Eastern Lowland Gorillas
Eastern Lowland Gorillas are one of the species of the gorilla beringei beringei and are special attractions that can be trekked mostly in central Africa. Gorillas are large forest-dwelling primates that live in the forests, swamps and lowlands areas of East, West and Central Africa. There are two subspecies of gorillas, that is the Western and Eastern gorillas. Western gorillas are divided further into Cross River gorillas and the Western Gorillas. The Eastern Gorillas are also divided further into two, that is mountain gorillas and Eastern lowland gorillas. Mountain gorillas are the ones found in the Virunga massifs and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The Eastern lowland gorillas are only found in Kahuzi Biega National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Eastern lowland gorillas are peaceful, quiet and very gentle apes that only roar or scream when it necessitates it. They only become aggressive when provoked: males fight over females but only occasionally. Lowland gorillas, like the mountain gorillas, communicate using a variety of sounds and body language and they often spend their time feeding, grooming, swinging and climbing on the trees. The Eastern lowland gorillas feed on leaves, stems, fruits, and shrubs.
The Eastern lowland gorillas live in groups and have a dominant silverback as their leader. The females usually move to join a lone male or another group as soon as they reach of age. The lowland gorillas like the mountain gorillas, build nests on the ground every single day. They use leaves, shrubs and tree branches to have a proper nest that they can rest inbuilt. The females and juveniles sometimes build their nests on top of trees.
These Eastern lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered and are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature list of species that need special protection. The Eastern lowland gorillas live in very volatile regions that see them get killed during a crossfire or intentionally for meat. Poaching and animal trafficking have also seen their reduction in number.
Eastern Lowland gorilla trekking in Kahuzi Biega National Park
The most convenient place to track the Eastern lowland gorillas is in Kahuzi Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Though volatile in the recent past, the Congo is relatively safer and peaceful and tourist activities can take place. Kahuzi Biega National Park has about 400 Eastern lowland gorillas in nine groups. Only three gorilla groups of the nine are habituated and can be trekked.
Kahuzi Biega National park is one of the largest national parks in the Congo and is located just near Bukavu and Lake Kivu.
Trekking Eastern lowland gorillas involves hiking into the forests in search for the gorillas. The activity not only gives you a chance to see these few apes but also spot areas that have never been visited by many people before. You will marvel at the remarkable diversity in one place.
The trek starts with an early morning briefing by the ranger at the Tshivanga Visitor Centre which is found just outside the park entrance. The ranger will lay out the rules and guidelines for a successful lowland gorilla trekking experience. The rangers will share information on what to expect and also give you insights into the different gorilla groups. After the brief, travelers are led through already established trekking trails in search for the assigned gorilla group. The trek can take up to six hours depending on the location of the gorillas. Only one hour is allowed to travelers to watch these lowland gorillas. Only 4 persons per group per day are allowed to track these Eastern lowland gorillas.
Tracking Eastern lowland gorillas requires one to have a permit, which can be booked from the park headquarters at a cost of $400 only. Travelers are advised to book and pay for these permits before they travel so as to secure their permit.
- A 7 meters’ distance away from the gorillas must be observed
- Keep within your group
- Noise is not allowed and whispers if you really need to speak
- Avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas, this threatens them.
- Keep calm when a gorilla charges. Follow whatever instructions your guide/ranger instructs you to do.
- Do not throw rubbish in the park. Carry back all that you came with.
- Do not eat near the lowland gorillas. Eating should be done at least 200 meters away.
- Do not touch the gorillas, you just might infect them and treating them is quite costly.
- Persons below 15 years are not allowed to trek
- Unhealthy tourists with contagious diseases must not trek the gorillas. Kindly volunteer to not to if you fall sick on the day of the trek.
- Hiking boots, that are preferably waterproof for when you step in puddles, rivers or when it actually decides to rain-you are in the rain forest, remember.
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Waterproof hat to shield your head and hair from the vegetation and rains.
- Waterproof backpack to safeguard your important items like the camera
- Garden Gloves to keep your hands from plant pricks and reactions from some vegetation
- Camera for the pictures
- Waterproof jacket to shield one from the rains
- Energy giving snacks and enough water- the hike is quite long and the terrain isn’t all that smooth.
A comparison between an Eastern lowland gorilla trekking and a mountain gorilla trekking safari;
Mountain gorilla trekking can be done in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo whereas Eastern lowland gorilla trekking only takes place in the Congo.
Mountain gorilla trekking in the above-mentioned countries is more organized as the gorillas are in relatively peaceful and accessible area, Eastern lowland gorillas though, are hard to access as they are more mobile.
There are more habituated mountain gorilla groups that can be tracked-over 30 groups in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, while there are only three habituated groups for the Eastern lowland gorillas.
Mountain gorilla trekking is a much more expensive venture that can go up to $1,500 for a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda. Eastern lowland gorillas are relatively cheaper, at $400 only.
The success rate of finding these lowland gorillas is low for the fact that they leave in very vast areas that they need to travel long distances looking for food, and they move very fast that keeping up with them gets hard and really tiresome. Mountain gorillas are however easily found.
Planning to track these lowland gorillas at Kahuzi Biega National Park? Well, you are advised to plan your gorilla trekking safari way in advance, the permits and the gorilla groups are limited, you will need to secure yours way in advance- at least 3 months in advance. Given the volatility of the region and the fact that it still is ‘wild’, guidance from a trusted tour operator is much needed. Plan and visit these Eastern lowland gorillas sometime soon.