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Trekking Bonobos in the Wild

Trekking Bonobos in the wild DR Congo

Trekking Bonobos in the wild is an adventurous and rare experience that will bring you to the untouched DR Congo. The Bonobos are our closest living relatives, with more than 99% identical DNA. Moreover, Bonobos are endemic to the DR Congo.

The Bonobos are a very rare animal to see in the wild, while the landscape of the Congo is a visit to the true heart of Africa. Trekking Bonobos in the wild is not the Africa of Kenya or South Africa, this is raw, untouched, wild Africa. The experience of seeing the locals along the river going about their daily lives is something that, in all likelihood, can only be found in one or two places in the world. Yes, this is not an easy trip, but it can be very rewarding if you can handle the unpredictable environment that is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Where to see the Bonobos in the Wild

Kwafrika Travel provides to those willing to visit Bonobos in the wild two options:

1°. In Tshumbiri (Mai-Ndombe Province): The trekking of Bonobos in the wild can be done in Tshumbiri. Tshumbiri is an area located in the Mai-Ndombe province which is one of the 26 provinces of the DRC. The trekking is done in the Mai-Ndombe forest, an area of 10 million hectares, which has some trees measuring between 35 and 45 meters. This experience can be done in 5 to 8 days as Tshumbiri is located 250 Km on the Congo River from Kinshasa, DR Congo’s capital city. It is done in harmony with Téké people who are a part of communities living in the area. For more check our featured itinerary to Tshumbiri

2°. Lingunda (Tshuapa Province): The trekking of Bonobos in the wild can also be done at Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve (LYFR) via Basankusu city (Equateur Province) in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The LYFR was created in 2006, it is in the heart of the equatorial rainforest and lies between the rivers Lomako and Yokokala, tributaries of the Maringa and the Lopori rivers in the hydrographical basin of the Lolonga. For more check our featured itinerary to LFYR.

Why you should go trekking Bonobos in the wild

This is one of the few places in the world where regular tourists can see Bonobos in the wild, in their natural environment. In addition to trekking Bonobos in the wild, the extensive trip just to get to the forest is worth it. The sights on and along the Congo River are unique and beautiful as you pass villages and locals going about their daily lives. This is truly a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.

How to get there:

1°. Tshumbiri

You will embark from the Ngafura port of Maluku for two days of navigation. Maluku is a town in the city of Kinshasa located 80 km from the city center. You will spend the first night in Menko village. The next morning you resume your navigation to reach Tshumbiri in the afternoon. On your arrival in Tshumbiri, you take a jeep which will take you to Nkala where you will arrive late in the evening.

2°. Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve (LYFR)

Currently, only few tour operator do have a Congolese government permission to take tourists to this park. The normal, planned trip to get to Lomako Reserve is to fly from Kinshasa to Basankusu, a town in Equateur Province.

After a three-hour flight you land in Basankusu, from here it is a short 1.2 km to find the hotels: ‘Chez Papa Cézar’, ‘Chez Jamar’ and ‘L’Avenir’. You can spend the night in either of these hotels which are all of a good standard. Your tour operator’s contacts in Basankusu will help you finalize with the last formalities and logistics of getting to Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve (LYFR).

From Basankusu, you will have two options to reach the Lomako Reserve (Tshuapa Province) in your endeavor to trekking the Bonobos in the Wild.

By Road

Travelling by road is not really advised because the roads between Basankusu, Befale, Lomako and Lingunda (home to the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, or ICCN, base) are in bad condition.

By Navigation

Trekking the Bonobos in the wild Basankusu
Credit photo: AWF
From Basankusu to Lingunda

Travelling by river by either of the two entries is what is advised:

  • From Basankusu, navigate first up the Lopori River by motorised dug-out canoe, followed by the Yokokala River to the north edge of the Reserve where you can view the beautiful scenery and may be lucky enough to see the herds of bongos.
  • From Basankusu, navigate first up the Maringa River by motorised dug-out canoe, this route takes you past the old prison of Ekafera which was reserved for the politicians in the day of President Mobutu’s rule. From the Maringa you join the Lomako and after the 17 hour non-stop journey you will find yourself at the Tuende river-mouth which marks the beginning of the Reserve. After yet another hour you will reach Lingunda, the ICCN Base for the LYFR.

In Lingunda you can meet the ‘Conservateur’, Chief of the site of the LYFR with his management team as well as a team of guards who keep watch over the reserve. It is here that you will pay the entrance fees as you watch the monkeys animating the trees around the camp. You will spend a night in Lingunda and go for the unique trekking of Bonobos in the wild the following day.

Trekking Bonobos in the Congo tropical rainforest
Credit photo: Paul Thomson
Lomako Yokokala Forest Reserve

At the camp:

The ranger camps in the wild are very rustic and isolated. There is no running water, only bottled water brought up from the canoe for drinking/cooking and river water for bucket bathing. There are pit toilets. Depending on where you are trekking the bonobos in the wild, solar panels for limited charging of camera batteries. There is no mobile phone service, unless you have a satellite phone. Accommodations during the trip (except for Kinshasa) is spacious tents and air mattresses that your tour operator brings along.

In the forest

The trail when trekking Bonobos in the wild both in Tshumbiri and Lingunda is mostly about 1 foot (30cms) wide, in some cases you will need to walk through knee high water. Also, you will climb over fallen logs, roots, rocks and other obstacles along the path. There are a lot of biting ants along the path, so tucking your pants into heavy socks is highly recommended. The return trip whether from Lingunda or Tshumbiri to Kinshasa takes about the same time.

Trekking Bonobos in the wild:

Trekking Bonobos in the wild requires getting up around 3-4 am in order to hike through the jungle to the Bonobo nests before they wake up. The hike can take anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on where the Bonobos have made their nests. The rangers know where they are and will lead you there in the dark. Once you get close to the nests, you will wait in silence until the Bonobos wake up and the day begins to lighten. Once they have gotten accustomed to your presence, you will be allowed to follow the Bonobos as the move through the forest eating and socializing.

Note that you may be following a group as small as 3-5 or as large as 15-20, and be aware that they do not always come down from the top of the trees in which case seeing them or taking pictures can be very challenging due to the density of the jungle. After 3-4 hours (depending on where the Bonobos go), you will return to the camp.

Tips & warnings:

(1) Note that unfortunately as for many countries in Africa, corruption is alive and well in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the local guide will handle the payoffs to the local authorities (which will occur at almost every village you stop in), you should bring at least US$500.00 (in clean, post-2006 bills) in cash to handle unexpected emergencies. Credit cards and travelers cheques are useless.

(2) Bring a sun hat, lots of sunscreen and insect repellent. The canoes do not have any sun protection and it can get very hot during the day. In Kinshasa, along the river and in the jungle, you will need to spray yourself liberally with insect repellent, especially if you are travelling during the rainy season.

(3) Bring a waterproof bag for all of your possessions, especially while in the canoe. The canoes tend to leak, and since they are not covered, will also fill up when it rains. A rain cover will not be enough. Expect that your backpack will be sitting in the water in the bottom of the canoe.

(4) Bring a fleece jacket, it can cool off at night time, especially if you are sitting in the moving canoe.

(5) A decent pocket knife, waterproof matches, and a small camp towel are also recommended.

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