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 the 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;
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 subspecies 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 subspecies 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 safeguard 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 a half months and breastfeeds for at least one year. The 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 a deadly fight once he encounters a strange family resulting in 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 inches 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
Apart 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.
Kahuzi Biega National Park is 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.
Kahuzi volcano stretches up to 3317 meters above sea level and it comes with the tallest peak 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 years 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 in 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 a variety of attractions to enjoy in this stunning park, we believe you will have the most remarkable experiences in life.