The Virunga is a UNESCO heritage site which is acknowledged to inhabit more than 200 mountain gorillas especially in the southern part and it expands about 7800 square kilometers. Those interested in gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park, the gorilla permits cost $400. However, note that DRC is still recovering from political unrest and government is doing its best to ensure that peace prevails in the country.
The 7,800-square-kilometre park contains rare species of animals including the critically endangered mountain gorillas only found in three countries in the world. the mountain gorillas in the south are the celebrity attraction that brings most visitors to the park.
Although the civil conflicts in the democratic republic of Congo claimed the lives of many mountain gorillas in the national park, it has now stabilized and gorilla tourism takes place there. There are six mountain gorilla families in the Virunga national park part of the virunga conservation area that stretches across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the democratic republic of Congo.
Kabirizi gorilla family is the largest family in the national park with 32 members where as the other gorilla families include the lulengo family, nyakamwe family, humba family, mapuwa family and lugendo family. Gorilla tourism in the virunga national park is highly participated in since it is the only national park with mountain gorillas in the democratic republic of Congo.
The gorilla permit in the virunga national park is quite cheaper as compared to the neighboring Uganda and the republic of Rwanda. The mountain gorilla rules are the same as in Uganda and Rwanda, in that a 7-meter distance is encouraged between the traveler and the mountain gorillas and a maximum of 8 people are allowed to interact with the gorillas for a maximum of one hour.
Trekkers to the democratic republic of Congo are at a higher advantage of saving since the gorilla permit is cheaper yet the experience in all countries is the same.
For authentic experiences with our close relatives in the wild, there are 8 (eight) habituated gorilla groups that tourists visit during gorilla treks in Congo and these include;
Kabirizi gorilla group
This group was once known as Ndungutse gorilla group and it was named after Ndungutse silverback. Ndungutse was a renowned polite silverbacks and enormous silverback that was killed in 1997 during a fight between the Congo army and rebel group in the Bukima patrol station. Later, the gorilla group changed its name to Kabirizi to commemorate the ICCN director who was killed during the traffic accident in 1990. The group is led by Kabirizi silverback. The silverback is currently facing a lot of competition from up coming energetic silverback Masibo. Kabirizi gorilla group is composed of forty mountain gorillas and three silverbacks. The trek starts at the Bukima patrol station.
Humba Gorilla Group:
This calm group of 10 members is located in Bukima and was named after Humba the lead silverback. Humba separated from his father Rugendo in 1998 with 6 individuals and is a brother of Senkwekwe who was killed by gunmen in 2007. In 2014, the Humba group had 16 members but a split between Humba and his brother Nyakamwe reduced the group number. Nyakamwe left with 10 individuals leaving 6 with Humba. The group number has been raised by new births and acquisition of other individuals from other groups. Like Kakule the female from the Munyaga group. This group is much loved by tourists and lives around the Gatovu and Bikenge sections of the park.
Munyanga gorilla group: This gorilla group was named after Munyaga silverback. The group is popularly known for its adult female gorilla Bilali that gave birth to twins of which she lost during their younger ages. The group is currently led by Gasore silverback. This group is also popular to be a home to bold headed silverback-Kadogo. Munyanga gorilla group comprises of seven mountain gorillas and two silverbacks.
Humba gorilla group: This group is renowned to be the most mild gorilla group in the Virunga National Park. No wonder many tourists flock into this gorilla group for gorilla trekking experiences. Humba gorilla group was named after Humba, a brother to Senkwekwe silverback that gunmen killed on 22nd July 2007. Humba then split from his father Rugendo in the year1998. Today the group is proud to be a family of 16 mountain gorillas and two silverbacks.
Lulengo gorilla group
This group lies in the Jomba area, Virunga National Park and it was once called Musekura gorilla group but later it was renamed as Lulengo. The word Lulengo means the main silverback and it was named to commemorate the technical director of the Virunga National Park who lost is life due to landmine blast. The Lulengo silverback was once a member of the Rugabo gorilla group at a time when Rugabo led the group. Rugabo was then killed by poachers at a time of great lakes refugee crisis. The blackback Lulengo however took over the gorilla group till today. The group is made up of only nine mountain gorillas.
Mapuwa gorilla group:
This group was once led by Mapuwa silverback, a son to Rugendo the current leader of the Rugendo gorilla group. Mapuwa split from their family in the year 1998 and he started his group but went with two adult female gorillas-Jicho and Mafaze. Mapuwa however, succeeded in acquiring several mountain gorillas from other gorillas groups. Despite fights in this gorilla groups, their numbers still shot up till today that there are more than 22 mountain gorillas that are surviving in this family.
Rugendo gorilla group: The oldest and popular gorilla group that was habituated in 1989. The group was once led by Rugendo silverback, the father to Humba silverback. This gorilla group led by Bukima silverback and it is one of the renowned groups in terms of rough moments since their habituation. In 1997, the group grew as large as eighteen mountain gorillas together with two silverbacks but unfortunately Humba turned against his father in 1998 which led to creation of a new gorilla group by Humba with all the ten gorillas. This left Rugendo group with only eight individuals but because of changes, the group is now composed of nine gorillas.
Nyakamwe gorilla group: A newly created gorilla group in Virunga. It was habituated at the time of Bageni gorilla group which is known to be the biggest group in the Virunga national park. There are about eleven mountain gorillas that can be tracked in this gorilla group with their silverback gorilla-Nyakamwe.
The Nyakamwe group was formed in 2014 as a result of a split from the Humba group. Nyakamwe had for long had conflicts with his brother Humba and a split was inevitable. This group’s habituation is recent and occurred at the same time as the Bageni group, the largest gorilla group in the park. The group has babies and 2 juveniles and is found in the Bukima area of the park.
Bageni gorilla group: A largest gorilla group in Virunga National Park. The group is comprised of twenty six mountain gorillas with their silverback Bageni. Currently, there are two silverbacks that want to take over the new leadership of the gorilla group and they include Kanamaharagi and Kitagenda.
The group is found in Gatovu and Bukima sections of the park. Bangeni leads this group after splitting from the Kabirizi group. Because of its size, there is tension and frequent challenges to the leading silverback Bageni. These tensions within the group have made some predict a split in the near future.
In conclusion, each gorilla group has a different story for visitors who track the mountain gorillas. Endeavor visit more than one habituated gorilla group for unforgettable experiences of a life time.