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Gorilla Families

In 2012 a Gorilla Census for Uganda, in particular for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, was released by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.  The news was good, the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda were and are on the increase - 480 in total, 400 in Bwindi Impenetrable NP and 80 in Mgahinga NP.  The 400 Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Imenetrable NP come from 36 group families or social groups and 16 solitary males that roam the ancient rainforest.

The habituation of a gorilla family is a lengthy and difficult process taking up to two years.  The exercise to habituate wild gorillas essentially requires that the gorillas lose their natural fear of humans and develop a trustful relationship with observers.  In order to fully habituate a group, it must be tracked and monitored on a daily basis, and slowly over time the gorillas stop fleeing from observers and eventually they become accustomed to the presence of people.

It is also essential for the park staff to learn the group composition and identification of individual gorillas.  Proper identification is important for the long-term monitoring of the group as well as ensuring that tourists have a worthwhile visit.  In order to minimize the negative impacts that visitors can have on gorillas, it is necessary to make sure that the group is well habituated before tourism begins,  The gorillas need to be at the stage where their normal social behaviors are not interrupted by visitors.

Bwindi Impenetrable NP

Bwindi Impenetrable NP is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa.  The forest was proclaimed as the Impenetrable Forest Reserve in 1932, its official name until 1991 when it was gazetted as a national park and named Bwindi.  The name Bwindi derives from the Mubwindi Swamp in the southwest of the park where local folklore tells the story of the sacrifice of a young girl.  Realising that this local name had less allure to tourists than its original name, the parks name was later expanded to Bwindi Impenetrable NP though today it is maily referred to as Bwindi.

To date twelve families have been habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable NP, eleven of which are available for tracking all year round and one in peak season when not dedicated to research.  There are four areas within Bwindi Impenetrable NP where you can track the various habituated gorilla families from - they are listed below and the corresponding gorilla families. 

Family statistics fo members are not included because gorilla families, like human families regularly change in size.  Babies are born, elders die and occasionally a family fued will result in a split or new members will join. 

Buhoma Area

Buhoma was the first area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to be developed and open for gorilla tracking and is traditionally the most popular area of the park in terms of activities and lodges.  There are definitely a lot more rooms available than there are permits. 

It is at this sector where other walks have been developed including; the Munyanga River Trail in the valley of Buhoma, which is a short walk for viewing birds and primates along the forest edge; the Waterfall Trail which passes beneath tree ferns, epiphytic ferns as well as orchids to visit three dazzling waterfalls; the Rushura Hill Trail, Muzabajiro Loop Trail and the River Ivi Trail of which the latter follows an old road through the forest, emerging near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the park.  There is also the Buhoma Community Walk. organised by the local community, which take up to three hours visiting a typical homestead, the traditional leader and a banana beer brewery.  Recently the Batwa Cultural Experience has been developed in this sector of the park.  

Gorilla families habituated for tracking in this sector include; Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura.   

Mubare

Mubare group was first sighted by trackers around the Mubare hills that are to be found deep in Bwindi Impenetrable forest, hence its name. In 1991 this family became the first of the Uganda Mountain Gorillas to be habituated and become available for tourist tracking. Silverback


Habinyanja

The original Habinyanja group was habituated in 1997 and by 1999 tourists were already visiting the group.  The name Habinyanja comes from the root of the Rukiga word for ‘body of water’ (nyanja). The original group was first sighted near a two pond swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

 
Gorilla family


Rushegura

Rushegura is the name of a place where the separation of this group from the larger family of Habinyanja took place in February 2002. The group was opened for tourism later that year since the individuals had already been habituated under the original Rushegura group. Juvenile gorilla

Ruhija

The Ruhija sector, which is famous for its abundant bird life as well as gorillas, is considered the most remote sector of all the four.  The areas is not as developed as Buhoma when it comes to lodges and other activities but each year new lodges are appearing that appeal to various sized pockets.  A three hour hike to visit Mubwindi swamp and its countless bird species has also been developed.  Alternatively many people stya in Buhoma or lake Bunyonyi but you have to leave quite early to make the gorilla tracking orientation in time.   

Bitikura

This mountain gorilla family was named Bitukura after a river that bears the same name. As it happens the family was first sighted near the river which also turned out to be part of its homing range.

Habituation of this group begun in July 2007 and the group was opened for tourism in October 2008. This was a relatively easy group to habituate as it had often been encountered by UWA rangers and trackers in their encounters with the Kyaguriro group (a research group) and this non-threatening human contact made it easier for the group to become accustomed to human company much faster than with other gorilla groups.
 
Infant gorilla

Kyaguriro

The Kyaguriro group was habituated in 1999 as a group dedicated to research. By closely keeping contact with this group a lot has been learnt about the mountain gorillas of Bwindi. Previously it was believed that the mountain gorillas in Bwindi forest are similar to those of the Virungas, but it has been observed that there are differences between the two types of mountain gorillas.
 
Mother and chils


Oruzogo

The Oruzogo family, named after a common plant locally known as Oruzogoto which is found in its home range.  The habituation of Oruzogo group began in December 2009 and the group was declared fit for tourism in late 2011.

 
Mother and chils


Rushaga

The Rushaga sector boasts the highest number of gorilla family to include; Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, Bweza and Busingye. It lies between Nkuringo and Ruhija and is accessible from either Kabale of Kisoro.
  

Bweza

Named after its founding father Bweza Silverback, the Bweza Gorilla Family is another example of an already habituated group separating to form a new group.  Originally the Nshongi family was the largest gorilla group ever habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable NP. In July 2010, Silverback Mishaya decided to leave the group and start his own family.  Two years later in 2012, Bweza also chose to be independent and walked away with 6 other members from the Nshongi Gorilla Group. After several months of observation and trial visits, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has decided, in early 2013, that the family was now ready for Gorilla tracking. Gorilla infant

  

Busingye

Busingye Gorilla Group is another splitter gorilla family having broken away from Kahungye Family back in June 2012. It was Silverback Busingye who decided to split and create his own family. Busingye is a local language word for ‘peace’ which is quite surprising since this ambitious Silverback is known for his legendary fights with other gorilla groups. Members of Busingye gorilla family were initially habituated as a whole with Kahungye family, so habituation as a new family was relatively easy.
 
Gorilla infant

  

Kahungye

The name Kahungye comes from a hill in the Rushaga area where the gorillas were discovered. The family is led by Silverback Gwigi, which means “door” in the local language. In 2011 when the group was opened for tracking the Kahungye gorilla family had twenty seven (27) members along with three (3) silverbacks, it split within months of being habituated and led to the formation of the Busingye gorilla group
 
Gorilla infant

  

Mishaya

The Mishaya group was named after the original Silverback, Mishaya who was part of the Nshongi group but decided, in July 2010 to establish his own family.  In February 2014  Mishaya was found dead by UWA trackers on patrol in the forest. An examination showed that at just 28-years-old, Mishaya an otherwise strong and healthy silverback died of intestinal complications. At the time of his death Mishaya led a group of 10 individuals, comprised mostly of adult females with infants, juveniles and one blackback. The dominant silverback’s death posed a threat to the group, as there is no other mature male within the group to assume the leadership role. All infants would be at risk of infanticide by silverbacks ranging nearby, eager to acquire their own females and bring them into estrus to sire their own offspring. Surprisingly, blackback Mwine managed to fill the leadership role in keeping the females together and the infants safe. Gorilla infant

  

Nshongi

Nshongi is the name of a river close to where this gorilla family was first sighted. The river has a deep colour similar to honey, and as honey in the local language is called Omushongi Gwoboki the river was named Nshongi.
Habituation of this family begun in early 2007, and it was officially launched for tourism on 26th September 2009. Nshongi was the biggest habituated group in the world with 36 members.
 
Gorilla infant


Nkuringo

Based in the south-west coner of the park, tracking the Nkuringo Gorilla Group takes a bit more energy and stamina due to the tough terrain in its location.  This is probably the toughest trek in Uganda, yet there are not many complaining about being exhausted.   A better word would be exhilarated (after the experience of a lifetime).

Nkuringo

Nkuringo is the Rukiga word for round hill. The group was first spotted and targeted for habituation at a hill named Nkuringo. This hill is not peaked and can be distinguished by its rounded crest.

This group was opened for tourism in 2004. In the first few months of contact with the group, the habituating trackers noted that it was under the leadership of an elderly silverback, who they naturally named Nkuringo. However, even then, Nkuringo’s son, Safari, had began calling the shots and, as heir-apparent, he had apparently taken over most of the leadership responsibilities. The aged Nkuringo died on 27th April, 2008.
 
Gorilla


Mgahinga Gorilla NP

Located in the far south-west corner of Uganda, Mganinga NP protects the Ugandan part of the Virunga Mountainsand its three main peaks: Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo.  Established in 1930 as the Gorilla Game Sanctuary, the national park was gazetted in 1991.  Covering less than 34km², Mgahinga is the smallest national park in Uganda but forms part of a cross-border system of with Rwanda and DRC.

There are over 80 Mountain Gorillas found in Mgahinga National Park the majority of which move freely between Uganda and Rwand. The Nyakagezi  Gorilla Family is the only habituated gorilla group in Mgahinga.

Nyakagezi

This 9 member group has the same migratory spirit within them as the other gorillas in Mgahinga and in the past have frequently travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
In late 2004 the group was subjected to attacks from a lone silverback causing them to flee across the border to Rwanda.  The silverback remained on the Uganda slopes frustrating any attempts by the Nyakagzi group to return.  They returned to Mgahinga Gorilla Park in 2012 and have remained within its borders since, making them stable for tracking once again.

 
Gorilla


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