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Kahuzi-Biega National Park

HISTORY

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The Park is named after Mt. Kahuzi (3,308m) and Mt. Biega (2,790m) which are located in South Kivu Province, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It spreads from the Congo River basin near Itebero-Utu to the northwest of Bukavu, and is very near to the borders with Rwanda and Burundi.


In 1937, for the protection of the Eastern Lowland Gorillas (gorilla beringei graueri), the Belgian colonial administration created the Zoological Reserve of Mt. Kahuzi which covered an area of 750 sq. km.

In 1970 it was reduced to 600 sq. km. and renamed Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

In 1975 the area was increased to 6,000 sq. km. Since this extension, the park has been composed of two sectors - the high and the low altitude sectors - linked by a narrow ecological ‘corridor’.


In 1980 the Kahuzi-Biega National Park was given extra protection by being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


During the terrible Rwandan civil conflict of 1990-1994, a huge number of refugees came to live in and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The area was further affected by two major wars; the First Congo War (November 1996 - May 1997) and the Second Congo War (August 1998 - July 2003).


Consequently, the Park has been put on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger since 1997, due to the overwhelming threats and dangers caused by political instability, the influx of refugees, illegal settlers, poaching, the removal and burning of timber, illegal mining activities, and the presence of militia groups.


Thankfully, today the situation is much-improved and the Park Authority, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), is operating vigorously to monitor the gorillas and protect the Park.


You can visit the official blog of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park at http://kahuzibiega.org



LOCATION OF THE PARK


View Kahuzi-Biega National Park in a larger map

FAUNA AND FLORA

As part of the Congo Basin Forest, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park has a rich biological diversity. The forests are teeming with endemic plant species. The range of its fauna is also very extensive. Apart from the Eastern Lowland Grauer’s Gorilla, there are other mammal species such as forest elephant, chimpanzee, bonobo, antelope, genet, serval, and bush hog, as well as a huge variety of birds, reptiles and amphibians.


CLIMATE

Rainy seasons are April - May and October - January. The average temperature in nearby Bukavu is between 19 and 21 degrees C. The temperature in the Park is a little cooler than Bukavu, due to its slightly higher altitude. It can be cool in the evenings so, if you are coming to visit, bring a sweater or jacket.


Here is a weather focast for Bukavu for today and tomorrow.

Bukavu
Day Min Max Wind Weather
Tue
25th
11°C 26°C
SSE

2 m/s

Wed
26th
12°C 27°C
ESE

1 m/s


HISTORY OF GORILLA TRACKING

The Eastern Lowland Gorilla (gorilla beringei graueri) were the first sub-species of gorillas to be visited by tourists in the early 1970s. In the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, two gorilla groups had been habituated to human presence by the efforts of one of the Park’s co-founders, a Belgian man called Adrian Deschryver, and his dedicated team of Congolese staff. Those habituated gorillas were silverbacks called Casimir and Mushamuka.


The impact of gorilla tourism was a positive one for the communities around the park and generated good incomes. Tourists bought locally-made souvenirs, local food, stayed in hotels, paid to have their shoes repaired, etc. Unfortunately, Casimir, one of the first habituated silverbacks, died in 1974. But by the 1980’s the Kahuzi-Biega National Park had four habituated gorilla groups . The silverback leaders of these groups were Mushamuka, Maheshe, Ninja and Mubalala. Gorilla tracking became famous after the release of the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ in 1988. Tourists came from all over the world to visit both the Mountain Gorillas in the film and the Eastern Lowland Gorillas too.


Sadly, the war in the DRC caused the deaths of the four above-mentioned silverback gorillas. Due to the instability which started in the mid-1990’s, this area acquired a negative image which put people off from visiting the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in recent years.


The security situation is now much-improved and local citizens are living in peace once again. The gorillas can roam all over the forest without any problems. Today the situation, particularly in the Highland Sector of the Park, is much-improved. The Park Authority, assisted by the guide Robert Mulimbi and his team of trackers, and helped by John Kahekwa and his knowledge acquired as a form Gorilla Habituation Officer for the Park, approached and habituated a second gorilla group, the silverback leader of which is called Mpungwe. This newly-habituated group consists of 17 members. Last year tourists exceeded 1,000.


Two groups each of 8 tourists can visit Chimanuka and Mpungwe groups, and others can go to visit the solitary silverback male called Mugaruka.


Mugaruka is known as the last born of the sons of the late patriarch, Mushamuka. Mugaruka was born in 1987 and, at the age of three, he was caught in a snare and lost his right hand. In 1997, when he was a ten year old black back, Mugaruka took over the group of his late father, Mushamuka. However, between 1999 and 2007, Mugaruka faced several challenging interactions with neighbouring silverbacks including Chimanuka; progressively losing members of his group each time. In 2007 he lost his last female called Lushasha, and his first son called Cubaka (born in 2000), since then he has remained single.


OTHER PARK ATTRACTIONS

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park has other attractions besides the gorillas. Visitors can go to the Lwiro Falls or walk to Mt. Bugulumiza for a panoramic view of the area. Hiking on Mt. Kahuzi and Mt. Biega is not permitted by the Park Authority at this time.


FOR THE FUTURE

The Park is facing serious threat from the highly-populated areas on its boundaries, as local people often rely on it for resources. A lot of people still hunt for bush meat and harvest fruits, wild vegetables, mushrooms and honey from the Park. Without effective strategies aiming at integrating the local communities into the conservation effort whilst at the same time improving their standards of living, there will not be a sustainable future. Effective and steady efforts for conservation and sustainable development are ever-pressing.


It is because of this fact that the Pole Pole Foundation, with the support of its partners and friends, initiated its projects of afforestation, artisan souvenir production, environmental education and so on, for the benefit of the communities around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and its ultimate goal of conserving the Eastern Lowland Grauer’s gorillas.