Lambert follows gorillas since he was 10 years old, here they call him “gorilla moja ya Kahuzi”, that in swahili means “the first of Kahuzi gorillas”. Now he has five children, two of whom are named Coco and Karibu, “welcome” in Swahili, as the two cubs of Chimanuka, the biggest gorilla male of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Lambert leads us through the forest to meet him.
Kabobo, our final destination, is part of an one of the areas with the highest biodiversity on the planet: the Albertine rift, which includes the East African Great Lakes and mountain ranges such as the Virunga and Ruwenzori. Kahuzi-Biega i a vast National Park ranging from the Congo River basin to the mountains bordering Lake Kivu and is on our way to Kalemie. Here, the rangers of the Park give us, for genetic analysis, some samples of the large forest antelope called Bongo, two teeth taken from an old skull. Anita explains me that they will be crushed and from the powder the DNA will be extracted. It’s weird, I think, that the dust of teeth can contains the evolutionary history of a species that, if compared to others, can give glimpses of an evolutionary history million years old. These samples will serve to compare the populations of Kabobo, if we will be lucky enough to find them, with the other known population of Bongo, and check their level of isolation from others.
The park counts 1,500 visitors every year and is protected by 240 guards, as Lambert. Since some years, girls are part of the guards, “initially girls were not interested but today they come spontaneously asking to become one of the guard of the Park.”
There are 12 gorilla families in Kahuzi-Biega. After an initial decline, from the park establishment in the 70s, the number of gorillas has been growing. “What is the reason?” I ask Lambert “the guards do a great job in terms of poaching control and the rebels do not cross the boundaries of the park anymore.” The number of tourists visiting the park is still much lower than in the most famous Virunga “Here the situation has been unstable until recently, only now is stabilizing, but we are very happy with the results achieved and we are confident that the number of visitors will increase in the coming years” said Lambert. Looking the book of guest I realize that most of them come from DRC. “What represent the park for local people?” I ask ,”the people feel the park and gorillas as an important part of their identity and economy, a part of the revenue, every year, goes to the local community for training, construction of schools and education and many of them are working with us”.
The guides tell us to stop talking and slow down the pace. Lambert give to each of us a mask to cover mouth and nose “we’re cousins,” he explains, “we can transmit diseases.” Branches that break, leaves that are torn off… Here we are.
I look behind me, Simone and Claus are ready with the camera, to film what certainly will be one of the most sensational experiences of our lives.
Simone and Claus are the authors of all the videos that you will see in the blog, which represents only a part of their work for this project. The material that will be shot, will become a documentary. “For me this project is really a big challenge,” said Simone few days ago when I asked him what is for him Kabobo Expedition “is to have the privilege to get myself in an unexplored nature, to have the chance of seeing species that, perhaps, no one has seen before and this is really exciting. We will be using new audiovisual production technologies and we are proud to give, through our artistic discipline, our contribution to the preservation of this extraordinary nature, in an effective and concrete way”.
Leonard breaks through the thick vegetation in front of us. We remain motionless. It falls the last branch and suddenly breathing stops. “Fortunately there are Simone and Claus” is my last thought.