Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park Congo

Virunga National Park is situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo and acts as a habitat to the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas which have contributed a lot to the country’s economic development. These are tracked by tourists annually who enjoy spotting them with their different attributes and groups. Gorillas live together hierarchically in which the silver back is the leader at the top, followed by adult females then by young gorillas including females and males called black backs who usually leave the group when they grow older and later the juveniles.

These live in groups of 6-12 and the silver back makes prior decisions on what should be done for example when it comes to eating, where to move and rest at night because it is his responsibility to ensure that the group is safe and well protected from any harm. These are very timid animals though lively when it is day and when night falls every gorilla builds a nest of leaves/plants fibre in which they sleep and mothers share nests with the infants.

Gorilla families at Virunga National Park

At Virunga National Park there are six habituated Gorilla families which are distributed in different sectors like the Mikeno and Bukima sector neighboring Goma. The Mikeno sector comprises of approximately a hundred gorillas including seven infants. Bukima has the Kabirizi Gorilla group with 34 gorillas and two silverbacks. Other groups include the Humba, Rugendo, Mapuwa, lulengo and Muyanga.

Kabirizi Family

This group is led by silverback Kabirizi and is located in the Bukima sector close to Goma with thirty four gorillas and two silverbacks. It was habituated and opened for tracking 1998 and obtained its name from the director of ICCN who passed away after encountering a tragic accident that took his life too. Before then, the family was referred to as the Ndungutse gorilla group because it was led by silverback Ndungutse who was killed during the disputes between the revolutionaries of Rwanda and DRC in 1997.

Humba Family

Since 1998, this group is under the rule of a silverback called Humba who separated from Rugendo “the father” and a brother to silverback Senkwekwe who was assassinated on the 22nd July 2007 by mysterious people with firearms. It consists of sixteen gorillas with two silverbacks situated in the Bukima sector near Goma.

Rugendo Family

This group consisted of eighteen members including 2 silverbacks with Rugendo as the leader and this was habituated in 1989-1997. These two silverbacks i.e Humba and Rugendo later on separated and Rugendo was left with only eight members. Fortunately, the group increased in number as time passed due to the increased reproduction of juveniles in the group. For example,    two infant gorillas were born into the group in 1999 by an adult female Gorilla called Safari whose infant was called Katembo. Neza another adult female also gave birth on 15th July 2001. Sadly, Rugendo was killed during the insurgencies that were happening between the military and interhamwe armed force on 1st.  In 2007, four other Gorillas including Senkwekwe a successor to Rugendo were killed with three adult females ie Neza, Safari, and Mburanumwe.

Mapuwa Family

The group is located in Jomba near Bunagana with fifteen members and a silverback called Mapuwa. Silverback Mapuwa was a son to Rugendo who choose to separate with his birth family to create his own with two adult females namely Mafaze and Jicho. He did not stop fighting with other groups so as to gain more females to expand the group for example, in 2002 he battled with Pili-Pili whom he left an introvert then went on and snatched three female gorillas who he added to his group thereby increasing birthrates hence expanding the number to fifteen gorilla members.

Lulengo Family

This group is under the rule of Silverback Lulengo with six gorilla members and is found in Jomba close to Bunagana. Silver back Lulengo’s birth family was Rugabo which was the initial habituated family in the Mikeno sector. Before, the group was named “Musekura” although the name was changed by park wardens to Lulengo so as to remember the official director of Virunga National Park who died after encountering a land mine. Unfortunately, his father Rugabo also passed away after being killed in 1994 during the Great lakes Refugee Crisis and left power to his sons ie Pili-Pili, Mareru, Lulengo-Black back and Nvuyekure a juvenile gorilla.

Munyaga Family

This is situated in Bukima near to Goma with seven gorillas and 2 silverbacks. It was the ultimate group to be discovered by the wardens in 2008.The group is led by Silverback Muyanga and an adult female called who relocated from the Rugendo gorilla group in 2004 with two infant gorillas that unfortunately died. After a while, Munyanga also vanished leaving power in the hands of another silverback called Mawazo who was residing with Buhanga till 1997. Later on, he joined Karatega who he left and went back to Buhanga around 1998. He then finally left and united with the Munyaga Gorilla Family.

The Best Time To Go For Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

For one to get an inspiring gorilla trekking experience, he/she has to visit Congo in the dry season in the months of June, July, August, September and partly October. But due to changes in weather that are unpredictable in Congo since it is located near the equator sometimes it showers hence affecting the whole process of trekking these species.

What to Include for Gorilla Trekking

  • When preparing to go trekking, one should carry a denim shirt/t-shirt with long sleeves with them so as to cover their arms. This would protect them from wild plants, bush thorns, insects, and morning mist/chill.
  • Rain Jacket because it rains almost all the time in Uganda since it si located near the eqautor. You are also advised to carry with a cheap poncho and a light jacket since these are very important when trekking.
  • Long pants not jeans due to the fact that jeans get too heavy after getting wet when trekking gorillas in their thick habitat. Long thick dry pants are recommended due to the fact that they would offer protection from thorns, branches.
  • Light weight Boots and socks that cover and protect your ankles since trekking involves moving through muddy areas which is quite a hectic experience. One could also request for gum boots also called knee high rubber willies to enable them flexibly trek along steep terrain looking for these primates.
  • Building/Gardening gloves; these should be made of cotton and padded along the palms and fingers since touching the various vines is inevitable.

Note: One should also carry the following;

  • Cap/hat for covering their heads.
  • Waterproof plastic bag; this to help keep the camera/film safe.
  • Camera without a flash to take good photographs of the primates.
  • Sweater to keep you warm in the evenings and nights.