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Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park, formerly Albert National Park, park in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa). Created in 1925, it has an area of some 3,050 square miles (7,900 square km) and contains a vast diversity of habitats.

Elevations, climates, and habitats vary notably in Virunga National Park. Both the highest and lowest recorded rainfalls in the republic occur within the park’s boundaries: while annual rainfall at Lake Edward is some 20 inches (500 mm), the west slope of Mount Ruwenzori, less than 47 miles (75 km) away, receives more than 118 inches (3,000 mm). Some of the Ruwenzori Mountains are permanently snow-capped, and glaciers exist at high elevations. The park also encompasses savannas, peat bogs, marshes, lava plains, eastern steppe vegetation, and various types of forests, including tropical rainforest and bamboo.

The park is home to abundant wildlife, including elephants, whose numbers began decreasing in the late 20th century, and lions, which also face various threats. Hippopotamuses, rare mountain gorillas, okapis, antelope, warthogs, and pelicans all live in Virunga as well.

Mountain Gorilla Trekking

A visit with a mountain gorilla family is a life changing experience. Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent, good natured, and fascinating to observe. The silverback’s powerful presence is awe-inspiring, yet his calm clearly earns him the title, “gentle giant”. People are equally struck by the tenderness and care that mothers show their young. And then, of course, there are the juveniles who spend most of every waking hour at play and never cease to make visitors smile. We believe your time with Virunga’s mountain gorillas will leave you feeling changed for the better.

All treks are led by park rangers and usually depart from Bukima patrol post. Treks usually require 1-2 hours of hiking in each direction, depending where the mountain gorillas spent the previous night and the difficulty of the terrain.

To safeguard the health of Virunga’s gorillas, visitors will be required to wear surgical masks (provided) when in the presence of gorillas. Time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. If you don’t feel well at the time of your scheduled trek (i.e. you have a cold, fever, diarrhea, or persistent sore throat) – please cancel.Mountain gorillas are extremely susceptible to human illnesses. Gorillas have died after being exposed to human respiratory viruses and other common ailments.

Mountain gorilla trekking permit per day:
Adult [international]: $400
Adult [Congolese]: $150

Chimpanzee Habituation Walks

In February 2014, a Congolese team trained by Frankfurt Zoological Society began habituating a group of chimpanzees living in the forests around 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. Bookings for these walks can be arranged by emailing helen@virunga.org.

THE HISTORY BEHIND HABITUATING VIRUNGA’S CHIMPANZEESIn 1987, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) developed an 80 km network of trails inside the Tongo forest and began a two-year process of habituating chimpanzees to the presence of humans. By 1989, approximately 50 chimpanzees had been habituated. Treks soon began, and for the next three years, provided an important source of tourism revenue for the park and the small community of Tongo. Unfortunately, civil unrest put an end to chimpanzee tourism from 1992-2001. Despite this prolonged period of conflict, Virunga National Park rangers steadfastly protected and monitored Tongo’s chimpanzees. The peace that returned to the Kivus was short-lived. It wasn’t until 2010 that FZS and a team of 35 people from the local community was able to re-launch the habituation process. By June of that year, the chimpanzees were once again habituated and visitors began trekking in to see them on a regular basis. In April 2012, hostilities erupted yet again and chimpanzee trekking had to be halted. The M23 rebellion, as the conflict was known, eventually ended in January 2014. The Tongo team still visits this population of chimpanzees on a daily basis. The group now consists of 32 individuals.

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.

Chimpanzee habituation walk permit:
Adult [international]: $100
Adult [Congolese]: $25

Rwenzori Mountain Trekking

Virunga National Park also offers spectacular trekking and climbing trips to the Rwenzori mountains in the north of the park. Known also as the “Mountains of the Moon,” the Rwenzoris reach a height of 5,109 m (16,761 ft) and contain the largest glaciers left on the African continent. Those who trek and climb in the Rwenzoris will experience a stunning variety of landscapes, including bamboo forests, alpine meadows, lakes, and snow capped peaks. The flora and fauna of the Rwenzoris is equally diverse. Forest elephant, Okapi, chimpanzees, and numerous bird species make the Rwenzoris their home. The best weather in the Rwenzoris usually happens from January through mid-March and June to late August.