The Democratic Republic of Congo offers the rare opportunity for tourists to see the endangered chimpanzees in the wild. From 2014, the Congolese Rangers trained by Frankfurt Zoological Society started habituation of Chimpanzee communities-to make them get used to human presence within the Virunga National Park. The chimpanzee habituation process started with the community that lives at the Rumangabo Park Headquarter. Like gorillas, before tourists are allowed to visit these great apes, it is important for those animals to get used to the presence of human beings. This provides an opportunity for tourists staying within Mikeno Lodge and others to join the researchers on their daily visits to the Chimpanzees.
How the Chimpanzee tracking is Conducted in Virunga National Park
Tourists have to get up very early in the morning and prepare themselves for the life changing adventure. The day starts with the team of rangers/trackers who have to leave their Camp at 4:30 am to search for the Chimpanzees from where they spend the night the previous day. Tourists and the Researchers depart by 6:00am to trek for the Chimpanzees depending on where the trackers have found them. The number of tourists to track each Chimpanzee community undergoing Habituation is limited to 6 persons, whereas the number of tourists allowed to visit a chimpanzee community during normal chimpanzee tracking is 8 persons and visitors are lowed to spend only one hour with the chimpanzee community.
Cost of a Chimpanzee tracking permit
The Cost of a Chimpanzee tracking permit in Virunga National Park is $100 per person per day. Tourists who go for gorilla safaris at Mikeno have the chance to include chimpanzee tracking in their trip itinerary.
Chimpanzee Tracking Guidelines in Virunga National Park
Tourists with a cold or flu and diarrhea are not allowed to visit the Chimpanzees because they are 98% related to humans, hence are susceptible to human illnesses/the diseases can be transmitted to them. If you realize you are sick before the scheduled time of tracking, inform the Park Rangers and your money (for the Chimpanzee permit) will be refunded to you just like it is done for Mountain gorilla trekking. If you get the sudden urge to sneeze or cough, turn your mouth away from the Chimpanzees and use a handkerchief to reduce risks of spreading germs to the chimpanzees.
Maintain a distance of 7 meters away from the Chimpanzees to avoid spreading diseases. Also avoid making noise when tracking or when with the Chimpanzees because noise scares them away.
Tourists are totally prohibited from eating, drinking or smoking when in the presence of the Chimpanzees.
What to Wear and Carry for Chimpanzee Tracking in Virunga National Park
Don’t forget to carry enough drinking water and packed lunch.
A Backpack is handy for carrying your camera, packed lunch or snacks, drinking water and even your rain jacket.
Wear long sleeved shirts to protect your arms from the rough tree branches, stinging nettles and grass that are likely to injure your arms.
Long trousers are very important to protect your legs from rough tree branches that can scratch your legs hence make the Chimpanzee tracking experience a nightmare instead of being memorable.
Wear Sturdy hiking boots with enough grip to allow you hike through steeper areas and maneuver through some of the muddy and slippery trails during the rainy seasons.
Wear long socks, and should tuck in your trousers into the socks to prevent the safari ants and other insects from entering your trousers.
Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes respectively from the Tropical sunshine.
Also wear a rain jacket/poncho whether it is a rainy or dry season to protect you from the rain that is quite unpredictable within Virunga National Park.
Best Time to track the Chimpanzees of Virunga National Park
The best time to track the chimpanzees is the dry season from June to September and December to February because the hiking trails are not wet, muddy and slippery during this season. However, with the high rate of climate change, this literally becomes difficult to predict.
In conclusion, besides mountain gorilla trekking, the Virunga National Park can be visited for the Chimpanzees tracking experience and the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience that allows tourists to spend quality time with primates that share 98% of their DNA with mankind.