About Virunga’s Chimpanzee Habituation Experience-Congo Safari News
Chimpanzee Habituation or chimp habituation in Congo as of now isn’t open to tourists because the section in which the activity is undertaken is still closed (the park was closed in 2018 July and re-opened in February 2019). After Virunga National Park was re-opened, gorilla trekking safaris were open to tourists however the sector in which Chimpanzee habituation was previously undertaken is still closed. Chimpanzee habituation was one of the popular activities in Virunga National Park where tourists go to the forest to spend about 4 hours with the chimpanzees-man’s closest relatives (humans share 98.7% of DNA with Chimpanzees).
Chimpanzee Habituation is done in the forest near the headquarters of the park in the area known as Rumangabo. Chimpanzee habituation is a painstakingly slow process that can last even up to 10 years as Chimpanzees are made familiar to the presence of human beings.
Though popular as a Congo gorilla habitats, chimpanzees are one of the attractions in Virunga National Park. Chimpanzee habituation in Virunga National Park starts early morning every day at 6:00am local time with a maximum of four (4) tourists are allowed to go for habituation spending about four (4hours). Early before trekkers get to the forest, trackers go to locate the chimpanzees as early as 5:00am just like it’s done before a Congo gorilla trekking safari.
The History of Chimpanzee habituation in Virunga National Park
Around 1987-1989 there was a network of about 80km trails created in the Tongo forest by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) for chimpanzee trekking. At that moment, the process of chimpanzee habituation started and this took two years. By 1989, more than 50 chimpanzees had been habituated for tracking by tourists on Congo safaris.
Just not long enough after they thought they had accomplished the process and had become a very important source of Tourism revenue both to the Government and the small community of Tongo. Unfortunately, just after three years there was civil unrest in the area and this put an end to chimpanzee trekking safaris that had started booming. In 2010, the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) together with the local community re-launched the process and the trekking begun by June of that same year though on a small basis. In April 2012, hostilities erupted yet again and chimpanzee trekking had to be halted. The M23 rebellion, as the conflict was known, eventually ended in January 2014. The Tongo team still visits this population of chimpanzees on a daily basis. The group now consists of 32 individuals in three groups/ families.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has highly been affected by political instability and the chimpanzees have highly been threatened by instability making their protection very vital. If a tourist wants to book a chimpanzee trekking or habituation permit this can be done by a Congo safari tour operator.
In Congo still, unlike visiting chimpanzees in their natural habitat, you can also visit them at Lwiro Chimpanzee Sanctuary just close to the lowland habitat of Kahuzi-BiegaNational Park. Bordering the country is Uganda, a lot politically stable and home to the world’s highest population of chimpanzees found in Kibale Forest National Park. Uganda chimpanzee trekking safaris can also continue to Kyambura Gorge (valley of apes) of Queen Elizabeth National Park or to Budongo forest (second best trekking destination) close to the popular Murchison Falls National Park.
Chimpanzees are so amazing to watch, they are the second most beautiful species to see after mountain gorillas, as soon as the activity is opened for habituation again don’t miss out on this activity.