Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center Virunga
Virunga National Park’s headquarters at Rumangabo is home to the Senkwekwe Center, the world’s only facility for orphaned mountain gorillas. With expert staffs that provide daily care for the orphans, who were each separated from their family due to the impact of poaching, the Senkwekwe Center is a unique sanctuary offering the gorillas the chance to lead happy and secure lives in their forested enclosure.
Senkwekwe Centre is located at the headquarters of Virunga National Park near Mikeno lodge. The center is named after the great silverback gorilla “Senkwekwe” who led the gorilla group Rugendo during a great massacre of some members in 2007 by rebel forces hiding in the game park. The idea of the gorilla orphanage center came up when two orphaned gorillas (Ndakasi and Ndezi) who survived the massacre were rescued and there was no suitable place to take proper care of them. A decision was made to set up a center to cater to young mountain gorillas that have lost their parents due to poaching, animal trafficking, or fighting between government forces and rebels in the parking area. The Senkwekwe center was opened in 2010 and has become known as the only place in the world where mountain gorillas have lived successfully in captivity.
Under the leadership of Andre Bauma and the management of Virunga National Park, the Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage offers a rare opportunity for primate lovers to contribute directly to a worthwhile conservation effort while also observing mountain gorillas interact closely with humans.
How the caretakers take care of the Orphaned mountain gorillas
As gorillas are large powerful creatures, it can be a difficult task to care for them – and a clear daily routine is important for the orphans.
Wake-up begins around 6 am when the gorillas begin to play and receive their breakfast. They are let out into the garden at around 7:30 am where they spend the majority of their day playing and eating. When they were much younger, constant care was needed as they were still very young to be on their own, but today they can be left free without a caretaker within the garden.
At 4 pm it is time to return to the enclosure for the night. This entails a bribe of more food to get the orphans back from their playground. Here they remain until the following morning. Dinner comes in the form of porridge with added nutrients and probiotics which is served at around 5 pm.
They are put to bed with a bunch of fresh leaves for them to build a basic nest. The leaves come in the form of wild celery, which is also edible.
Rescued mountain gorillas in the Senkwekwe Gorilla orphanage Virunga
Matabishi joined the orphanage in 2010, this male gorilla was found near the park’s boundary and it’s believed that poachers abandoned him there in fear of being caught in illegal poaching. Matabishi was groomed by Maisha as though it was her own baby.
Maisha was the first orphan in the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage in 2010; she was born in 2001and the name Maisha means life. In 2004 Maisha was captured by some rebel group and taken to a cave in Rwanda. The rangers of volcanoes national park and police in Rwanda heard rumors of Maisha in the cave and rescued her but she was in a very devastating state, the gorilla doctors in Rwanda took very good care of her and treated her and she regained conscience she was then returned to Congo when she was nine years old. She stayed happily at the orphanage raising many orphaned gorillas and acted as a leader until she developed an illness that led to her death.
Ndeze is the daughter of the female gorilla safari who was a member of the Rugendo gorilla family that was caught in the massacre in 2007. Ndeze was found to clung to her dead mother’s breast. She was transferred to Senkwekwe gorilla center.
Yalala was found after being abandoned by her family that had tried all possible ways to rescue her from the snare but failed, the snare was set up by poachers and injured the gorilla very badly leading to the amputation of her leg by doctors later and she was put to the orphanage.
Ndakasi was also among the survivors of the Rugendo family that survived the massacre of 2007; Ndakasi was brought together with Ndezi to the orphanage after staying in a house in Goma she is among the first gorillas in Senkwekwe center.
Kaboko just like Yalala was found caught up in a snare set up by poachers, the gorilla was taken to the center and amputated by gorilla doctors though he continued having stomach problems, and it’s believed she died out of stress during the gunfire between rebels and park rangers, Kaboko died in 2012 at the age of 5 years when the gorilla doctors were still in Rwanda and couldn’t come to rescue him in time.
How to get to Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage Virunga
Visitors to Virunga National Park usually fly into Kigali International Airport and take the 3+ hour taxi ride to the ‘Grand Barrièr’ border crossing at Gisenyi, Rwanda/Goma, DRC. Take note of the details of your travel arrangements and plan accordingly as international flights often arrive in the late afternoon or evening.
Alternatively, guests can fly into Goma airport. Ethiopian Airlines and many domestic DRC airlines fly into Goma. It is advised to book accommodation in Goma on the day of your arrival since flights are regularly delayed.
Other things to do at Virunga national parks
Virunga national park has got some groups of habituated gorillas that tourists can visit, gorilla trekking can be done by a maximum of 8 people visiting a gorilla family per day and spending one hour in the presence of these great apes. Congo offers the cheapest gorilla permits compared to Rwanda and Uganda at $450 per person.
Chimpanzee trekking was introduced in Virunga national park in 2014, chimpanzees are humans close relatives sharing about 98% DNA just like mountain gorillas. Chimpanzee trekking is easy as they are not hard to find like gorillas and the cost is also cheap compared to a gorilla permit.
Virunga national park is also a birder-paradise hosting various species of birds some of which are endemic to this area, some of the examples of birds you can spot in the park include; grey throated barbet, Madagascar Bee-eater, narrow tailed starling, yellow-billed barbet, double toothed barbet, and many others.
You can hike some of the world’s most active volcanoes that is Mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira while at Virunga national park. Mount Nyiragongo hosts the world’s largest lava lake and the most fluid lava that travels 90 kilometers per hour compared to the rest that travels to 1-10 kilometers per hour. Mount Nyamuragira like Nyiragongo is part of the 8 Virunga massif volcanoes, it’s said to have erupted at least 40 times since 1985 with eruptions from the summit and flanks of the volcano the last eruption took place in 2010 and 2011. All these mountains at Virunga national park provide unique experiences that should not be missed while visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where to stay in Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage
Their various accommodation units tourists can sleep in while at Virunga national park-like Mikeno lodge, TChegera tented camp, and many others. Virunga national park can be visited all year round especially if your aim is to visit the Senkwekwe gorilla orphanage. If you intend to go hiking and trekking gorillas or chimpanzees, then the best time is from June to August in the dry season.
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