Ecological award for retired staff from Kahuzi Biega National park World heritage site

The retired staff waiting for their collations

The retired staff waiting for their collations

The institutional reforms continue its way inside the Congolese park authorities, ICCC.
One of the shutters of this reform was retirement of the growing old employees.In the first wave of the retired staff , 20 heroics guards who deserve rest after more than 30 years of honest services including the protection of gorillas in this World heritage site.With the support of the retirement program, PAR-ICCN from the European Union, the ICCN had just had an envelope allowing him to support the payment of some eligible agents for the retirement.

A ranger ready to be awarded gives honors to the chief warden

A ranger ready to be awarded gives honors to the chief warden

This Sunday on December 11th , 2011; on behalf of the General Director of the ICCN, Pasteur Cosma WILUNGULA, chief warden of KBNP, Mr. Radar NISHULI has organized a cheerful ceremony of handing-over of the certificates service termination, coupled of ecological medal of merit, toward the recipients accompanied by their wives. The retirement is a legitimate right for somebody who served honestly the nation said the Chief Warden. Leaving the service honorifically with the sign of recognition from your employer should be the aspiration each one of us who are still under Congolese Park Authority contract.

Ecological medal held in the neck of the ranger

Ecological medal held in the neck of the ranger

There are still other agents eligible to the retirement but who did not benefit from this honorifically ceremony due to the lack of funds which must cover their final calculation.We launch an appeal toward all individual and organization with goodwill who can help us overcome this challenge, to assist us by providing support which can cover the retirement fees of other eligible staff remaining , as well as to support the renewal of the staff , please contact us to : info@kahuzi-biega.org.

Gorilla naming ceremony gives us Cibulula

One of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park’s gorilla families, which for a long time went by the name of “Nouvelle Famille” (New Family), finally received its official name on 27 September 2011, as part of South Kivu’s International Tourism Day celebration, attended by the Kahuzi-Biega NP team, provincial authorities, various Nature Clubs (youth-based conservation groups) and other interested parties.

Silverback in KBNP's high altitude sector

The family’s chosen name, Cibulula, which is also the name given to the dominant silverback, means “he who looks and finds in peace”.  The name was chosen by the gathered assembly above a number of other suggestions made by the Kahuzi-Biega NP team.  In order to facilitate the decision, the Nature Club members gave life to the various suggestions through small sketches and poems. The Provincial Minister then had the honour of officially naming the family.

A sketch by a Club Nature

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park thanks you in advance for your support in helping us protect the Cibulula family. We will continue to monitor the them daily and also hope to eventually habituate the  family for tourism visits.

Beyond the Park: part 2

Idjwi Island. A place few people know of and fewer still visit. Yet, at 340 sq km in size and 70 km in length, it is the second largest inland island in Africa and can be seen clearly from both the Rwandan and Congolese mainlands. Still, the island has remained neglected and significantly underdeveloped, with only a few car-free dirt roads criss-crossing the land and linking one tiny village to the next.

A documentary on Idjwi Island by Geo on French television channel Arte entitled “L’île oubliée d’Afrique (Africa’s Forgotten Island)” said “The inhabitants of Idjwi Island on Lake Kivu are poor but benefit from a a very precious good in this region of Africa: peace”. A trip to Idjwi is invariably relaxing, with friendly islanders totally unjaded by tourism greeting you wherever you go with warm smiles and no hassles.

Activities include visiting one of the many pineapple plantations (and of course picking and eating one), village and nature walks, bird-watching, swimming in the lake and interacting with the local people to learn about life on Idjwi. Boat rides can also be organised, taking you around the small islets surrounding the island, where one of the main attractions must be Ishushu 1 and Ishushu 2. Ishushu 1 has a small and beautiful fisherman’s village, and the inhabitants take care of neighbouring Ishushu 2 in the owner’s absence. Pay the fishermen a small tip to guide you through the lush, primary tropical forest on this little piece of paradise, abounding in bird life and also home to a troupe of as yet unidentified monkeys.

         

More information can be found on Idjwi Island on Agence Esperance or through local tour operator Gorilla Travel (email: gorillatravel@ymail.com / Tel: +243 999 666 600, +243 818 105 583).

     

Beyond the park: Part 1

There is much more to our corner of DR Congo than the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, yet until recently many attractions had not been developed for visitors. The ICCN has over the last seven months been working with local communities, businesses and institutions to develop an array of visitor attractions both within and outside the park to realise the immense potential of this destination. Many are now ready for visits, and where better to start than Bukavu, the nearest city at an hour’s drive away.

Bukavu was established in 1901 by the Belgian colonial authorities and is the capital of South Kivu province. This picturesque city of about 250,000 boasts a pleasant subtropical climate and a scenic location between the southern shores of Lake Kivu and the forested mountains inland. The influences of Belgian colonial times can be found in the grand houses bordering the lake, the old cathedral Our Lady of Peace and in the magnificent Collège Alfajiri. This reputed academic institution’s establishment in 1937 heralded the beginning of mixed-race education in the Belgian Congo and yet its history is far from harmonious, being intricately tied in with the tumultuous history of eastern Congo itself. Its grounds were used as a base for a Belgian uprising against Mobutu in the 60s and as refugee camp following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and its walls are riddled with the bullet-holes from the subsequent invasion of Rwandan forces. The Collège Alfajiri thus serves as an important reminder of the past whilst at the same time, through its excellent academic programme, holding a key to the regions’s future, .

Royal Court of kabare

Just a forty minute drive from Bukavu, in the direction of the park, you can now for the first time visit the Royal Court of the Kingdom of Kabare. The Royal Kingdom of Kabare has a long and proud tradition as the most powerful kingdom of South Kivu and the erstwhile Mwami Kabare Rugemanizi “Zéro Zéro” was instrumental in the region’s resistance against colonisation and famously slapped a Belgian coloniser in the face. As punishment he was exiled 2,000km away, but brought back 20 years later when the Belgians finally realised that nothing could be achieved without his presence. To this day, the Royal Court retains its traditions and secrets, and visitors can spend time with the Mwami’s wise men who will present some of the objects of symbolic importance to the court, and to listen to the Griot sing the history of Kabare. Visits will finish with an enthusiastic Ntole dance performed by the Bushi villagers.

Ntole dancers

Bordering the park near the Tshivanga entrance lie the stunning high altitude cinchona and tea plantations of Mbayo. Visits typically start at the cinchona plantation (source of quinine) to learn about history of cinchona cultivation in DR Congo, including its collapse due to disease and its current slow recovery. Brave (or foolhardy) visitors may accept to chew on some of the cinchona bark.Visitors then move on to the tea plantation and factory to learn about the entire tea-growing process, « from the leaf to the cup ». Visits are rounded off most pleasantly with a cup of tea at a great viewpoint.

Mbayo tea plantation

A snake in the herpetology lab

A forgotten jewel of our region is Lwiro, about 90 minutes north of Bukavu. This was once a favourite retreat of Belgian colonisers and even Mobutu. Aside from a magnificent landscape and being the entry point for the Tshibati waterfall walk, Lwiro hosts fascinating scientific research centres which have opened their doors for visitors. We spoke about the Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (CRPL) in our last post, but right next door you find the Centre de Recherches en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN), a research center built by the Belgians in the 1950s, and the Centre Intégral d’Education de Lwiro (CIEL), which aims to educate visitors and local communities about the natural and anthropological history of the region. Visitors will be guided through the biodiversity hall, which includes the skeleton of Casimir, the first ever habituated gorilla, a botanical garden, an anthropological centre, the CRSN’s herpetology lab and the magnificent library.

Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles

Arranging visits

A number of local tour operators can arrange visits/guided tours to all of the above mentioned attractions:

Visits to CIEL and the CRPL can be arranged directly by calling +243 810724524, and to the Mbayo plantations by calling +243 993 839 203, or talking to the reception of the Orchids Hotel.
This post has gone on too long, so we’ll save Idjwi Island and Lake Kivu for the next installment!

The KBNP in partnership with the CRPL – a multi disciplinary approach to conservation

A yellow baboon

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a wonderful place for many activities; while the ICCN is focusing on the conservation of the fauna and flora within the park they are also developing an eco-tourism program which will further support the Park’s development. If you are lucky enough to go on a gorilla trek in the KBNP you are sure to see the Grauer’s Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) which is found nowhere else but in the DR of Congo, and is not only the largest species of gorilla but the largest primate in the world. This trek is an amazing, moving and truly unique experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Apart from the gorillas, the forest is filled with many other remarkable species of animals, and 13 species of monkeys including baboons and colobus call the park their home. And of course the KBNP is also home to the Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). However, these other animals are extremely shy and sightings cannot be guaranteed.  If you listen hard though, you may just hear the pan-hoot of a chimpanzee in the distance. If you are interested in seeing chimpanzees in the KBNP, keep watching the blog. In the coming years the ICCN hopes to begin a habituation program, like the one currently running with the gorillas.

The ICCN is completely committed to the conservation of DRC’s wildlife and as such understands the importance of animal rehabilitation centres. With the illegal trade in animals continuing, the government is dedicated to active law enforcement and confiscation of illegally held wildlife in order to reduce the illegal wildlife trade in Congo with the aim of stopping it altogether. The ICCN along with the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) officially launched the Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (CRPL) in 2002 to rehabilitate primates confiscated due to illegal trade, and in 2011 the ICCN integrated the CRPL into their operational plan, further indicating the importance of the centre in conservation within the region.

The CRPL is currently managed by a Management Advisory Group (MAG) which includes the ICCN, CRSN, Coopera, Venner av Lwiro and Friends of Lwiro Australia and the MAG are seeking new partners to come on board.

The CRPL aims to rehabilitate and give world class care to the animals that are displaced or orphaned by illegal activities such as mining, hunting and trade which are confiscated by the ICCN, with an aim of reintroduction in the future. While the facilities are still not yet complete, the CRPL currently cares for 49 chimpanzees and over 60 monkeys and strive to give them the best care possible. The CRPL also engages in the education of local people, children, expatriates, military and tourists and has plans to further our educational outreach in the near future. Other programs undertaken by the CRPL include research in National Park and animal health, working to support the government wherever it can.

Rescued chimpanzee infants

Part of the new enclosure being built for CRPL's rescued primates

While the CRPL still has a way to go with facilities and programs, both the MAG and ICCN are committed to moulding the CRPL into a world class facility for primate rehabilitation, conservation education and national park health programs, creating a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation within the region.

If you are interested in further information about the centre, please email lwiroprimates@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/lwiro or www.lwiro.blogspot.com.

Security in the KBNP

If there is one question that we have to answer more than any other here in the KBNP, it’s “Is it safe to visit?” We are now working on getting a website up which will provide regular updates on the security situation, but in the meantime here’s a little summary in case you’re planning a visit or just interested to know more.

Our park is huge, covering approximately 6000 km2 and spanning the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Maniema. The KBNP is divided into two zones, the high altitude sector to the east and low altitude sector to the west, which are connected by a narrow corridor. The high altitude sector comprises mountain forest covering 600 km2 from an altitude of 1800 m to 3300 m and the low altitude sector is a tropical forest lying between 600 m and 1200 m above sea level. Currently, visits are limited to the high altitude sector which is guarded by six patrol posts and a main station at Tshivanga. Daily patrols are carried out in order to survey this sector of the park and to guarantee the safety of our visitors.

At the moment, our main focus has been on securing the high altitude sector and in this respect we have had considerable success. There has been the rare attack on commercial convoys carrying minerals and other resources on the main road traversing the park, but we have never had an incident of any kind related to tourists (we’ve received about 2000 visitors from all over the world since 2007). Our guards patrol our key visitor areas constantly and make sure that all our staff are kept up-to-date on the latest security information. Our advice to any potential visitor is to make your reservation and to contact our staff by telephone or on info@kahuzi-biega.org should you have any queries about security. You can also get further information by checking your government’s travel advice, but please note that such information is often very general and may not address in detail the situation in the park.

KBNP guards on daily patrol

A key ambition of our tourism programme is for tourism to provide jobs and alternative revenue streams for the surrounding populations, thereby decreasing the amount of illegal activities within the park. We hope that some of you can help us in this endeavor simply by paying us a visit.

New Prices!

Recently, the KBNP received great news from the ICCN headquarters in Kinshasa; its request for a new price schedule, based on a large market research study carried out last year, was approved and could be put in place immediately.

We therefore have the pleasure of presenting our new prices, which not only offer reductions for gorilla permits for Congolese nationals, expatriates and nationals of CEPGL, EAC and SADC member countries, students and children, but also attractive prices for hiking, mountain ascents and camping. In an effort to encourage people to come regularly and discover the many attractions of our park, we also offer loyalty cards for hiking. We hope to see you soon!

 

Conditions:

Category:

  • Foreigners: Present a valid visa for DR Congo
  • Students: Present a valid student card.
  • Expatriates and nationals of CEPGL, EAC and SADC member countries: Present passport or residence, working or courtesy visa from a member country

CEPGL (Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries)                           EAC (East Africa Community)                                                                                   SADC (Southern African Development Community)

Minimum Total Charge: No activity can be offered to an individual or a group until the minimum charge has been reached. 

Hiking Loyalty Cards: Hiking Loyalty Cards are only valid for the trails listed under “Hiking”, as well as further trails once they have been developed. The cards are sold at the KBNP office in Bukavu and at the Tshivanga Visitor Centre. Once purchased, please present your card at the Visitor Centre before your hike to receive a stamp.

Children: aged 15 to 17 for gorilla permits, and 10 to 17 for hiking and mountain ascents. Children younger than said ages will not be permitted to participate.

Contact

Please contact us should you wish to make a reservation or make an enquiry

+243 99 309 6120 (Français)
+243 99 725 4296 (English)
+243 99 522 1368 (Chef de Site Adjoint)
+243 99 967 7078 (Programme d’Appui GIZ)

Email: reservations@kahuzi-biega.org

Work underway on developing park trails

Mt Kahuzi

Although most famous for its Grauer’s gorillas, the Kahuzi Biega National Park has much more to offer visitors than gorilla tourism. Our network of trails give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the park’s huge diversity of landscapes, including tropical forests, bamboo forests, swamps and waterfalls, as well as possibilities of spotting birds, monkeys and countless other animal and plant species. There are also opportunities to climb our two highest peaks, Kahuzi (3,308 m) and Biega (2,704 m), to get magnificent views of park, Lake Kivu, the mountain range and even Goma.

The trails are at the moment fairly basic, used mainly by our guards for patrolling the forest and tracking the gorillas. However, work is now underway to prepare trails with health and safety as a priority, thus providing opportunities for people of all ages and fitness levels to explore the park.

Infrastructure is still basic but construction is now underway to improve safety

Take a well earned rest at the first Tshibati waterfall

The trails currently under construction include the Mont Bugulumiza Trail, near the Tshivanga Visitor Centre and covering terrain regularly occupied by the Chimanuka gorilla family, the Marais Musisi Trail, which takes in bamboo forests and the swamp and offers an stunning view over the Marais Musisi where one of our guides recently spotted a troupe of elephants, and the Tshibati Waterfalls Trail, which offers three magnificent waterfalls, a chance for a dip in a plungepool, and located near the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre. We also hope to open the Mont Kahuzi Trail a little later this year, with possibilities of camping near the summit.

Entrance to the bamboo forest on the Marais Musisi Trail

The trails are expected to be completed within the next 2-3 months, but adventurous visitors are more than welcome to try them already.

Forest elephants bouncing back

Before the war of 96/97, forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis were widespread in Kahuzi Biega National Park. Some would even have that they were a menace, occasionally leaving the forest and raiding the crops of surrounding villages. All forest treks were also considerably riskier; the last thing you’d want to do is get in one’s way.

Elephant skulls at Tshivanga: victims of poaching

These days, stumbling across an elephant is a rare occurrence (although one of our patrol teams spotted a troupe only two days ago!). Few, if any species of animal found in the park took as heavy a toll as the elephants during the wars and unrest of the late late ’90s and early ’00s. This blog is being written from the Tshivanga Visitors Centre, next to a table on which is piled just a tiny fraction of the skeletons of elephants massacred during this period, a sad and daily reminder of their loss. Just a few years ago, it was even thought that every last one of the forest elephants in the high altitude sector of the park, which is currently the only sector open to tourism, had disappeared.

Luckily, we were wrong.

Today we are seeing more and more signs of elephants, with tracks and droppings regularly being spotted by our patrols and research and monitoring team, and even the occasional picture caught by one of our camera traps. Signs are even more promising in the much larger lowland sector, although this region is much less accessible to visitors.

A forest elephant caught on one of our camera traps

Nevertheless, the elephants are not in the clear. As human populations in the region grow, and industrial logging and mining spreads, roads and settlements are encroaching deeper into the forest. Forest elephant range is becoming increasingly restricted and fragmented, compromising their chances of survival. The park continues to do its best to protect the integrity of its borders, but with limited human resources and 6,000 sq km of terrain to cover, the challenges are great. In addition to our community conservation and sensitisation programmes, we hope that tourism will give people alternative income streams and reduce some of the pressure on the park. We also hope for your support and encouragement in this endeavour.

Gorilla trekking in KBNP

Undoubtedly the main attraction of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a visit to see our Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla gorilla graueri) is a unique and unforgettable experience. These largest of gorillas can only be visited in our park, a privilege of which we are immensely proud and which we are delighted to share with the rest of the world.

The Grauer’s gorilla is only found in eastern DRC. It is protected in the KBNP and in the Maiko National Park and is distributed between Lubutu in the North, Lubero in the North-East and Fizi in the South. The Grauer’s gorilla is the largest of all the subspecies, with males in the wild reaching weights of 250 kg and heights of 2 m when standing upright. The females are considerably smaller with a maximum weight of 110 kg and a height of 140 cm.

A silverback displays his dominance...

...and then goes back to eating leaves, master of his domain

A tyical visit will start with a 1-2 hour trek through the forest (although occasionally the trek will take only a few minutes), making your way through the dense and varied vegetation, where you may come across some our other primates such as the Owl-faced Guenon, spot one our endemic birds like the colorful Ruwenzori Touraco, or stumble in the footprint of a forest elephant.

But nothing matches the excitement as our experienced guides indicate

A young lookout lets the family know of the visitors' arrival

that you have reached your destination. Often, the first gorilla you’ll see is one of the young keeping look-out in the trees.  The next hour spent in the company of the gorillas will allow you to catch a glimpse of the gorillas going about their daily lives; feeding, playing, resting, grooming, teaching. Look closely and appreciate the different expressions on the gorillas’ faces and distinguish the various personalities of each family member. If you are with our star silverback Chimanuka, try to spot the four sets of twins, an unheard of phenomenon which has baffled and excited the world’s primatologist community. If you were not already convinced of the importance of protecting this animal, by the end of this magical hour, you will be.

A happy visitor gets the shot of a lifetime

Arranging visits

Please check here for our new prices.

Gorilla permits can be obtained at the Visitors Centre at Tshivanga or at the ICCN Office in Bukavu (both open Monday to Friday from 8am – 4pm). Phone reservations can be made on +243 99 309 6120 (Français) or +243 99 725 4296 (English). Email reservations can be made on reservationpnkb@gmail.com. Alternatively, you can arrange your visit via a local tour operator or hotel.

At Tshivanga, the entrance to the park, you must check in and pay for the visitor’s permit- Children under the age of 15 are not admitted. You are advised to bring a raincoat, boots or walking shoes and water.