Mountain Gorilla V.s Lowland Gorilla Safaris in Congo
Africa is home to both the mountain and lowland eastern gorillas. They are the largest primates in the world and closet mammals similar to man. Both species are classified as critically endangered as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. The Gorilla Beringei Berengei and Gorilla beringei graueri have similar characteristics but are unique in their own right.
The Democratic Republic of Congo also has a section of the Virunga Mountains Park called the Parc National des Virunga. The DRC gorilla population suffered a major setback because several gorillas were brutally hacked to death in 2007. To find out how the game rangers are handling the situation and the difficulties they face, read their blogs. In 2012 a census showed the gorillas were doing better than expected despite the civil war raging around them in large part due to the amazing efforts of rangers putting their lives on the line at Virunga National Park. In 2014 the Director of the park was shot in an ambush, but survived and continues the effort to save the park from various rebel movements encroaching on their territory as well as oil-companies looking to gain drilling rights.
Getting to see gorillas in Congo is now easy, and you are guaranteed to see them. The trek to where the gorilla groups live takes you through very dense vegetation, up steep slopes and can last several hours. The dense vegetation is filled with burning and stinging nettles, so wearing gloves are a good idea. Red ants are also common, so wear long socks to tuck your trousers into. Gorillas move around so they are all that easy to track. The gorillas you’ll be meeting are habituated to humans who are why you are able to get quite close to them.
In the DRC it’s best to just arrange your permit (USD 400) and tour through companies offering Congo Gorilla Safaris. They will also be up to date on current security in the park. You can combine your visit with chimpanzee trekking and an amazing volcano trek.
There are two parks in the Congo region where gorillas can be seen. The eastern lowland gorilla is much rarer than the western lowland gorilla and their numbers are depleting rapidly mainly due to poaching and armed conflict in the region. The eastern lowland gorilla can be seen at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (in the DRC). This park appears to have suffered enormously from the armed conflict raging on and off in this region for years now. For more information on helping Kahuzi-Biega National Park see Born Free, a UK-based international wildlife protection charity, and also the Kahuzi-Biega.
The Odzala National Park (in the Republic of Congo) is home to the densest population of the western lowland gorilla. The civil war situation in the DRC and the parks’ proximity to Gabon makes it easier to get to from Gabon. It is the only park where you can see gorillas in the open grass. There are 5 tented camps dotted around the park some of which are only accessible by canoe. This is definitely a park you should visit with a tour group, just for ease of travel. A true safari experience if ever there was one.