A safari to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see the world’s charismatic mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling experiences that any one should include in his or her safaris in Africa. Despite the political instability, visiting the jungles of DRC to catch a glimpse of these tremendous creatures in the wild is equally the most remarkable and unforgettable experience of a life time. DRC is one of the only three countries in Africa that offer refuge to unique mountain gorillas just as you set into the jungles of Virunga National Park in Eastern part of the country. The park inhabits nearly 200 mountain gorillas out of the 900 that are still living in the world today. Virunga National Park at first had only 6 mountain gorilla groups that were set for tourists to track these tremendous wild creatures prior its closure in 2012 due to political unrest.
Virunga National Park is a designated World Heritage Site with currently 8 habituated gorilla families for tourists to track mountain gorillas. However, it is also one of the UNESCO sites that have continuously faced crucial factors like civil wars, encroachments, oil mining and poaching something that has made the lives of these critically endangered species a bit difficult. Keeping the status of heritage site is really becoming challenging due to presence of sever threats that are not only limiting the normal behavior of these species but also destabilize their natural habitat. That said, the country is still recovering from political instabilities and most importantly, visitors who wish to achieve their dreams in the jungles of DRC should first check out with security alerts or contact the embassy to ascertain more on security issues of the country before traveling.
Below is a list of habituated gorilla groups in Virunga National Park
Kabirizi gorilla group:
This group was previously comprised of over 34 members together with 2 silverback gorillas but today the group has 19 gorillas. It is situated around Bukima area just next to Goma town. Just from its name, the gorilla family is controlled by Kabirizi silverback. This tremendous gorilla family was named after the ICCN director who lost his life in a traffic accident in the late 1990s. Before, the Kabirizi silverback was not yet a habituated gorilla group and instead a wild gorilla. In 1998, he was given the name during the habituation process. However, before Kabirizi gorilla group was popularly called Ndungutse group since it was headed by Ndungutse silverback that was also killed in 1997 after it was trapped in crossfire between the DRC army and the Rwandan rebels around Bukima patrol station. The current silverback gorilla is facing a battle from young Masibo silverback. To track this gorilla family, tourists can begin their trek at Bukima patrol station.
Humba gorilla group:
This gorilla family is headed by Humba silverback. It is also one of the groups that are situated around Bukima area of the Virunga National Park. The group is comprised of 16 mountain gorillas including 2 silverbacks. It is also a popular peaceful habituated gorilla family and several visitors and park rangers treasure tracking it. Humba is a brother to Senkwekwe silverback gorilla that was killed on 22nd July 2007 by unknown gun men. He broke off from Rugendo-his father in 1998 and since then he has been a leader of the Humba gorilla group.
Rugendo gorilla group:
This gorilla group is made up of 6 members with 3 silverback gorillas. It is headed by Rugendo the dad to Humba. The group was habituated in 1989 and by 1997 it had around eighteen members including 2 silverback gorillas; Rugendo and Humba. At a time Humba broke away from his dad in 1998, only eight members lived with Rugendo and in the following years, some escalation in the population of gorillas in this family. In 1999, 2 births were experienced in the Rugendo family from the adult female gorilla called Safi that gave birth to Katembo and Neza too gave birth. Unfortunately, on 15th July 2001, Rugendo gorilla family got trapped in fire arm exchange between the military and interahamwe militia groups and at the end, he was killed nearly 40 meters away from Virunga National Park. In 2007, the family was again attacked and four members were also killed with 3 adult female gorillas called Safari, Neza and Mburanumwe and the Senkwekwe that was head silverback successor of Rugendo.
Mapuwa gorilla group:
This is another tremendous group that is comprised of fifteen members with one silverback gorilla. The group lies in Jomba just next to Bunagana. This gorilla family is headed Mapuwa silverback who has managed to bring more members into the group as well as guarded them from external enemies. Mapuwa was also a son to Rugendo silverback but he broke away from his dad’s camp in 1998 and began his own group. At a time he broke away, he went with two adult female gorilla called Jicho and Mafaze. He kept on fighting wars to succeed other female gorilla especially in 2002, where he battled with Pilipili and took three members from his group and this left Pilipili a lonely silverback. Several baby gorillas have also been welcomed into this gorilla family something that has increased their population up to 15 members.
Lulengo gorilla group:
Lulengo group is made of six members with one silverback gorilla. It is headed by Lulengo silverback. The group is situated in Jomba next to Congo-Uganda border in Bunagana. Lulengo silverback was born into Rugabo gorilla group, the ancient habituated gorilla group in Mikeno area. Before, this gorilla family was known as Musekura but was renamed as Lulengo in remembrance of the Technical Director of Virunga National Park who was killed by a land mine. His dad Rugabo was also killed by poachers at a time of the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis in 1994. After his death, the gorilla group was succeeded by Lulengo, a blackback gorilla at a time, Pilipili, mareru and Nvuyekure.
Munyaga gorilla group:
This gorilla family is situated in Bukima near Goma and it is composed of seven and two silverbacks. This was also the last gorilla family to be habituated in 2008. It is headed by Munyaga silverback and dominant adult female gorilla called Bilali. Bilali came from the Rugendo gorilla family in 2004 and after she joined this group, she had 2 baby gorillas but unfortunately they all passed on. It was during this that Munyaga silverback also went away and currently the family is led by Mawazo silverback that stayed with Buhanga till 1997, and then joined Karatega where he returned to Ruhanga in 1998 and nearly four weeks later he went to Munyaga gorilla group. The gorilla family is popular for its bold headed silverback Kadogo.
Nyakamwe gorilla family:
This is a newly created gorilla family in Virunga National Park. It was founded together with Bageni group the biggest gorilla family in the park. This gorilla family is composed of 11 individuals and it is headed by Nyakamwe silverback. The family derived its name from silverback gorilla known as Nyakamwe. Currently there are instances of struggling for power in this gorilla family.
Bageni gorilla family:
This is currently the biggest habituated gorilla group in the park. It is composed of 26 gorillas with their silverback Bageni. However, there is a battle already in this gorilla family and it is predicted that the family might break off into 2 or even 3 families. The family is comprised of two silverback gorillas (Kanamaharagi and Kitagenda silverback) that are currently battling with Bageni silverback.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is one of the remarkable experiences that you must not miss out while in your safari in DRC. The park is comprised of several habituated gorilla groups that tourists go to track these splendid creatures in the wild. Enjoy your Congo safaris with us in the Virunga National Park!