Established in 1970 as a nature preserve, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in Congo is built on to the slopes of two extinct volcanoes, Mount Biega and Mount Kahuzi, the two highest peaks in the Mitumba mountain Range in the Great Rift Valley. But other than its astonishing scenery and fascinating wildlife, Congo´s prized asset has an equally fascinating historical appeal for visitors.
The welcome sign to the park!
The purpose of the National Park was to protect the rapidly dwindling numbers of Giant Mountain Gorillas who were being poached by hunters and were subsequently facing extinction. In 1975, the park was expanded to the equatorial lowland of the Congo central basin and covers an area of 6000 square kilometres. With the help of trained rangers the authorities of the park were able to set up controlled facilities and in the following 15 years increased the population of Gorillas to 284. But this is not where the story ends.
Gorilla´s in the Congo Mist
The focus of the Kahuzi Biega National Reserve came to the attention of the World when American zoologist Dian Fossey was shot and killed by poachers in 1985. She was in the Congo studying the endangered animals to determine their culture and how they communicate. As documented in the film, ´Gorillas in the Mist´ starring Sigourney Weaver as the scientist, she was as threatened by the hunters as much as the Mountain Gorillas and in trying to protect them was ultimately murdered herself.
A gorilla in the trees at the Kahuzi Biega National Park in Congo.
Despite being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and becoming a popular tourist attraction, the good work of the parks staff gradually came undone by outbreaks of war that attracted a different type of guerrilla to the area. In 1994, refugees from neighbouring Rwanda flooded the area and the outbreak of civil war in the Congo completely caused tourism to stop. The park rangers and their families were murdered – and the Mountain Gorillas the reserve was set up to protect were once again in the cross fire of ruthless hunters.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park Finding its Feet
Thankfully, the situation in the Congo has improved and since 2004, the trouble in the area has slowly improved. Although armed gangs are still known to patrol parts of the park they are no longer considered a threat and the Nature Reserve has subsequently been sanctioned by the UN with increased funds to replace the murdered forest rangers and rebuild the park´s facilities. A survey conducted in September 2010 counted 181 Mountain Gorillas and now things have stabilised that number can grow again.
The lowland area of the reserve on the west shore of Lake Kivu is once again open to visitors and home to many species of other animals and birds including the giant gorilla and forest elephants, both of which were as equally endangered as the Mountain Gorilla as a result of the civil unrest. Visitors will also get the chance to see other sub-species of monkeys and chimpanzees and hundreds of tropical birds.
The Nature Preserve offers visitors the chance to camp in specially designated areas and also organise a variety of thrilling trips. There are several hiking trails and gorilla treks together with a breathtaking trip across Lake Kivu in a kayak to the fascinating Idjwi Island.
Although it is considered safe for tourist to travel to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park again it is advised to book through a tour operator to avoid complications and ensure that it is still safe to travel. They will also arrange guides and guards. Visitors who are interested in visiting the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in Congo will be rewarded with stunning scenery and the chance to enjoy a remarkable experience.
Guest Post by John:
John Audrey Jones is a prolific travel writer; this article was written on behalf of http://www.erentals.co.uk/, visit them for worldwide car rental offers and deals.