Congo has long been known for it's political violence which through the years have led to endangerment of the Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga National Park. I joined the world of Tourism in my country in 1997 when I worked for the opposition News Paper known as The Monitor. I still remember reading about the violence in the Congo and the need to save the 'endangered Mountain Gorillas' whose habitat was being destroyed by the wars. There were no trained rangers to protect the Gorillas and entering the Virungas at the time was like signing a death warrant. Nonetheless we braved a Safari with 4 huge South African Safari cars, three trained French Soldiers and 7 tourists who had specifically travelled to film the Gorillas. At this point in time, I must say the Virungas were feared even by the soldiers because of the aggressive nature of the Gorillas who had turned vicious in order to protect themselves and their habitat. Unlike in Uganda, the Gorillas here were not as tame and used to tourists like in Rwanda and Uganda. This side of the Virungas in Congo has since been a source of interest following the films Hollywood made about the deadly Gorillas in the Congo.
The Virunga National Park is located in the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo and boarders the Volcanoes in Rwanda and Ruwenzori Mountains in Uganda. While the civil was had endangered the wildlife in the Virungas over the years, it still remains the largest habitat for the Mountain Gorillas: during these years of unrest, the population of Gorillas actually increased until 2004 I believe, when work to conserve them began. As we drove through Volcanoes to the Virungas, I could not help but marvel at the green and thick forests on either side, the eerie feeling that something would jump out of the forest at you. Gerard our French pilot was the fun maker coming up with stories that were spine chilling.
A two day trek took us deep into the forest where our rangers carried heavy guns for protection, the French soldiers (now tourists) seemed to be un bothered by the insecurity status that had been elevated to RED, indicating go at your own risk (well they were soldiers after all). The Gorillas in the Congo are quite easy to differentiate from the Rwanda and Ugandan ones because they seem to have such red eyes; I was threatened by their size and eyes. Gerard keep snapping photos with a very high profile camera with no flash, he had dressed in wedge wood green just like a soldier and had a metal hat on. From the depth of the forest we could not see anything else except the blue sky in certain areas. Even though the Virungs are known for the beautiful mountains, we were not able to see the mountains until the fourth day when we left the forest. The mountains in the Virungas are known to be very active, but non of them erupted while we were there. The experience was unforgettable; I should like to go back sometime when the political situation is better and have my daughter with me to share in this incredible journey. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people, but the wars have diminished the beauty. By the way, the Virungas have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).
***UNESCO World Heritage Site ***