In Congo, Mountain gorillas are only found in Virunga National Park which is located east of the Democratic Republic of Congo the border of Congo and Rwanda. The Virunga national park (French: Parc National Des Virunga), formerly known as “Albert National Park,” occupies an area of 7,800 km2 (3,000 Sq mi) and is part of the Virunga mountains in the South of Mt.
Rwenzori (North), in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo along the borders of Rwenzori Mountains national park and Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda and the Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
The park was established in 1925 as the first park to be opened up in Africa and was declared as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO) since 1979. Recently, the park has gone through tough times of continuous Congo civil unrests and illegal poaching greatly affecting the numbers of Wildlife in the park and the Congolese National Park Authorities, “Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partners the Virunga Foundation initially known as Africa Conservation Fund (UK). The incumbent park director is the Belgian Prince Emmanuel de Merode ever since 2008.
The park was established in 1925 to primarily to protect Mountain Gorillas living in the thick forests of Virunga Mountains controlled by Belgian Congo but later expanded to Rwindi plains, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains.
In 1959, George Schaller (An American primatologist) carried out research on Mountain gorillas and studied Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga Mountains and little was known about the life of gorillas until the publication of the “Mountain Gorilla.” George was later on joined by a female primatologist by the names of “Dian Fossey” who majorly based her work on Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke naming her research centre (Karisoke Research Centre) after these two mountains on Virunga mountains in the present day Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, their extensive work, studies and research about the Mountain gorillas in their natural environment was known “Habituation of Mountain gorillas.”
In Congo today as of Sept/2016, there are 8 habituated Gorilla groups and these group are Lulengo, Bageni, Nyakamwe, Munyaga, Mapuwa, Kabirizi, Rugendo and Humba, each group/family has an awesome background to listen to while habituating them;
This is the largest group of all groups in the Virunga National Park with approximately 26 members and two other Silverbacks in the group and led by a silverback called Bageni. However, the group may split up due to increased fight for leadership from other Silverbacks who’re challenging Bageni’s dominancy over the family (these are Kitagenda and Kanamaharagi).
This is one of the oldest Gorilla families to be habituated; this group was habituated in 1989, and it was formerly led by Silverback “Rugendo” who is the father to “Silverback Humba.” Today the group is currently led by Silverback Bukima and there have been numerous changes in the group since the time of its habituation. This group had 18 members with two Silverbacks (Rugendo and his son Humba), Humba fought his father in 1998, creating a new family with 10 members and only left his father with 8 members. Currently the group is composed of 9 members.
This group is found in the Bikima areas of the park. This is the calmest habituated Gorilla family in the park and the most preferred by many tourists to track in the park. Humba broke away from his Father’s group “Rugendo” in 1998 forming his own group. Humba was a brother to Senkwekwe who was gunned down in 2007 by unknown gunmen. The group is composed of 9 family members with Humba Silverback the leader and sees no possible challenges.
This group was initially called Ndungutse. Ndungutse was a gentle and humble gorilla who was killed in crossfire between the Congo army and the rebels in 1997 in the Bukima patrol post. The name of the group was later changed to “Kabirizi” who was the ICCN director (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) who died in accident in the 1990’s. Kabirizi Silverback is the current leader of the group perceived to be humble and was a wild unhabituated gorilla until 1998. The group is composed of 19 members with two Silverbacks (Kabirizi Silverback the leader who is facing challenges from a young Silverback Masibo).
This group was formerly led by a Silverback Mapuwa. Mapuwa fought and protected his family in very many struggles and Mapuwa is a son to Rugendo, the incumbent leader of the Rugendo group. He seceded away from his father’s group in 1998, and alongside him went with other two females know (Mafaze and Jicho). The group comprises of 22 members with two Silverbacks (Mapuwa and Mvuyekure who is a young and dominant Silverback in the group). In 2002, Mapuwa stripped members from Pilipili group during a fight for dominance leaving Pilipili alone, continuous fights have led to increase members in the group. This group can be found in Jomba near Bunagana (Congo-Uganda border).
This group was habituated in 2008, this group is known for and adult female Bilali who gave birth to twins after joining from Rugendo. However, the twins died in infancy. The group was named after its leader Munyaga, there has been transition of power within the group from time to time, from Munyaga to Mawazo and currently the group is led by Silverback Gasore. The group is also famous for because of a bold headed Silverback Kadogo. The group is composed of 7 members and Gasore’s leadership is facing competition from other Silverbacks. The group can be tracked in the Bikima areas of the park.
Nyakamwe is one of the newly habituated gorilla families in the park. The group is led by a Silverback Nyakamwe and it is composed of 11 members. Nyakamwe isn’t facing stiff competition from other silverbacks in his group. This group was habituated at the same time with the Bageni group.
This group was formerly known as “Museruka group,” but later the name changed to Lulengo in the Memory of Technical director of the park who was killed by a landmine. Lulengo Silverback is the leader of the group and was a born of the Rugabo group, the first habituated gorilla family in the Mikeno sector. At that time, Rugabo Silverback was the head of the group and it’s so unfortunate that he was shot dead by poachers in 1994 during the Great Lakes Crisis. After his death, Lulengo took over the leadership of the group with only 9 members in the group.
Silverbacks always fight for their families and dominance but rather not territories. Family members can be seen in silence all facing one direction where their male Silverback has gone to fight off another Silverback to defend and protect his group.
In June/2018, the Virunga National Park was closed down to tourists until 2019 because of increased crimes in the park such as Kidnapping tourists, poaching, civil unrests, outnumbered park rangers of about 800 workers who couldn’t off Militias who mount up to 1,500 fighters. This idea was brought forth by the park director Prince Emmanuel De Merode to try settling the park and avail it for tourism once again.