Chimpanzee Habituation in Virunga – The tropical rain forests, savannah woodland and grassland forests at the slopes and bottom of the Virunga volcanoes in Democratic republic of Congo are a home to 3 great apes; mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. They are among the main attractions in the wilderness of DRC. There are however other primates like red-tailed monkeys, De Brazzas monkey, golden monkey, blue monkey, baboons and more.

Chimpanzees are said to be the closest realties to humans with an estimated percentage of 98ofhuman genes. They walk on their four limb s but are capable of walking on legs alone for about a kilometer. Chimps have subspecies which are identified basing on their appearances and distribution; eastern chimps, Western chimp, central chimps and Nigeria-Cameroon chimps. They also live in groups of up to 80 members with a dominant male as the leader of the group. They can be spotted up in the trees or on the ground, though they nights are spent in nests up in the trees.

After a gestation period of 202-261 days, chimps give birth to a single though they may have twins occasionally. These primates feed on leaves, fruits, branches and some insects. They obtain their food from the forests where they live. In case of a chance to hunt for small animal spotted, they feed on meat as well.

Currently, the chimpanzees in Virunga national park are only habituated and this is an exciting and great activity for tourists that visit the park. Chimps in this park are found in Rumangabo sector in Mahura forest.

Chimpanzee habituation was started by Frankfurt Zoologist in 1987. He created a trail of 80km in Tongo forest and started on the 2 year activity to make these primates become familiar to people. In 1989, there were more than 50 chimps that had been habituated and available for tourists to visit. However, a few years later, the region suffered civil unrest and chimp habituation, Chimpanzee trekking and other tourism activities could not go on.

When the region settled from civil unrest in 2014, the team that had been trained by the mogul Frankfurt Zoologist society resumed the habituation activity. The guides of Virunga national park in Rumangabo penetrate into the forest daily at 4:30am to find where the chimps spent their nights, and at 6:00am, guests are also led to these locations. Guests who book Mikeno lodge and Bukina tented camp for accommodation have a more advantage to go for Chimp trekking at Rumangabo sector. Only 4 people are allowed to visit the gorilla family since there are few spots for habituating.  When you spot them, you’ll spend only one hour to learn about and interact with the chimps. A chimpanzee habituation permit costs US$100 for each individual.

Besides viewing chimps, guests can as well visit the Chimpanzee Resource Centre in Tongo. You’ll get to know more about the habituation project and how the local community is participating in conservation and protection of the wildlife. Hiking to Tongo River would be a good additional activity for you to explore more of the virgin destinations of Virunga.