Virunga National Park

Virunga National park known as Parc National des Virunga in French was formerly called Albert National Park was founded in 1925 to safe guard Mountain Gorillas and was the very first National park in Africa. The park is 7800 sq kilometers (3000 sq kilometers) including forests, savannahs, lava plains, erosion valleys, swamps, active volcanoes with the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.

The park is situated in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo on the border of of Uganda and Rwanda and it is a sensational place for everyone to visit while still on earth due to the fact that it is secured and conserved with two amazing active volcanoes that is Mt. Nyiragongo and Mt.Nyamuragira  located in the massifs of the Virungas and Rwenzori mountains and a home to many mountain gorillas including both the eastern lowland gorillas and the endangered species of mountain gorillas along with chimpanzees, species that look like zebras though more like giraffes and Okapi.

There are also colonies of hippopotami, bird species, forest and savannah elephants and lions. The park has three sectors and these include the northern sector, southern sector and the central sector. The northern sector includes the great mysterious Rwenzori Mountains that borders Uganda. The summits of the Rwenzori Mountains are permanently snow capped with over 5000 meters (16,400 ft) and melted snow from the mountain is the primary source of River Nile and the Okapi are usually found along the valley of River Semliki.

The central sector includes the Ishasha river valley which is home to the restored hippo, Lake Edward with more than fifty species of fish, different species of birds and the Rwindi plains with big populations of buffalo, elephants, warthogs, topi. The southern sector has Mountain Gorillas that inhabit the border of the influential Mikeno Volcano (4380m/14,557 ft) with thick forest vegetation that act as home to the chimpanzee and different monkeys.

There are a number of different activities at Virunga National Park and these include Gorilla trekking, Chimpanzee tracking, Nature walks to the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage, Hiking Mt. Nyiragongo Volcano. Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano is situated about 3470m/11,382 ft in the west and people who take part in hiking get to spot the vigorous vast lava lakes that spew lava into the sky and provide good clear views with its red lighting in the sky especially at night. In the north, there is Mt.Nyamulagira Volcano that is known to be the most vigorous volcano in Africa and this has erupted more than forty times since the 1800s with the recent eruptions in January 2010 and November 2011.

Gorillas and Wildlife Protection

This project was initially founded to protect various wildlife and gorillas in Virunga National Park from being poached and trafficked/killed. The protection is rendered by the park wardens who take initiative to take care of these primates at all cost including people that live around the park too.

This project is in existence due to the presence of various organizations, individuals who fund it and was inspired by the un expected assassination of five gorilla individuals that belonged to the Rugendo family on July 24 2007 hence making it a point to protect all wildlife and mountain Gorillas.

The park is patrolled by rangers on a daily basis who are always equipped with the necessary items to use like guns, boots, gears to enhance peace and security. After implementation of these security reforms, the park has stabilized and the population of the mountain gorillas has increased and this has happened due to the presence of the international community that has donated and supported this in very many different ways.

Gorilla families at Virunga National Park

At Virunga National park there are six habituated Gorilla families which are distributed in different sectors like the Mikeno and Bukima sector neighboring Goma. The Mikeno sector comprises of approximately a hundred gorillas including seven infants. Bukima has the Kabirizi Gorilla group with 34 gorillas and two silverbacks. Other groups include the Humba, Rugendo, Mapuwa, lulengo and Muyanga.

Kabirizi Family

This group is led by silverback Kabirizi and is located in the Bukima sector close to Goma with thirty four gorillas and two silverbacks. It was habituated and opened for tracking 1998 and obtained its name from the director of ICCN who passed away after encountering a tragic accident that took his life too. Before then, the family was referred to as the Ndungutse gorilla group because it was led by silverback Ndungutse who was killed during the disputes between the revolutionaries of Rwanda and DRC in 1997.

Humba Family

Since 1998, this group is under the rule of a silverback called Humba who separated from Rugendo “the father” and a brother to silverback Senkwekwe who was assassinated on the 22nd July 2007 by mysterious people with firearms. It consists of sixteen gorillas with two silverbacks situated in the Bukima sector near Goma.

Rugendo Family

This group consisted of eighteen members including 2 silverbacks with Rugendo as the leader and this was habituated in 1989-1997. These two silverbacks i.e Humba and Rugendo later on separated and Rugendo was left with only eight members. Fortunately, the group increased in number as time passed due to the increased reproduction of juveniles in the group. For example,    two infant gorillas were born into the group in 1999 by an adult female Gorilla called Safari whose infant was called Katembo. Neza another adult female also gave birth on 15th July 2001. Sadly, Rugendo was killed during the insurgencies that were happening between the military and interhamwe armed force on 1st.  In 2007, four other Gorillas including Senkwekwe a successor to Rugendo were killed with three adult females ie Neza, Safari, and Mburanumwe.

Mapuwa Family

The group is located in Jomba near Bunagana with fifteen members and a silverback called Mapuwa. Silverback Mapuwa was a son to Rugendo who choose to separate with his birth family to create his own with two adult females namely Mafaze and Jicho. He did not stop fighting with other groups so as to gain more females to expand the group for example, in 2002 he battled with Pili-Pili whom he left an introvert then went on and snatched three female gorillas who he added to his group thereby increasing birthrates hence expanding the number to fifteen gorilla members.

Lulengo Family

This group is under the rule of Silverback Lulengo with six gorilla members and is found in Jomba close to Bunagana. Silver back Lulengo’s birth family was Rugabo which was the initial habituated family in the Mikeno sector. Before, the group was named “Musekura” although the name was changed by park wardens to Lulengo so as to remember the official director of Virunga National Park who died after encountering a land mine. Unfortunately, his father Rugabo also passed away after being killed in 1994 during the Great lakes Refugee Crisis and left power to his sons ie Pili-Pili, Mareru, Lulengo-Black back and Nvuyekure a juvenile gorilla.

Munyaga Family

This is situated in Bukima near to Goma with seven gorillas and 2 silverbacks. It was the ultimate group to be discovered by the wardens in 2008.The group is led by Silverback Muyanga and an adult female called who relocated from the Rugendo gorilla group in 2004 with two infant gorillas that unfortunately died. After a while, Munyanga also vanished leaving power in the hands of another silverback called Mawazo who was residing with Buhanga till 1997. Later on, he joined Karatega who he left and went back to Buhanga around 1998. He then finally left and united with the Munyaga Gorilla Family.

Other Safari Activities to do in Virunga National Park

  • Hiking Mountain Nyiragongo Volcano
  • Chimpanzee Habituation
  • Hiking and Nature walks
  • Birding

How to Get to Virunga national Park

Virunga National Park is situated 32 km west of Goma (capital of North Kivu province) and reaching this place one has to travel with someone who has knowledge about the whole area. The roads are not in good shape so the visitor has to be cautious when travelling and driving. An appropriate way to get to the town of Goma flexibly is through Rwanda due to its well structured infrastructure especially roads. Form Kigali one takes only three hours to get to the DRC across the border and in only ten minutes he/she will have reached Goma. One can also go south west of Uganda to the Bunagana border where they can get a less costly visa that enables them to enter the DRC.