The most beautiful day in Eastern Congo

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  12. 03. 2022

The driver had stashed his machine gun between the front seats of the Landcruiser, but the other Kahuzi-Biega National Park rangers held theirs in their hands, even as we turned off the main road and took the muddy, deeply rutted road to the top of the hill. The car skidded and slid until we finally came to a halt at a wooden sign with BUGULUMIZA written across it. It was located at the base of the transmitter tower, where another group of rangers were patrolling. With them was Hobereau Kitumaini, whom we had met the previous day. He had interviewed me on Gorilla FM.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

Gorilla FM Conservation Radio was set up in 2019 at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and broadcasts in French, Swahili and two of several local languages, Mashi and Kitembo. Thanks to its broadcasts, many people have warmed to the national park – and, as far as the local, unique eastern lowland gorillas and their habituated groups are concerned, there isn't a day that goes by when it doesn't broadcast about them. Incidentally, we also contributed material on the gorillas. At the end of our interview, in which we mainly talked about the aid that is being readied for the national park, I gave Hobereau a French-language storybook about our Moja. He immediately broadcast it.

Hobereau had come to the top of Bugulumiza to repair something on the transmitter used to broadcast Gorilla FM. As a matter of fact, after our interview he had mentioned that they would readily welcome some equipment that was considered defunct in Europe.

However, we hadn’t trekked all the way to Bugulumiza for the transmitter. That day there was a group of eight gorillas nearby that belonged to the silverback male Bonane. We set off to try and find it in the rain, still accompanied by armed rangers and with our guide Lambert leading the way. After a few hundred metres we left the path and began to descend the steep slope through the dense undergrowth. Lambert cut me a staff, but I’d only used it for a few steps, when, suddenly, there was a low gorilla murmur. Lambert froze, as did the rest of us. And then I saw him! At the foot of the escarpment, sitting in the foliage, was Bonane! I put my staff down, took out my camera and started taking shots. My hands were shaking with the thrill of it all. As I lowered the camera to check what I’d taken, Lambert nudged me and pointed to the treetops above Bonane. Wilungula, a small male, was climbing in them!

I'll remember the hour that followed to my dying days. Bonane got up and moved off. We followed him – and, in the end, a view of his entire group opened to us! In one glance we took in all eight gorillas, most of which were just a few metres away. We could admire the stunning Bonane, old friends, the males Deschryver and Wilungula, their mothers Siri and Mukono (the latter had once got caught in a poacher's trap, leaving her with a crippled arm, and she later lost an eye in an unfortunate accident) and the golden spike of this entire unique spectacle – Nyaba Deux with her 18-month-old twins! I wish you could have experienced it, especially since words fail me when trying to describe the feelings I had in those moments.

Happy, we walked back up to the cars to drive back to the park administration and from there to our hotel in Bukavu. When my phone got a signal, I started sending out pictures of Bonane's family to my nearest and dearest whilst my emails were downloading. One of them was a message from Czech Radio that it would donate the equipment it no longer used to Gorilla FM.