Chimpanzee trekking and habituation in DR Congo is done in Virunga national park. The park is a composition of beautiful forest cover, savannahs and a number of both dormant and active volcanos.
Chimpanzees are among the amazing primates that live deep in the tropical rain forest jungles of Virunga national park at the slopes Virunga Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chimpanzee habituation was introduced in 1987 by Frankfurt Zoologist in Tongo forest of Virunga region in Congo where he developed an 80km trail into the forest. After 2 years, more than 50 chimpanzees were habituated and available for tourism activities however, this activity was interfered by insecurity of rebels and poachers. Consequently, Virunga national park was closed with no tourism activity taking place including chimpanzee habituation not until 2014 when a team from the local community that was trained by Frankfurt Zoologist restarted the activity. This team visits the chimpanzees in the Virunga forest on a daily basis at 4:30am to check where they spent their night before taking the visitors for chimp tracking. Currently, there are more than 28 chimpanzees in the forest available for tracking at a fee of USD100 per person per trek. Booking permits for chimpanzee trekking is done at Mikeno lodge and the activity starts at 6:00am. A group of 4 guests are allowed to visit a particular chimpanzee family and once tourists spot these chimps, you will be allowed to spend ample time with them, watch them how they de-nest, hunt, play, breastfeed and a lot more behaviors. After an hour of magical interaction with the chimpanzees, you will retrieve from the forest and go for relaxation or any other activities. Travelers interested in chimpanzee tracking are always advised to stay at Mikeno lodge for an overnight because the activity starts very early morning.
Individuals with chronic diseases such as a cold, fever, diarrhea and persistent sore throat are strongly discouraged to go for chimpanzee tracking in Virunga national park since these kinds of diseases can easily be transferred to these primates and may lead to their death.
Virunga national park had focused more on mountain gorilla trekking experiences, until recently when they opted to diversify the park activities hence starting to habituate some chimps for tourism.
The chimpanzee habituation for tourism is undergoing and currently there is family available for tracking in Mahura forest of Virunga national park. Like we said before, trackers must head into the forest very early in the morning to increase their chances of seeing the chimps before they scatter in search for food especially fruits which they enjoy immensely.
The chimpanzees are swifter in their movements compared to gorillas in terms of covering large ground while looking for food. Gorillas tend to eat in the same area for a while. Therefore, if you booked a chimpanzee trekking activity in Virunga national park, you need to start your trail into the forest early enough.
Just like with gorilla trekking experience, you are expected to be 15 years and above to be allowed to go for chimpanzee trekking in Virunga.
Throughout the trek you are advised to listen and pay attention to your ranger guide and don’t get off the trail. You are also not allowed to eat, drink or smoke before the chimpanzees.
If you need to take a short or long call, kindly inform your ranger guide and he will advise you accordingly. In most cases, you will dig a hole and cover it with soil after finishing your business.
Things to carry for chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park
Well, let us look into what to pack for a Chimp trekking tour in DR Congo. Below is a bullet list that should be packed if you intend to hike in the African Jungle in search for chimps;
For Coronavirus (Covid-19) prevention, carry two mask, hand sanitizer & test certificate
Pack a decent waterproof jacket
Waterproof backpack and extra batteries
Long pants, long sleeved shirt and longer socks
A pair of outdoor gloves
Biodegradable tissue or toilet paper
Trekking poles or hiking staffs
Best time to for Chimpanzee trekking in Virunga national park
Yes, chimpanzee trekking is best done early morning and in Virunga national park, an advances team visits the chimpanzees in the Virunga forest on a daily basis at 4:30am to check where they spent their night before taking the visitors for the activity. Later on, tourists start their trail into the forest from Mikeno lodge at exactly 6:00am being led by professional ranger guides.
Looking at the best season for chimp trekking in DR Congo, June, July and late August outstand to be the best months for the activity. During this period, the fig trees are rich in fruits and not rainy to disrupt movement of trekkers with slippery and muddy trails hence making it a booming period.
Not more than one group of visitors is allowed to track one particular family in Virunga national park and once you meet them, you are allowed to spend a full hour with them.