Located about 40 kilometers from Bukavu Town Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Kivu province next to Lake Kivu, Kahuzi Biega National Park is credited for its fascinating Eastern Lowland gorillas. The park covers an area of about 6000 square kilometers which makes it one of the largest protected areas in the DRC.
The park was gazetted in the 1970s primarily to offer refuge to the Great apes-Grauer’s gorillas. The Lowland gorillas are the largest subspecies of gorillas in Africa. About 284 Grauer’s gorillas are known to thrive in Kahuzi Biega National Park out of the total population of 5000. When it comes to gorilla trekking safaris, visitors do not only lookout for a group of these fascinating apes but also other wildlife.
About 135 species of mammal, 336 bird life and 12 other primate species including the Eastern chimpanzees, L’Hoests, the Blue monkeys, the black and white colobus many more can be sighted while on a gorilla safari in this spectacular protected area. Kahuzi Biega National Park is incredibly the best spot for you to catch a glimpse of the lowland gorillas while in their natural habitat.
Additionally, Kahuzi Biega National Park is a home to 2(two)Volcanoes; Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega from which the park derived its name. Kahuzi Biega is strategically located at the mountainous and low-lying area making it one of the diverse protected areas with several Albertine Rift endemic species and 69 reptile species and 44 amphibian species. With countless biodiversity that is inhabited in its jungles, the park is one of the popular UNESCO world heritage sites that you can visit if you are planning to take a safari to DRC. However, guided safaris are highly recommended to this park other than self-drive. If you can’t afford a guided safari offered by tour operators, at least you can cheaply hire a car with a driver to act as a local guide and drive you through DR Congo.
The Congolese Institute for Wildlife and Nature Conservation together with other conservation bodies amidst the civil wars, have tirelessly conserved not just the Eastern Lowland gorillas at Kahuzi Biega National Park alone but also several wildlife species within its habitat. With these collective efforts, Eastern Lowland gorilla tourism and conservation at Kahuzi Biega National Park has stood for years as it generates revenue not only to the government of Congo but also to the local communities.
Regardless of political insecurity in DRC, Kahuzi Biega National Park still remains safe and secure for lowland gorilla trekking as the political unrest impact is primarily experienced in some parts of the Virunga National Park particularly in the Eastern part and Northern Kivu Province. Although the 1990’s civil wars caused much impact on the Eastern Lowland gorillas and other wildlife species as well as their habitat due to poaching, the current safety around the Park has led to an increasing number of tourists have been and still visiting the park mainly for Eastern Lowland gorillas and other wildlife species as well as paying a visit to adjacent local communities.
The Grauer’s gorilla conservation in DR Congo has been boosted by continuous efforts and initiatives on habituation of new gorilla groups, establishing a visitor center and accommodation facilities, introduction of more exciting tourism activities especially birding, volcano hiking experiences, empowering the local community members, training and equipping the park rangers so as to ensure longer visitor stay in the park. Like mountain gorilla trekking, Eastern Lowland trekking also allows visitors to spend only one hour with the apes. Permits for this lifetime experience cost $ 400 per person.
With about 12 groups that in Kahuzi Biega National Park, only two habituated gorilla families have been set for gorilla trekking while more two are also still undergoing the habituation process and they will add the number to 4 (four) troops. The more habituated gorilla families, the more opportunities for trekkers to achieve their time dreams! Gorilla treks at Kahuzi Biega National Park start at Tschivanga visitor center and the trek normally takes around 1 to 6 hours depending on the location of their group, speed of the visitors, and nature of the habitat.
Trekking habituated gorilla families are advantageous as they come with many gorillas and this is of great benefit to trekkers as they are able to catch a glimpse of the silverback gorillas, female gorillas, infants, juveniles and sub silverback gorillas. Equally, tracking the Eastern Lowland gorillas also allows only 8 (eight) visitors per gorilla group.
The two habituated gorilla groups in Kahuzi Biega National Park include the following;
Chimanuka gorilla group:
The Chimanuka family was named after the silverback gorilla-Chimanuka. This is the largest troop that you shouldn’t miss to track while on safari in Kahuzi Biega National Park. It is composed of about 37 gorillas, 17 female gorillas, 19 infants of about six months, and nine years. The group is credited for its four sets of twins something very unique with the Eastern gorilla populations.
Mugaruka Gorilla Group:
Mugaruka a dominant silverback gorilla that lost one of his hands to poachers’ trap and currently he is the dominant silverback gorilla in Mugaruka family just after losing his female gorilla and many infants during the fight with Chimanuka. The Mugaruka troop is popularly called the last born of the sons of the late patriarch, Mushamuka. This silverback was born in 1987 and at the age of 3 (three), he got trapped in poachers’ snares which made him lose his right hand. When he turned 10 years, he took over his father’s gorilla family-Mushamuka. Between 1999 and 2007, Mugaruka encountered many challenges from Chimanuka that led to the loss of most of the members of Chimanuka. By 2007, Mugaruka also lost his last female gorilla known as Lushasha and his firstborn Cubaka which explains why he is the only gorilla in the group.
The other groups that are still undergoing habituation include the Mankoto and Mpungwe
When it comes to where to stay while on a gorilla safari in Kahuzi Biega National Park, there are no safari lodges within the park but there are some nearby accommodations like Exodus Hotel, Horizon Hotel, Coco Lodge, Hotel Begonias, Ruby Guest House, Orchids Safari Club or alternatively you can go for camping offers.
In conclusion, Kahuzi Biega National Park offers visitors yet another exciting gorilla adventure of a lifetime. If you are planning your mountain gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park, do not forget to visit Kahuzi Biega National Park for lowland gorilla trekking experiences.