominant volcanoes in the park. This park covers an area of 6000 square kilometers and features as one of the largest protected areas in the DR Congo. The park lies between the hilly and lowland terrain and refuges unique Eastern Lowland gorillas which are scientifically called gorilla beringei graueri. This species of Apes are listed as endangered in the IUCN Red Book list. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 mainly to offer refuge to its wildlife species, habitat and the endangered Eastern Lowland gorillas. The parks fauna and flora is something not to be missed while on safari in DRC and not to leave out its vast ecology in the whole of Africa and in the world. For lifetime experiences in Kahuzi Biega National Park, only two gorilla groups are open for tourism and they include Mankoto and Mpungwe family.

The cost of gorilla trekking permits in DRC

Just like any gorilla destination in Africa, gorilla trekking permits are a must to have and they allow visitors to track one habituated family in Congo. Permits in DRC cost $450 per visitor, for both mountain gorillas and the Eastern Lowland gorilla adventures. Permits can be obtainable from Conservation Reservation Offices as explained below. For visitors on safari to Virunga National Park, they can email info@visitvirunga.org. The prices of trekking permits include $450 for foreign non residents and $200 for East African citizens. For visitor who may also prefer viewing the eastern chimpanzees, they can obtain permits at $100. For tourists on safari to Kahuzi Biega National Park, you can email; contact@kahuzibeiganationalpark.org to secure the online permit booking, visa application and many travel deals.

Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking in DRC

Some of the rules and regulations to be followed while on gorilla safari in Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park include;

  • You are expected to keep a distance of 7 to 8 meters at all times from the mountain gorillas or lowland gorillas. This is aimed at reducing the spread of human infectious diseases from humans to the apes. For visitors who may not be feeling well or have cold, flu or any contagious illness, you are not allowed to visit the group of gorillas in the wild.
  • Only people above 15 years are permitted to track a group of gorillas
  • Only 8 (eight) visitors are allowed to track one group of gorillas per day
  • Tourists are only permitted to spend one hour with Great Apes
  • Eating or smoking is not allowed while in the gorilla habitat
  • Always keep your voices low while in the forest
  • In case gorillas charge against you, stand still and lower down your head to show the sign of submission
  • Surgical masks are a must to be put before you set off to the forest to track a group of gorillas

In conclusion, Democratic Republic of Congo is a home to both the critically endangered mountain gorillas and the endangered Eastern Lowland gorilla. While planning your safari in DR Congo, Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park should be a must to visit destinations for you to experience the natural wonders that these incredible destinations offer the world in terms of Great Apes.