Covering 2,300 square miles, Kahuzi-Biéga National Park is one of the largest national parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is also one of the last refuges of the eastern lowland gorilla, now considered critically endangered.
Kahuzi-Biéga National Park was established in 1970 by Adrien Deschryver, a Belgian photographer and conservationist who ranks alongside Dian Fossey as one of the great protectors of the world’s endangered gorilla population.
The vast park is named after the two dormant volcanoes located within its limits, Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega. Both mountainous and lowland terrain are found within the park boundaries, covered with primary tropical forest that provides protection to a wide range of flora and fauna. These include around 136 species of mammals, 349 species of birds, and more than 1,170 plant species.
Most famously, Kahuzi-Biéga is home to one of the largest and most studied populations of eastern lowland gorillas (known as Grauer’s gorilla or Gorilla beringei graueri) in the world. Tragically, the eastern lowland gorilla population has declined globally by 77 percent over the last 20 years, the result of logging, mining, civil unrest, and the poaching of the gorillas for meat. In 2016, the global population was estimated at fewer than 3,800.
The situation in Kahuzi-Biéga has been even more drastic, with an 87 percent decline, exacerbated by the conflicts in Congo and Rwanda during the 1990s. Estimates in 2012 put the number of eastern lowland gorillas in the park at between 1,272 and 2,518 individuals in the lowland areas, and 170 in the highlands.
There have, however, been some small signs of improvement in Kahuzi-Biéga. Researchers found that one gorilla population, in the highland sector of the park, has grown. In 2008, a status report put the group’s population at just 125. Thanks to the brave efforts of the park’s rangers, who risk their lives to protect the gorillas, the group has now increased in size to between 200 and 250.
Know Before You Go
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located near the town of Bukavu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A decent road runs from Bukavu into the park, but you will first need to get permission to enter. This is done by requesting a letter of invitation from Kahuzi-Biega National Park. These formalities are very much necessary, both for the protection of the park and its inhabitants and for the safety of all visitors. As recently as March 2018, 27 people were abducted by Mai-Mai Raia Mutomboki militants inside the park. They were released a few weeks later. Despite this incident, the security situation remains relatively calm in Kahuzi-Biega, and tourists can enter once they have been cleared, briefed, and given the required permission to visit.