The Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage is situated at the headquarters of Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The orphanage was established in 2010 and it’s the only place in the world were mountain gorillas have survived in captivity. The gorilla orphanage was named after a silverback that was called “Senkwekwe” who was killed during a massacre of some armed robbers in the national park in 2007, during the massacre two young gorillas were orphaned named Ndezi and Ndakazi.
A decision came up to take care of mountain gorillas orphaned by animal trafficking, poaching, and natural death. Caretakers and gorilla doctors have been put in place to ensure the safety of gorillas; there are six mountain gorillas that have survived in the orphanage since 2010.
There are also some lowland eastern gorillas in the orphanage that are kept in the orphanage before being transferred to Gorilla Rehabilitation and conservation education center for orphaned lowland gorillas.
The gorillas have managed to survive through funding from the community, well-wishers, and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Howard Buffett, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, World Heritage Organization, gearing up for gorillas, Murry Foundation and Gorilla Doctors and so much more.
Below are some of the gorillas that have survived in the center since its opening
Matabishi. Matabishi joined the orphanage in 2010, this male gorilla was found near the park’s boundary and it’s believed that poachers abandoned him there in fear of being caught in illegal poaching. Matabishi was groomed by Maisha as though it was her own baby.
Maisha. Maisha was the first orphan in the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage in 2010; she was born in 2001and the name Maisha means life. In 2004 Maisha was captured by some rebel group and taken to a cave in Rwanda. The rangers of volcanoes national park and police in Rwanda heard rumors of Maisha in the cave and rescued her but she was in a very devastating state, the gorilla doctors in Rwanda took very good care of her and treated her and she regained conscience she was then returned to Congo when she was nine years old. She stayed happily at the orphanage raising many orphaned gorillas and acted as a leader until she developed an illness that led to her death.
Ndeze. Ndeze is the daughter to the female gorilla safari who was a member of Rugendo gorilla family that was caught under the massacre in 2007. Ndeze was found clung to her dead mother’s breast. She was transferred to Senkwekwe gorilla center.
Yalala. Yalala was found after being abandoned by her family that had tried all possible ways to rescue her from the snare but failed, the snare was set up by poachers and injured the gorilla very badly leading to the amputation of her leg by doctors later and she was put to the orphanage.
Ndakasi. Ndakasi was also among the survivors of Rugendo family that survived the massacre of 2007, Ndakasi was brought together with Ndezi to the orphanage after staying in a house in Goma she is among the first gorillas in Senkwekwe center.
Kaboko. Kaboko just like Yalala was found caught up in a snare set up by poachers, the gorilla was taken to the center and amputated by gorilla doctors though he continued having stomach problems and its believed she died out of stress during the gunfire between rebels and park rangers, Kaboko died in 2012 at the age of 5 years when the gorilla doctors were still in Rwanda and couldn’t come to rescue him in time.
One of the most beautiful things about Senkwekwe gorillas is that they have learned to interact freely with humans unlike the gorillas in the wilderness. Visiting the orphanage is at a less cost and free for visitors staying at Mikeno lodge.
There’s is a platform where visitors can sit and observed mountain gorillas play and interact with caretakers, there also other primate species like monkeys that like visiting the place.
Other Activities to do in Virunga National Park
Gorilla trekking. Virunga national park has got some groups of habituated gorillas that tourists can visit, gorilla trekking can be done by a maximum of 8 people visiting a gorilla family per day and spending One hour in the presence of these great apes. Congo offers the cheapest gorilla permits compared to Rwanda and Uganda at $450 per person.
Chimpanzee trekking. Chimpanzee trekking was introduced in Virunga national park in 2014, chimpanzees are humans close relatives sharing about 98% DNA just like mountain gorillas. Chimpanzee trekking is easy as they are not hard to find like gorillas and the cost is also cheap compared to a gorilla permit.
Bird watching. Virunga national park is also a birder-paradise hosting various species of birds some of which are endemic to this area, some of the examples of birds you can spot in the park include; grey throated barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, narrow tailed starling, yellow-billed barbet, double toothed barbet, and many others.
Mountain climbing. You can hike some of the world’s most active volcanoes that is Mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira while at Virunga national park. Mount Nyiragongo hosts the world’s largest lava lake and the most fluid lava that travels 90 kilometers per hour compared to the rest that travel to 1-10 kilometres per hour. Mount Nyamuragira like Nyiragongo is part of the 8 Virunga massif volcanoes, it’s said to have erupted at least 40 times since 1985 with eruptions from the summit and flanks of the volcano the last eruption took place in 2010 and 2011. All these mountains at Virunga national park provide unique experiences that should not be missed while visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where to sleep
There various accommodation units’ tourists can sleep in while at Virunga national park like Mikeno lodge, Tchegera tented camp and many others. Virunga national park can be visited all year round especially if your aim is to visit the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage. If you intend to go hiking and trekking gorillas or chimpanzees, then the best time is from June to August in the dry season.