GORILLA FAMILIES IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Virunga National Park is among one of the renowned biologically diverse protected areas on the planet where half of the biodiversity found in the sub-Saharan Africa can be found. The Virunga Park is also a destination for geologic wonder since it has two of the world’s most active volcanoes.
The park was inaugurated in 1925 by King Albert (I) of Belgium. Originally Virunga National Park was known as Albert National Park and was the first national park on the African continent. It was gazetted primarily to protect the mountain gorillas living in the Virunga forest.
The Mountain gorillas live in groups known as troops / families with each troop led by an adult male called a Silverback taking care of multiple adult females with their off springs. The Silverbacks are always above 12 years of age and named silverback because of the distinctive patch of silver hair on their back which comes at its maturity age. It’s always the silverback that makes all decisions in the group and it’s also responsible for the protection of the family/group from all forms of danger or threats from any main predator or intruders. The silverback seek no trouble not until harassed or in defense of their families/group. Since gorillas are nomadic, the Silverbacks lead the families to where they will eat and nest every single day. He is also responsible for mating the female gorillas in the family.
The Gorillas fabricate their nests for both daytime and night use; these nests tend to be elementary with aggregations of branches and leaves of about 2 to 5 feet in diameter and are built by individuals. Often the young Gorillas nest with their mothers but after 3 years of age they would have to construct their own. A mountain gorilla can live up to 35–40 years, although some Gorillas may live longer than that. Mountain gorillas commonly live in areas with rich volcanic soils of the Virunga although it is highly valued areas for carrying out agriculture by the neighboring communities.
Mountain gorilla’s biggest threat is habitat loss and some poachers who hunt them down for bush meat and also expansion of farm lands. However, there has been the invention of a regional conservation program for sensitizing the surrounding communities about the importance of maintaining the forest watershed and the need to habituate gorillas for tourist activities in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. This has greatly helped in combating encroachment.
These are the habituated mountain gorilla families that can be visited by tourists taking gorilla safaris in Congo’s Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo;
This gorilla family is comprised of 34 members under the leadership of 2 Silverbacks. The group can be located in Bukima sector close to Goma with the group being led by Kabirizi Silver back. This group derived its name from the Director of ICCN who passed away in a traffic accident in the late 1990s. The silver back Kabirizi was formally a wild gorilla before being habituated. However, he was later named the head of his family after habituation in 1990’s. This group was formally known as Ndungutse family because by then it was led by Ndungutse Silverback who was also murdered in 1997 after being caught in crossfire that took place between the DR Congo army and Rwandan rebels near the Bukima patrol post.
Humba Gorilla Family
The Humba family is led by Humba silverback, this group is also found in Bukima sector of the Park near Goma. It is comprised of 16 Gorillas with the inclusion of 2 Silverbacks. This is so far the unperturbed habituated Gorilla family that many tourists and ranger enjoy tracking. Humba is a brother to Senkwekwe Silverback who was assassinated on 22nd July 2007 by anonymous gun men. Humba cleaved from Rugendo (His father) in 1998, since then he became a Silverback leading this group till now.
This group has got six (6) individuals with an inclusion of 3 Silverbacks. The family is led by Rugendo the father of Humba which was habituated in 1989 and by 1997 the family population grew to 18 individuals with two Silverbacks (Rugendo and his son Humba). After the splitting of Humba from his father in 1998, the group remained with only 8 Individuals staying with Rugendo. But after some time, there was increase in the number of the Gorillas in this family due to the consecutive births that came after. In 1999, the family celebrated the birth of two baby gorillas from the adult female Safi who gave birth to Katembo, and Neza who also gave birth. However on 15th July 2001, a tragedy happened during the clashes between the military and the Interahamwe militia groups that resulted to the assassination of Rugendo the Silverback who was shot dead just 40 meters from the park boundary. Also In 2007, the group was again severely attacked and 4 other Gorillas’ lives were claimed including 3 adult females (Safari, Neza, and Mburanumwe) and the Senkwekwe Silverback the successor of Rugendo as a group leader.
This group consists of 15 individuals of gorillas with 1 silverback. They are found in Jomba near Bunagana (Congo-Uganda border). The group is led by Mapuwa silverback that acquired and successfully protected his family by all means even when there are violent struggles. He was fathered by Rugendo who later left the dad’s camp in 1998 and founded his own family. He took along with him 2 adult females named Jicho and Mafaze after leaving (Rugendo) the father’s camp. He continuously fought wars in order to acquire more females. For example in 2002, he fought with Pili-Pili and obtained 3 individuals from him and left him solitary. But fortunately, consecutive births have occurred until now that the family has 15 individuals.
This group is comprised of 6 gorillas and 1 silverback being led by Lulengo himself and the group is found in Jomba near Bunagana (Congo-Uganda border). Lulengo was born in the Rugabo Family which was the first mountain gorilla family in the Mikeno Sector to be habituated. Previously the group was called ‘Musekura’ but was later changed by the Rangers to Lulengo in the memory of the Technical Director of Virunga National Park whose life was claimed by a land mine. His father Rugabo was also violently killed by a gun shot from poachers during the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis in 1994. After his death, the family was left under the reign of his sons Lulengo (Blackback), Pili-Pili, Mareru and Nvuyekure (Juvenile).
This group is found in Bukima adjustment to Goma and has got 7 gorilla individuals with 2 silverbacks. The Munyaga family was the last Gorilla group to be found by rangers in 2008. This family was headed by Munyaga by then the Silverback and the dominant adult female is called Bilali. She came from the Rugendo family in 2004 and after joining Munyaga family, she had two babies who both died in infancy. During that same period, Munyaga also vanished and as per now, the group is led by Silverback Mawazo who lived with Buhanga until 1997, who later joined Karatega, in 1998 he went back to Buhanga of which a month later, he returned to the Munyaga Family.