Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to 2 gorilla subspecies including the mountain gorillas found in Virunga national park and the lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega national park. Both species have gorilla families that have been habituated for tourism. Kahuzi-Biega has 12 groups of which 2 are open for visiting while Virunga has 11 gorilla families. The latter is currently closed to tourism due to insecurity and therefore travelers interested in gorilla trekking may consider visiting the lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega.
Safety and security when planning to visit DR Congo for gorilla trekking safaris should be taken into consideration first before booking a trip. This can be done through a tour operator and guide, who know where it’s safe and where it’s not. The national parks are also protected by armed guards of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and the Virunga rangers. They protect gorillas and their habitats while also ensuring the safety of travellers.
Lowland gorilla families in Kahuzi-Biega national park
Kahuzi-Biega national park is a dense tropical rainforest situated within the Albertine rift valley and the Congo basin forest – the world’s largest carbon sink. The protected area covers 6,000 sq.km and contains rich biodiversity including 250 gorillas of the 3,800-world lowland gorilla population and 349 bird species of which 42 are Albertine Rift Endemics (AREs) such as Ladgen’s bushrike (Malaconotus lagdeni), white-naped pigeon (columba albinucha) and the green-breasted pitta which is also found in Uganda’s Kibale forest national park.
There are over 136 mammal species including endangered primate species such as eastern chimpanzee and Hamlyn’s monkeys as well as giant forest genet (genette victoriae), forest elephants and Congo buffaloes. The park is marked by two extinct volcanoes including Mount Kahuzi (3,308 m) and Mount Beiga (2,790m). The nature trail to the summit of Kahuzi volcano in the center of the park offers the opportunity to observe the transition of vegetation including lowland swamps, primary tropical forests, bamboo and subalpine zones. Kahuzi Beiga was named a center of plant diversity for having over 1,178 different plant species of which most are endemic including Senecio kahuzicus, which is only known to occur there, and
Lowland gorillas are the main tourist attractions of Kahuzi Beiga national park. It is famous for harboring 250 gorillas of the 3,800-world lowland gorilla population. Sadly, the number of lowland gorillas is declining due to poaching and habitat loss; they are critically endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The park was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979 and tourism has since enabled habituation of 12 lowland gorilla groups of which only 2 are available for visiting including Mugaruka and Chimanuka. Lowland gorilla trekking in Kahuzi Biega national park begins at Tshivanga visitor center, which is 32.4 km (58 min drive) from Bukavu capital city of South Kivu Province, eastern DR Congo.
The Chimanuka gorilla group has 36 members and is the largest in Kahuzi Biega national park. It’s famous for having 4 pairs of twins, the first of its kind recorded among primates in Africa. Gorillas in particular aren’t known to give birth to twins, according to Nature, a London based scientific journal. Witnessing the birth of twins is a mysterious occurrence unheard of in any other group across the 10 gorilla range states from east to west Africa.
Mugaruka gorilla group
Mugaruka gorilla family has 19 members of which its silverback Mugaruka lost his hand in a poacher’s snare trap in 2018. The limbed gorilla as the rangers calls it, left the group and lives alone. It avoids other young males and sometimes forages on herbs and crops in the local community fields. The locals are engaged and also participate in monitoring the movement of gorillas to ensure their safety.
Gorilla families in Virunga national park
Virunga national park has 10 habituated gorilla families according to the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP). These include Baraka, Bageni, Rugendo, Munyaga, Lulengo, Kabirizi, Mapuwa, Nyakamwe, Humba and Wilungula. The largest by number is Bageni with 48 gorillas. All groups are open for visiting, though Virunga closed amidst covid-19 pandemic. Virunga boasts rich biodiversity including two active volcanoes, over 700 species of birds and over 200 mammal species and 22 primate species such as chimpanzees mostly found around Mikeno Volcano. You should be ready to plan your Virunga gorilla safari when it reopens in the future. Besides trekking gorillas, the park offers hiking the active Nyiragongo volcano, visiting the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage sanctuary and game drives in the Lulimbi central sector. The Lulimbi area contains savanna grassland plains, riverine forest and provides home to lions, forest buffaloes (congo buffalo), savanna elephants and hippos.
Virunga is a must-visit gem in central Africa, here are the 10 gorilla families in the park.
Walingula gorilla family
The second largest gorilla group in Virunga national park, Wilungula consists of 42 individuals including 4 silverbacks. Other members of the group aren’t yet identified given that it was still being habituated and the process was near completion before the Covid-19 outbreak forced the closure of the park. However, few visits had been made to the group meaning that it will be open for visitors once the park re-opens.
Bageni is Virunga’s largest habituated gorilla family with 48 members including 3 Silverbacks, 1 Blackback, 13 Adult Females, 7 Sub-Adult Females, 10 Infants and 7 juveniles. The group resides on the slopes of Mikeno volcano around the briefing center at Rumangabo. Sometimes, the silverback Bageni may lead its family in feeding closer, making it easier to locate. After leaving the Kabirizi group in 2013 with 20 gorillas, he established his own troop. Bageni has further continued to confront other groups including the Walingula, from which it seized four adult females, which explains why the group number has grown significantly from 35 to 42 members.
The Baraka group currently consists of 19 members and its habituation is almost complete. According to Virunga rangers, the group will be ready for visiting when Virunga national park reopens. Due to the fact that this group is new, visitors anticipate seeing odd habits, such as a silverback performing chest thumps and groans.
The formation of the Kabirizi group dates back to 1994 and has since survived several rebel attacks in which some of its ancestry members were killed. One of the oldest gorilla families in the Virunga national park, the group has 24 members including 6 Silverbacks, 7 Adult Females, 2 Sub-Adults, 1 black back, 2 Juveniles, and 6 Infants. It resides in the area around Mikeno volcano near the Bukima tented camp, one of the midrange accommodations in southern Virunga national park.
Lulengo gorilla family
Lulengo was originally known as Rugabo and its habituation started in 1985 in the Jomba area southern sector. Lulengo is the oldest gorilla family in Virunga national park and has endured violent rebel attacks including the 1994 Jomba attack, in which Rugabo, the silverback and 2 adult females lost their lives. The poachers attempted to steal a juvenile but were arrested and the little gorilla was rescued. Due to the incident, a plan was thought to have a place where rescued gorillas would thrive. Accordingly, the Senkwekwe was created in 2009 to take care of orphaned mountain gorillas in Virunga national park. After the death of the dominant silverback, a younger black back Lulengo took over and is now mature leading a family of 11 members including 3 adult females, 2 sub-adults, 2 juveniles, and 2 infants are all blackbacks.
Mapuwa started with three gorillas in 1998 when the silverback Mapuwa grabbed two adult females from the Lulengo group. Today, there are 26 members that make up the Mapuwa group, including 3 silverbacks, 1 blackback, 8 adult females, 3 sub-adults, 3 Juveniles, and 8 Infants. Making up to this big number has been a difficult task for the silverback had to split and rejoin with another group called Mvuyekure in 2019. This group lives in the Jomba area in the southern sector of Virunga national park, and might be easier to locate.
Nyakamwe gorilla family
Located in the Bukima area southern part of Virunga, Nyakamwe group currently has 15 members including 3 silverbacks, 4 adult females, 2 sub-adults, 3 juveniles, and 3 infants. It was formed when the silverback Nyakamwe left the Humba group in 2014.
Humba group has 15 members comprising 2 silverbacks, 4 adult Females, 4 juveniles, and 5 infants. The family formed in 1998 after splitting away from the Rugendo group and lives in the southern sector area called Bikenge. Humba, who is the head silverback, is Rugendo’s son and took 6 members from his father’s family. Intime, the group has been adding members from interaction with other groups including Nyakamwe and Munyaga.
Munyaga formed in 1998 when a lone wild silverback encountered and overpowered another gorilla family. The silverback Mawazo from then established himself as the leader of Munyaga made up of 12 members including three silverbacks, three adult females, one sub-adult, two juveniles, and three infants. The group resides in the Bukima area south of Virunga national park and was interrupted by Kabirizi group which took most of the females in 2008. Fortunately, Mawazo was able to regain his members and is available for visiting.
Baraka, the gorilla family that is still undergoing habituation in Virunga national park, consists of 19 members, it resides in the Gikereri area, central part of the park. Its habituation was supposed to end in February 2020 but was postponed due to the closure of the park. The group’s home range is relatively far from the briefing center and can be challenging to locate. Visitors who are physically fit should attempt to visit this group.