Virunga National park is found in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a central African nation that has recently become stable after decades of civil wars which have faded away.
Virunga National Park is a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site that lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the is the second oldest national park in the world, behind only Yellowstone, and the oldest in Africa. It is the most diverse national park on the African continent that boasts savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, forests, active volcanoes and the ice fields of the Rwenzori Mountains. Among Virunga’s numerous species of wildlife, the park is home to approximately 200 of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas that live on the slopes of the Virunga volcano ranger which includes active Nyiragongo volcano and the largest lava lake in the world.
The park is now a safe place for tourists who go on gorilla safaris in Congo; Virunga Park rangers provide maximum security for tourists and wildlife making it easily accessible for tourists all year round.
Virunga National Park is located in the Albertine Rift Valley in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was created in 1925 and is among the first protected areas in Africa. In elevation, it ranges from 680 m in the Semliki River valley to 5,109 m in the Rwenzori Mountains. Virunga national park is located in Democratic Republic of Congo which is well known as one of the insecure countries because of wars. These wars have affected their tourism sector because most of the visitors feel insecure of losing their lives just like 12 rangers that have been killed by suspected members of a Rwandan rebel group in Virunga national park. However some areas in virunga national park are secure for gorilla trekking because the authorities have deployed the security guards to protect the visitors as well as mountain gorillas.
Because of the stable political situation in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, it’s easy for tourists to access Virunga National Park via Rwanda and Uganda land borders once you have a DRC visa. Visit www.visitvirunga.org for DRC visa information.
Flora and Fauna
Occupying 1.2 million acres, Virunga National Park is rich in flora and fauna – home to 220 species of mammals and more than 700 bird species, the highest number of any protected area in Africa. This is one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas and it has been a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. Virunga National Park lies in the eastern mountains of the Congo, and it occupies some parts of the Virunga Mountains. The park extends northwards to the the Rwindi Plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains in the far north. It shares borders with the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda.
Although there are many animals, mountain gorillas are the most famous primates of Virunga National Park. An estimated number of over 200 individuals roam the park’s forests thus gorilla tracking is the prime tourist activity. Virunga wildlife rangers have successfully habituated 5 gorilla families for tourists.
Each gorilla family is visited by a group of 6 tourists accompanied by armed rangers and experienced guides who know very well gorillas and their home range. Tourists are subject to wear surgical masks so as to limit transmission of human diseases like colds to gorillas. Likewise rangers protect the gorillas and other wildlife from poaching, encroachment which has strengthened conservation.
Gorilla Tracking in Congo
Gorilla tracking starts from the Bukima patrol post where tourists report for briefing very early in the morning at 07:00 am by Congolese guides. Tourists must book for accommodations near this trekking point. There are amazing accommodation facilities within and outside the park for tourists to stay. Those in found in Goma city offer transportation for tourists to the main gorilla tracking trail head Bukima patrol post.
Virunga National Park is the place to have a real African jungle and adventure experience for nature lovers because the forest is still untouched. Few tourists visited the park since civil wars used to scare away tourists for two decades but they fortunately have just stopped and tourists who visit park now have a chance to enjoy solitude while tracking gorillas.
Another opportunity is that gorilla permits for virunga are cheaper at $400 per tourists unlike the expensive ones for Rwanda and Uganda. Also during the low seasons between October-November and April to May, tourists enjoy discounted permit fees at 200 per person.
Habituated Gorilla Families in Virunga National Park
If Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is your dream gorilla destination then Virunga National Park should be a must for you to visit. About 8 gorilla families have been habituated for visitors to trek every day so as to strike their imaginations with these great apes while they are still in their natural habitat. Note that each of the gorilla families’ dynamics and composition in Virunga National Park keep changing from time to time.
Kabirizi family was once known as Ndungutse family and this derived its name from the silverback gorilla Ndungutse-the humble and giant gorilla leader at a time. This silverback was killed around 1997 after he was caught up in crossfire between the DRC army and rebel groups in the Bukima patrol post. Kabirizi is a name derived from the ICCN Director who passed on in traffic accidents in the late 1990s. This family is recently under the control of Kabirizi silverback. The silverback is however facing severe completion from the young silverback Masibo. The family comprises of about 19 individuals.
This group can be trekked around the Bukima area of Virunga National Park. The habituation of this family began in 2008 and it derived its name from then silverback-Munyaga. The family is famous for an adult female Bilali that gave birth to twins after joining from Rugendo family. Unfortunately, the twins passed on at their infant stages. The leadership of the family was then transferred from Munyaga silverback to Mawazo silverback. Currently, Gasore is the recent leader of the family. The family is famous for a bold headed silverback Kadogo. This group consists of seven members.
Nyakamwe family is one of the newly habituated gorilla families in the Virunga National Park. This group was habituated in the same period with Bageni the biggest families in the Virunga National Park. It features about 11 individuals. It derived its name from Nyakamwe silverback.
Bageni family features as the biggest gorilla group in the Virunga National Park. It comprises of 26 individuals and headed by Bageni silverback. However, there are struggles for leadership in the family and higher chances are that the family will break off into 2 or even 3. There are two other silverbacks (Kanamaharagi and Kitagenda) who are currently struggling for leadership.
This features as one of the oldest and the most famous family in the Virunga National Park. It was habituated in 1989. This family was headed by the Rugendo silverback a father to Humba and recently headed by Bukima silverback. However, this family has undergone through various changes since its habituation. Around 1997, Rugendo family featured about 18 members with 2 (two) silverbacks-Rugendo and his son Humba. Humba fought his father in 1998 leading to creation of a new family with 10 members. Rugendo remained with only eight members and currently, it has only 9 members.
This family is situated in Jomba next to Bunagana-DR Congo Uganda border area. It was previously headed by Mapuwa silverback where the group derived its name. The silverback grabbed and safeguarded his group member by all means via violent struggles. He was a son to Rugendo the recent leader of the Rugendo family. He decided to leave his father’s family in 1998 and began his own group. By the time he left, he went with two adult females-Jicho and Mafaze. Due to endless fights, Mapuwa silverback has managed to grab more individuals from rest of the families. Pilipili is one of the strongest and very popular silverback in the Virunga National Park was stripped of compared to the rest of his of his member groups in 2002 and this left him as alone silverback. Besides grabbing member groups, there has been an increase in birth rates in the group with about 22 individuals that thrive within the family. Recently, Mvuyekure silverback features as a dominant silverback in the family.
This family thrives within the Jomba area of the Virunga National Park just next to Bunagana-the Congo Uganda border area. Lulengo family was previously known as Musekura family. The name later turned to Lulengo a name of the dominant silverback and in commemoration of the Technical Director of Virunga National Park who was murdered by the land mine. Lulengo silverback was born and was member of Rugabo family, the first habituated mountain gorilla family the Mikeno area. At that time, Rugabo silverback was a leader of Rugabo family. Rugabo was the father to Lulengo silverback who was murdered by poachers during the Great Lakes Refugees Crisis. After passing away Lulengo group remained in the hands of the black back Lulengo the current silverback and leader of the family. The group features about 9 individuals.
How to access Virunga National Park?
Virunga national park lies in eastern part of DR Congo and many visitors use Kigali International Airport reaching Goma town for about 32km through Gisenyi town by dirty roads. To reach bukima headquarters via Gisenyi, it takes 2 hours’ drive. However visitors from Uganda to Bukima pass via kisoro town at the boarders of Bunagana which takes an hour drive to Bukima which is the starting point of gorilla trekking. The park is not only accessed by roads but also by flights. Among the packages, travelers are told to decide the means of transport and so Africa Tours Adventure gives you the best tour safaris that are unforgettable. The park rangers organize the private transport for those travelling by air on Goma airport.
How much is the gorilla permit in Virunga national park?
A gorilla permit is a national document licensed and issued by the government body. In Congo a gorilla permit is issued by Virunga National Park but in other countries like Uganda, the gorilla permits are issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rwanda, the gorilla permits are issued by Rwanda Development Board. Virunga gorilla permit costs $450 USD per person and it is one of the national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo that offers discounted gorilla permits in the low season. The Cost of Gorilla Trekking, most visitors who are much interested in gorilla trekking always ask the major necessities and these are gorilla permit as a must, transportation from the airport and accommodation. Gorilla permits also allows the visitors to track habituated mountain gorillas in their natural environment in Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Volcano National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Congo although the cost of habituated gorillas is different from those un habituated gorillas. For example the cost of habituated gorillas in Uganda is $1500 and un habituated gorillas is $700.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking is perfectly done in habituated gorilla families. If you are planning to undertake a gorilla trip to Virunga National Park, one of the above listed habituated families should be a must for you explore.