Chimpanzee Habituation is one of the amazing primate safari adventures not to miss in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This exciting adventure is a moving experience since you will get up-close and personal with the chimpanzees, our closest cousins;
History of Chimpanzee Habituation in Congo
Chimpanzee trekking in Congo in the Virunga National Park started in 1987’s when Frankfurt Zoologist Society (FZS) which initiated the 2 year process of habituating chimpanzees to human presence through developing an eighty kilometer network of trails inside the Tongo forest. By 1989 about 50 chimpanzees had already been habituated.
Treks immediately started and till 1992, these treks offered an important area of tourism revenue for the Virunga National Park and the surrounding Tongo community. The unfortunate bit of that is that, from 1992 to 2001, civil war made chimpanzee tourism to stop. Whereas there was prolonged time of civil conflict, Virunga National Park rangers continued to protect and monitored the chimpanzee habitat. There was no stability up to 2010 when the FZS and a team of 35 people from the local community were able to re-launch the chimpanzee habituation process.
In February, 2014, a Congolese team trained by FZS started habituating a chimpanzee troop living in the forest within the park headquarters in Rumangabo.
Guests staying at Mikeno Lodge can join this team on their daily visits to the chimpanzees. The day begins when a group of local trackers leave their camp at 4:30 am to locate where the chimpanzees spent the previous night. Lodge guests set out at 6:00 am to find the chimpanzees. Groups are limited to 4 people and time with the chimpanzees is restricted to one hour.
If you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled walk (i.e. you have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) – please cancel. Like the gorillas, chimpanzees are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Chimpanzees have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.
How Chimpanzee Trekking is done in Virunga National Park
For interested visitors on a Congo safari and living at other lodges such as Mikeno Lodge, you can join the chimpanzee trekking team on their daily visits to view the chimpanzees as the trek starts with a group of local trackers leaving their camp at 4:30am to find where the chimpanzees spent the previous night in the forest. Trackers have simplified chimpanzee trekking in Virunga National Park since they are sent to the field before group is set off for the trek. Visitors set off at 6:00am to look out for chimpanzees and only one hour for chimp trekking and for habituation 4 hours are given for you to be with the species, explore their general behavior and take enough photos. Only 6 people per group that are allowed to trek chimpanzees each day. For visitors who are willing to catch a glimpse of these fascinating primates, it is possible for you to achieve your dreams with Chimpanzee trekking and habituation in Virunga National Park, Congo. These adventures can be explored within the same date in the forest around the park’s headquarters-Rumangabo. There are more than three (3) habituated chimpanzee groups and open for tourism in Congo.
Chimpanzee Tracking Permit
The permits for chimpanzee tracking in Virunga National Park cost $100 per tourist per trek which is relatively cheaper than that of Uganda which cost $150 for Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest National park. To arrange for your permit, reach out Congo Gorilla Safaris, one of the local tour operators based in Goma, Congo.
Guidelines for Chimpanzee Trekking in Virunga National Park
If you have cold, flue or diarrhea you are not allowed to visit the Chimpanzees because they share about 98% of their DNA with humans thus they are susceptible to human infectious diseases. In case you fall sick before the actual trek, then you are requested to inform the park rangers and your money (for the Chimpanzee permit) will be refunded to you just like it is done for Mountain gorilla trekking. In case you sneeze or cough, please turn your mouth away or cover it using a handkerchief to minimize risks of spreading germs to the chimpanzees.
Keep a distance of 7-8 meters away from the Chimpanzees at all times to prevent disease transmission to these species. Keep silence while tracking or while with the Chimpanzees because noise scares them away.
Don’t eat, drink or smoke while in the forest tracking the chimpanzees.
What to Carry for Chimpanzee Tracking in Virunga National Park
Don’t forget to carry enough drinking water and packed lunch, backpack is handy for carrying your camera, packed lunch or snacks, drinking water and even your rain jacket; Wear long sleeved shirts to guard your arms from the rough tree branches, stinging nettles and grass that are likely to injure your arms; Long trousers are very important to protect your legs from rough tree branches that can scratch your legs hence make the Chimpanzee tracking experience a nightmare instead of being memorable; Wear Sturdy hiking boots with enough grips to allow you hike through steeper areas and maneuver through some of the muddy and slippery trails during the rainy seasons; Wear long socks, and should tuck in your trousers into the socks to prevent the safari ants and other insects from entering your trousers; Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes respectively from the Tropical sunshine and not to forget to wear a rain jacket whether it is a wet or dry season to guard you from the rain that is unpredictable within Virunga National Park.
Best Time to Track the Chimpanzees of Virunga National Park
The best time to track the chimpanzees is the dry season from June to September and December to February because the hiking trails are not wet, muddy and slippery during this season. However, with the high rate of climate change, this literally becomes difficult to predict.
In conclusion, besides mountain gorilla adventures, the Virunga National Park also offers you the opportunity to realize your dreams with amazing chimpanzees encounters and the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience which allows you to spend quality time with these apes that share 98% of their DNA with mankind.