”Uff, uff!” he said and turned his back towards us, heavily slumped down on his back lazily and started chewing away on his main diet this time of the year, leaves. He wasn’t at all interested in our presence, almost seemed bored and fed up with being a star.
Suddenly, his wife gave a call of distress and Chimanuka, showing that his enormous size isn´t a problem, flung himself like an agile chimpanzee down the tree, hit the ground with a thump -30 centimetres from where we stood in a paralysed silence- and raced through the bush like a rhinoceros and growled his orders of silence!
When he had done his duty as the sole leader of this family of lowland gorillas, he just sat down in the thick under growth and the only part of his body we could see, was his gigantic head. Chimanuka was the undisputed leader of this family consisting of him, 17 females and 14 young ones of different ages. He’s name meant Happy Swahili and had been given to him by the park rangers after he by pure luck was found after the very destructive civil war that plagued this area 1997. A devastating war that killed at least 3 major family’s in this little area where these unique gorillas habitat and where reproduction isn’t neither an easy thing or taken for granted. The gorillas were basically killed as food. And in a war where a human life had little value, a gorilla, of course, even less.
Suddenly Chimanuka stood up on all four and slowly made his way just passed us and headed into the growth again, looking for a new feeding place. Very agile he then swung his way up a thin tree and it was hard to believe that his weight was at least 240 kg:s. (Approx. 500 pounds) There he stayed throughout our visit in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. We had an hour and a half to visit these our close relatives and it is a very profound feeling of seeing these primates which are so different to us, but still so very close. They definitely feel very human with their behaviour and the way they look. I felt very close, almost protective of them and even though I am a hunter, who kills wild animals for food, I could never shoot or kill a gorilla. It would be like killing a human. Impossible!
“We’re guarding them 24 hours a day” ,the chief ranger told us, “All rangers come from this are, so we know the forest well.”
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is probably the least visited gorilla habitats in the world. It is, of course, due to that it is place in what is globally seen as a volatile region of Congo and the world. For this reason, there’s very few tourists, it’s unspoilt and feels very fresh. In my eyes, I couldn’t have ended up in a better place to visit this closest of relatives for the first time in my life. It just has to be felt this feeling of meeting your original family!
“I can tell you” , the chief ranger continued, “that this is the only place were tourist always see gorillas and never, ever have to walk for more than an hour to find them. I have worked here for over ten years and always seen gorillas when taking tourists.”
Just getting to the park entrance is an adventure and extremely entertaining! After leaving the bustling and magnificently located city of Bukavu, one follows the stunningly beautiful Lake Kivu, passing through these fantastically dramatic, lively Congolese villages on relatively good dirt roads and climbing up to 2200 meters to the park. One of the best rides in my life!
For me returning back to Congo after passing through here on a bicycle 21 years ago is very emotional. And do you know what? It is still the most exiting, lively and most African of countries on earth! Like Yemen, it is flaunted as extremely dangerous in media and by embassies on the Internet, but like Yemen, this is only in certain parts of these big countries and, I guess for the same reason, probably the two most entertaining, interesting and humane countries on earth right now.
Congo has to be experienced!
I just missed Olly by a day……will we meet on the active volcano Nyarangrongo? In a few days you will know! At least I have met Chimanuka!
Meeting Chimanuka was one of the most amazing days of my life …