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Congo :

The Rwindi park  (1)

First visit: accompanied

It is in October 1990 that Renato invited me to accompany him with his children for my first trip in the wilderness, in the Park of Rwindi (of the name of the important river which crosses it).

The Rwindi river

It is part of the immense National park of Virunga ("volcano" in Swahili) that covers more than 8000 km ² (a third of Belgium!)

Created in 1925 and called "Albert National Park" (the first Park in Africa), it had for objective the protection of the déjà-rare mountain gorillas (see my "gorillas" page).

It was then widened to protect the current zone, in the North of Goma, lining Rwanda and Uganda, including the very big Lake Edouard (ex Lake Albert then Lake Idi Amin), the Mountain Ruwenzori and three of the volcanoes of the region (Nyaragongo, Nyamulagira and Karisimbi). The height of the Park varies of 800m to more of 5000m! It was declared World Heritage.

In 1989 one listed there more than 200 sorts of mammals (among which about twenty threatened with extinction), more than 700 sorts of birds... It is to say the wealth of the Park!

Regrettably, I should say that I attended a part of its decline during my stay in Kivu. This one had begun much earlier and continued, especially in 1994 with the influx of more than a million refugees of Rwanda, who were nourishing on animals of the Park and decimated forests (10 000 m³ of wood used every day!)

During my stay also, the Park knew a dark period... The riots, the civil war and the general insecurity prevented the tourists from arriving there and so to supply the money necessary for its conservation. Infrastructures were not maintained any more, the guards were not paid any more and the regulations were contournables for plain money. Natural causes also: an epidemic of anthrax decimated more than 8000 hippopotamuses (a third of the population of the Park): at the end of 1990, we strolled with a handkerchief on the figure because of the smell of corpses!


Even the volunteers of the EEC who made there an excellent job in difficult conditions (even if they were settled well) had to leave the place a little later.

As for the road, I shall speak about it farther ;)

But it is necessary to say as well that all these elements well served me, egoistically: this desertion of the tourists and the carelessness which prevailed allowed me "to take advantage" of the Park as nowhere else, offering me an experience much more close to the wild nature, to the wilderness, to the jungle with the excitement and the danger which they contain.

It is not surprising then that I was so disappointed by Kenya, with its organized, almost disinfected Parks, filled with tourists...

The volunteers of the EEC are settled well!

At Rolf's, EEC volunteer

But let us "return to our sheep", as my Vietnamese teachers say ;)

So I arrived for this first visit of Rwindi in my friend Renato's air-conditioned 4x4, and we were welcomed in Rolf's and Shwartz's chalets, two volunteers of the EEC.

Can one dream better? We spent a very good evening with them, listening to Chris Rea in the middle of the valley of Rwindi!

It is necessary to get up early? No problem, I'm the first up because of the noise. I think that it was a hippo at my door, the others told me that it was a lion.

"That's better, anyway" they said. Why? "It's less dirty."

And they tell me the story of a tourist staying at Rwindi's hotel, whom in the morning opened the door of her small bungalow after hearing loud noises. She would then have been in front of the big behind of a hippo, which would have found nothing funnier than to do its big needs right then. As hippos makes their small tail turn in this making to scatter the material (this point is true, I saw it), the lady and her room would have been covered with hippo's sh...

One of these fables for the new? Personally I tend to believe in it, having lived over there...

It doesn't matter much, what counts is to know that the four paws guests are numerous in the hotel and in the chalets, and I even had a baboon in my room. He left with my box of new films!

But I should go back to the point...

First observation: the landscape is magnificent!

The sight from my chalet at about 6 o'clock in the morning

We just took time for a little breakfast and left. Before going to go fishing, Renato offers me a tour on some neighbouring tracks so that I do not limit my first visit to the fishes of the Rwindi.

It starts quickly!

Very quickly we get to a group of lions which ends their breakfast.

I knew only the lions of the Antwerp's Zoo.

Today it is I who am in the cage (in the car) less than two metres of a family of lions who look at me peacefully, quietly nibbling.

The digestive siesta... At 7 o'clock in the morning.


All the windows are opened. I could almost touch them. The guard who accompanies us took out his rifle (just in case) and I my camera (my good old manual Pentax A-1). I machine-gun with the 50 mm (no zoom), the guard machine-guns nothing (fortunately).

The prey is almost completely devoured, it is now lionesses and lion cubs that feast.

There is blood everywhere, intestines are gaping.

It is so beautiful...

So real...

It has been two months that I am in Zaire, and I have the impression to finally arrive, to find what I came here for :

The Nature.

Another feeling impossible to describe in these pages...

I could (would like) to stay there all day, but children are impatient and Renato also: he knows all this for years, and he came to go fishing, after all!

We get back on the track.

It's mine!

The m'toto ("youngsters") whom we engaged to use during the fishing get impatient also moreover, wedged in the back of the Pajero with all the material.

Along the way, we cross bulls, free to run in the vast plains of the valley, or obliged to flee a predator...

I have already begun to laugh at the Zoo of Antwerp, in spite of its qualities...

About the bulls, let us note that all do not run:

This buffalo has other tastes that his congeners.

And you believed that the man had invented the thalassotherapy and the mud baths?

This treatment and the help of a little bird who preys on insects on him are worth all the gold of the world for a bovine prey of the Rwindi!

It is also a beautiful dress to photograph ;)

Oh, babe !

We made uncountable meetings along the two or three tracks which we took as bends to arrive to Renato's favorite fishing spot.

The Park still had numerous of these tracks, more or less identified, leaving in buckle from the main track.

As a rule, the guests are accompanied with a guard in their vehicle and should not leave the tracks.

As a rule...

Ah, hippos...

Nice big cows?

No way. Avoid them as the plague at dawn and in the twilight, when they enter or get out of the water. They then follow the tracks which they "dug" in the course of the years in the savanna and behave as peevish bulldozers.

People lose their life every year this way...

As kids in the paddling pool...

"Ben oui, j'me suis battu,
j'ai une oreille en moins,
ça n'empêche pas d'apprécier
la vie, non ?"

But when they are in the water, and seen that they do not like moving too much, they are almost harmless.

One understands them: moving three tons of meat in the heat of the African daytime...

They cavort (and sometimes fight) all day in lakes and streams and represent one of the trump cards of the Park, because it is here in the Rwindi that one finds (found) the densest hippo population of Africa.

But from 23 000 in 1989, there would only be about 1500 today, killed mainly -as it is said- by the May May and Interhamwe... Of course, at 10 dollars the head in the local market (3 dollars the antelope)...

Well, let us continue our journey,
Renato is impatient to throw his lines.

Ooops! Stooop!

One of the two solitary elephants of Vitshumbi.

The solitary males are very vindictive.

A virtual duel undertakes between the car and the biggest ground mammal: when this one charges, the car moves back, and inversément. The game is dangerous: if the engine stalls, if we get in a hole, the elephant would destroy the metal intruder.

There were about 3000 elephants in Rwindi in 1960. There wasn't more than 500 in 1990. How much after 1994?

Woops !
Please excuse us, Sir, we're just going through!

Well, it's time to go fishing!

It's going on here...

Page créée le 3 juin 2001 -  Mise à jour le 6 juillet 2002

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