About Lowland Gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
The Eastern Lowland gorilla, also known as Gorilla Beringei Graueri, is a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla. This subspecies is recognized as the largest among the four gorilla species and can only be found in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Maiko National Park, Itombwe Massif, Tayna Gorilla Reserve, and Usala Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A group of an Eastern Lowland gorilla family can consist of up to 30 individuals, with a dominating silverback. The silverback has access to all the females in the group, and as the young males mature, they either challenge their father for leadership or leave the group with some members to form their own family. The name “Gorilla Beringei Graueri” was given in honor of the Austrian scientist Rudolf Grauer, who first identified the Eastern Lowland gorilla as a subspecies in the early 20th century.
The average weight of a male Eastern Lowland gorilla can reach 210 kilograms, while females weigh around 100 kilograms. Males can be as tall as 1.85 meters, while females are a bit shorter, with a height of 1.6 meters. They also have the broadest altitude range compared to other gorillas.
Comparing Gorilla Trekking in Virunga vs Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Virunga National Park and Kahuzi-Biega National Park are the only two parks with gorillas in DR Congo. Both parks offer distinct gorilla trekking experiences to visitors and varying terrains and gorilla species.
Trekking with gorillas in Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and one of the UNESCO World Heritage site that have a very rich biodiversity. It is home to Congo’s only mountain gorillas and sits on the Virunga Conservation Area, right at the border with Rwanda and Uganda. Virunga National Park is a wildlife haven; what would have been the best national park in the world.
The Mountain Gorillas
With over 300 individuals, Virunga is famous for its population of mountain gorillas. Most of these gorillas inhabit the southern regions of the park. These gentle giants are the primary focus of gorilla trekking tours in the region. With over eight habituated mountain gorilla families, Virunga offers a perfect setting to see mountain gorillas in the wild.
The Congo Gorilla Trekking Experience in Virunga
Early morning, tourists assemble at the park headquarters for mountain gorilla group allocations before they are dispatched into the Virunga Conservation Area to search for mountain gorillas. The trek itself can take between 30 minutes to 6 hours. When you locate the gorillas, you will spend an hour with them; a perfect opportunity to photograph your experience, or eve film it for the archives.
Virunga Gorilla Permits and Costs
Each Congo gorilla permit costs USD 400 and entitles you to one gorilla trekking encounter. Multiple treks will require multiple permits.
The revenue generated from gorilla permits is used to protect the gorillas, further their conservation, pay the park rangers and support the local communities near the park to prevent them from engaging in illegal activities like poaching.
Trekking with gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Also known as Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega) is home to DR Congo’s lowland gorillas. The park is located in Bukavu in the eastern part of the country, bordering Rusizi District of Rwanda. Lowland gorillas are a distinct gorilla species as they mainly live in low altitude areas, unlike mountain gorillas that live in higher altitude areas.
The Eastern Lowland Gorillas
Kahuzi-Biega is shelters a big number of Eastern Lowland gorillas. These gorillas are also known as the Grauer’s gorillas. These gorillas are larger and have distinct behaviors compared to their mountain gorilla counterparts.
The Congo Gorilla Trekking Experience in Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla trekking in Kahuzi-Biega National Park is quite intimate and unique. Despite receiving fewer visitors that Virunga, Kahuzi-Biega is less crowded and offers a very secluded experience. The trek is quitter and easier too. You get to trek through dense rainforests, before you actually encounter the gorillas.
Lowland Permits and Costs
A Congo gorilla trekking permit in Kahuzi-Biega National Park costs $400 for foreign non-residents, and is more affordable for Congolese residents. The revenue generated from gorilla permits is used to protect the gorillas, further their conservation, pay the park rangers and support the local communities near the park to prevent them from engaging in illegal activities like poaching.
Choosing Between the Two
Your choice to trek gorillas in Virunga or Kahuzi-Biega depends on what you want. If you want to trek mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park is the place to go. However, if you want a more secluded experience with the lowland gorillas of Congo then Kahuzi-Biega National Park is the place to go.
Regardless, both parks play a huge role in preserving the respective gorilla species. Whichever park you visit, you’re sure you are contributing to a good cause by actually saving these gorillas indirectly.
Bukavu City – The Gateway for trekking with gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Bukavu City is located on the southwestern edge of Lake Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The town was established in 1901 by the Belgian colonial government and was led until 1954 by General Paul Costermans. Bukavu was originally an ancient kingdom of the Bushi people, the primary ethnic group that settled in the southern part of the Lake Kivu region. The kingdom was initially known as Rusozi and was ruled by Muluzi Nyalukemba. The name “Bakavu” came later and means “farm of cows,” referred to in the local language as “Bu’ Nkafu.”
The subtropical climate of the area attracted a colonial population during their rule. Bukavu is separated from Rwanda by the Ruzizi River, and the estimated population was 707,053 as per the 2003 census. Bukavu is built on five peninsulas and has been described as a green hand dipped in a lake. It was a former administrative town of the Kivu region but lost its status with the growth of Goma town.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is situated near Bukavu town on the western bank of Lake Kivu.
Best time to visit Congo gorillas
Congo is one of the countries crossed by the equator, which divides the country into two climatic zones. Both regions have two wet seasons and two dry seasons. The climate of Congo is tropical, with an average temperature ranging from 18°C to 25°C and high humidity levels during the wet months. The annual rainfall varies between 1100mm to 2000mm per year.
The dry season is the peak season and the best time to visit Congo. During this time, the roads to the parks are very accessible, the vegetation is not as thick, and wildlife tends to concentrate around water catchment areas. It is also the best time for gorilla trekking because the trekking trails are not muddy and steep, making it easier to traverse the jungle.
The dry season in Congo is also ideal for volcanic climbing because you won’t be disrupted by rain, and you’ll have clear views at the peak, especially at Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. The dry seasons in Congo are from January to February and May to September, offering an authentic experience for travelers.
The two wet seasons in Congo are from October to December and March to April. This is not the best time to visit Congo due to heavy rains that make most roads to national parks impassable. Animals in the parks are difficult to spot because of thick vegetation, and trekking trails become very steep and slippery.
The wet season is also less suitable for mountain climbing in Congo because of the heavy rains, which can affect your experience. The views at the mountain tops are not as fabulous as they are mostly covered with snow throughout the wet season.
However, visiting Congo during the rainy season has its advantages, including discounted gorilla permits. In the peak season, permits cost $400, but during the low season, they are reduced to only $200 per person. Additionally, most hotels in national parks offer reduced rates with low season discounts.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park can be reached within one and a half hours from Bukavu, which is the nearest town, and in 5 to 6 hours from Goma, near Virunga National Park. The easiest way to get to the park is from Kigali International Airport, which is a 6-7 hour drive to the Congo border and a 1-hour drive to the park.
Where to Stay when trekking gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega
Kahuzi-Biega National Park doesn’t offer accommodation options except for camping. Tourists can stay in the nearest town of Bukavu, where there are accommodations such as L’Orchids Safari Club, Coco Lodge, Hotel Begonias Bukavu, Lakeside Hotel, and Exodus Hotel, among others.