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DR Congo is mostly known for lowland and mountain gorilla tracking in Africa. Today let us look at Okapis in Congo. If you are looking for the best safari destinations that offer visitors with authentic African experiences then look no further than Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The reserve was established in 1992 and became a World Heritage Site in 1996. Its creation was largely to offer refuge to the rare okapi, plant species and other numerous wildlife species together with the lifestyle and culture of native people and others.

Okapi wildlife reserve extends up to 13700 square meters of the Ituri forest and it is credited for its intense plant and animal diversity in Africa. About 5000 out of the 30000 okapis thrive within the reserve and this represents approximately a sixth of the okapi population on earth today. The okapi feature as the only famous cousin of the giraffe with similar striped pattern on the hind and a deep purplish coat. The reserve also rewards visitors with its most spectacular sceneries especially from most of the waterfalls on the Ituri and Epulu Rivers. About one 5th of Ituri forest lies within okapi wildlife reserve with a Pleistocene largely covered by thick evergreen “Mbau” and humid semi rainforest, swamp forests that thrives along the shores and clearings locally called as “edos” and Inselbergs.

Saving okapi in DR Congo

Okapi Wildlife Reserve is also proud of more than 101 mammal species, 17 apes some of which include the 13 diurnal and 4 nocturnals, 7500 chimpanzees and others. Approximately 1500 rare plant species are found within the reserve. Besides, Okapi Wildlife Reserve features as one of the Important Birding Areas in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and about 376 bird species call this protected area their home most of which include the endemic Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congensis), the golden napped weaver, yellow legged weaver, lyre tailed honey guide and black collared lovebird. The biggest number of forest ongulates thrive within the reserve with 14 species that include the six (6) types of Cephalophus and not to forget the intense number of forest elephants that count about 7500 individuals plus the bongo, the dwarf antelope (Neotragus batesi), Leopards, forest buffaloes, the giant forest hog, the water chevrotains (Hyemoschus aquaticus) and variety of indigenous species from the Congo River Basin.

When to visit the Okapi Wildlife Reserve

Okapi Wildlife Reserve can be visited at anytime of the year, but it can be best explored from June to August. These months are characterized by limited rainfall.

For visitors who intend to visit this reserve, remember to obtain visa for Republic of Congo, malaria and yellow fever vaccination certificate and these documents should be obtained a week or two weeks in advance. You may also require a trekking permit for the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and usually clients are encouraged to travel in groups.

How to reach to Okapi Wildlife Reserve

Okapi Wildlife Reserve lies 40 kilometers west of Mambasa along the route between Beni and Kisangani and its main headquarters is found about 300 meters from Epulu town. For visitors who are in Kinshasa, you can take a flight up to Bunia where you will continue up to Epulu where the okapi wildlife reserve can be easily reached. As well, flights can be arranged from Kisangani or you can opt to rent a 4 (four) by 4 (four) safari car take about 8 (eight) hours’ driving to Okapi wildlife reserve. Another option is available for visitors who are in Uganda, whereby they can take flights from Entebbe International Airport but visitors are encouraged to spend a night prior visiting the wildlife reserve.

Where to stay in Okapi Wildlife Reserve

Okapi Wildlife Reserve has no luxury accommodation facilities but visitors can spend a night in one the nearby budget, mid range and camping options at the headquarters. The best areas for your stay over include New Cosmos Hotel which is located around Bunia, Vukuke Guest House and Guest House Du Canon around Kisangani and others.

With above discussion, Congo has much more to offer than gorilla tracking. Okapi Wildlife Reserve is one of the few safari destinations in Africa that offer visitors with true African experiences given its untouched natural wonders. If you are interested in exploring more about the rare okapi and other rare bird species in the DRC then consider this reserve a must to include in your bucket list.

Located in the southern part of Kivu province, west of Albertine Rift Valley, Kahuzi Biega National Park is remarkably one of the most stunning conservation areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites that feature largely Eastern Lowland gorillas. Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in DR Congo include Virunga National Park famously known for gorilla tracking, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Salonga National Park and Garamba National park among others.

This conservation area covers an area of 6000 square kilometers which makes it one of the largest parks in the Congo. It straddles between altitude 700 and 3300 meters. Nearly, 10% of the protected area’s landscape features high mountains of mainly the extinct volcanoes that include Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega where the park derived its name. Its establishment evolves from a zoological reserve in 1937 on mount Kahuzi with the aim of preserving the eastern lowland gorillas by the Belgian colonial government.

Before the reserve occupied an area of about 750 kilometers but it was reduced to 600kilometers in 1970 leading to creation of the Kahuzi Biega National Park with about 300 individuals of lowland gorillas. Later, it increased up to 6000 kilometers in 1975 and it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1980. Kahuzi Biega National Park comes with two wet seasons each year and receives an annual rainfall of about 1200mm to 1800mm. This falls from the month of April to May and from October to January and the temperatures range from 19 degrees Celsius to 21 degrees Celsius.

The notable tourist attractions in this stunning protected area include the following;

Flora

Kahuzi Biega National Park comes with spectacular tropical rain forest with over 1178 species of plants. It makes up part of the Congo basin that features marshland and Riverine forest flora, thick wet equatorial rain forest in the west low land sector while the eastern mountain area comes with endless forest vegetation ranging from 600 to 2600 meters in altitude.

 Eastern Lowland gorillas

The Eastern Lowland gorillas form the largest part of tourist attractions in Kahuzi Biega National Park. These rare apes also make up the biggest number of all the sub species of gorillas in the world. They come in a jet black coat which changes into silver at maturity time just like the rare mountain gorillas. The Eastern Lowlands can be distinguished using their short muzzle, big hands, body, shorter body and head hair. These unique creatures mainly live in widest altitudinal range unlike other gorilla sub species as they can be found within the low-land area, transitional and mountainous altitudinal tropical rain forests. They are famous as the most harmonious and social living in families of 5 to 30 individuals with the silverback also known as an alpha male being their leader in the group whose responsibility entirely is to safe guard the rest of the members and establishing a home range of the family. Kahuzi Biega National Park refuges about 181 individuals of these amazing apes in the wild.

The gestation period of a female lowland gorilla is about eight and half months and breastfeeds for at least one year. They young one first crawls for about 9 weeks and starts walking after 35 weeks. They take from 3 to 4 years while with their mothers and later they can start their independent life and mating takes place at around 11 or 12 years. The alpha male gorilla can enter into deadly fight once he encounters a strange family resulting into injuries. At this moment, lots of hooting, rising on their legs, slapping and tearing vegetation, beating their chest with their cupped hands, thumping the ground with their palms and kicking with leg will be the order of the day.

Eastern Lowland gorillas depend mainly on fruits, seeds, plants, stems and tree barks as well as other minor insects especially termites and ants. Males can weigh about 163 kilograms and females can be half the male’s weight. The males can stand straight up to 5 inch and females about 5 or less. They have longer arms compared to their legs and they are shy but social, they are diurnal species and hence mostly active around day time, their lifespan reached up to 50 years while in the wild and they mostly have over 25 vocalization sounds that they use mainly for communication.

 Other wildlife species

A part from the unique eastern lowland gorillas, the park also comes with other fascinating species especially the unique eastern chimpanzees, forest elephants, owl faced monkey, bongo, forest buffaloes and eastern need clawed Galago, mount Kahuzi African climbing mouse, forest hog, Anubis baboon, leopards, hippos and many more.

Birds

Kahuzi Biega National Park is a home to about 349 distinct species of bird. The notable birds to spot include 4 species of which are listed on the IUCN Redbook list and they are the Yellow crested helmet shrike, Congo peafowl, Rockefeller’s sunbird and African green broadbill and many more. There also 44 species of amphibians, 69 reptile species and many more.

Mount Kahuzi

Kahuzi volcano stretches up to 3317 meters above sea level and it comes with the tallest peak in the in the whole of Kahuzi Biega National Park. It also covers the western side of Lake Kivu on the Albertine rift valley. It experienced its eruption effect about 12000 year ago and it inhabits most of the vegetation zones which are also determined by its altitude. The vegetation zones range from wet lowland rainforest, transitional rainforest and montane forest. The wet equatorial rain forest and a transitional forest between 1200 meters and 1500 meter altitude, transitional forest vegetation lies from 600 meters to 2600 meters. From 2000 to 2350 meters lies swamp forest vegetation that is interconnected with mountain forest. The bamboo forest thrives from around 2350 to 2600 meter altitude and higher from 2600 to the top at 3330 meters is mainly the alpine zone that comes with dry savanna grassland and endemic plants especially the senecio Kahuzicus.

Lwiro sanctuary

Lwiro sanctuary is Congo’s rehabilitation center that refuges mostly orphaned chimpanzees and monkeys. It set up around 2002 and it lies in the Tshivanga tourist center in an old Belgian research center. About 55 chimpanzees and 60 species of monkeys are taken care of in this sanctuary.

In conclusion, Kahuzi Biega National Park offers a lot more than just trekking for the eastern lowland gorillas. With variety of attractions to enjoy in this stunning park, we believe you will have the most remarkable experiences in life.