Habituated Gorilla Families in Virunga National Park Congo
Most Mountain Gorilla Groups in Congo are habituated and can only be found in the Virunga National Park. The park has eight gorilla families as of 2016. In comparison to Rwanda’s Gorilla families, there has been instability with gorilla families in Congo.
The park has reopened and is very safe for tourists after being closed in 2012 due to the activities related to armed groups and poachers.
A few park personnel have in the past lost their lives to poachers and armed rebel groups. Poachers took advantage of the insecurity caused by clashes between government and rebel armed groups within the park area. Intensified oil exploration activities by the government within the Park Range, have of recent raised concern about the future of mountain gorilla families and the wider animal and plant life.
These are sad occurrences considering that the country is blessed with far more tourism resources than perhaps any of the other Mountain gorilla trekking countries. With total peace restored and full control of the countries tourism resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo can easily become the number one tourist destination in East and Central Africa.
Visitors planning to track gorillas in Congo need to know that the park is currently safe and tourist are accorded great protection within and outside the park. Poaching has been reduced and almost eliminated in the Virunga National Park. Armed guards, guides and park wardens are always on the lookout for tourists and the mountain gorillas. Buying gorilla permits is cheaper in Congo at 400 US dollars when compared to Uganda (700USD) and Rwanda (1500USD).
Kabirizi Gorilla group
This group is led by Kabirizi the powerful but humble silverback. They are found in the Bukima section near Goma. The group gets its name from the Director of ICCN who died in a traffic accident. This Congo gorilla group was initially known as the “Ndungutse” group after Ndungutse the dominant silverback. Ndungustse replaced his father Zunguruka who died of old age. Unfortunately Ndungutse was shot dead in 1997 after being caught in crossfire between government and Rwandan rebel forces. These events and others like infighting and rivalry paved way for Kabirizi a wild gorilla to take over the group. However a new young but ambitious silverback Masibo has now emerged and threatens to undermine Kabirizis leadership. You can read about how the allocation of gorilla groups is done.
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.
Rugendo Gorilla Group
This group is named after its former great leader Rugendo but is now led by silverback Bukima originally from the Buhanga group. Bukima now leads one of the oldest (1989) habituated gorilla groups in the park. Although the group now contains 9 members, it was not always so. There have been great changes in the group – especially after Rugendo the former leader fought his son Humba (leader of Humba group). The group had 18 members but Humba left with 10 members after the fight. Rugendo remained with 8 members but was killed during clashes between the Congolese army and a Rwandan rebel group. Rugendo is credited for fathering many of the great silverbacks who went on to lead their own groups in the park.
Mapuwa Gorilla Group
The Mapuwa group is composed of 22 individuals and is located in Jomba near the border with Uganda. Mvuyekure currently leads this group after taking over from Mapuwa the son of Rugendo. Mapuwa had left his father Rugendo with two females Mafaze and Jicho to start his own family under difficult hurdles. Mapuwa had to fight frequently to protect his family but also to acquire new members to his group. He had to deal with Pilipili, a strong silverback in the park to remain the dominant silverback. Apart from the leadership of Mapuwa and now Mvuyekure, the group has also grown because of new births. The group has 2 other silverbacks, 4 juveniles and 5 babies.
Lulengo Gorilla Group
This group has 9 members and is now led by Lulengo the dominant silverback. The group can be found in the Jomba nearing Congo’s border with Uganda. The group has an interesting and long history since it was habituated. The group was known as Musekura before it was changed to Lulengo the current silverback and also in memory of a park Director who lost his life to a land mine. Lulengo came to lead the group after his father Rugabo (of the Rugabo group) was killed by poachers. There are 9 members in the Lulengo group.
Munyaga Gorilla Group
Gasore is the current leader of the group composed of 7 members that includes juveniles and babies. The group was named after its former leader Munyaga who was succeeded by Mawazo and then Gasore the current dominant male. This group was the last to be discovered by park wardens in 2008. The Munyaga group resides in the Bukima sector of the park and is loved by visitors because of the female Bilali, her set of twins and Kadogo the bald headed silverback.
Nyakamwe Gorilla Group
This group is composed of 11 members and is named after Nyakamwe the dominant silverback and leader. 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:
The Bageni group contains 26 individuals and is the largest group in the park. 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.