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Gorillas in Uganda

Gorillas in Uganda

The number one attraction in Uganda are Mountain Gorillas – located in both Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and at Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks – there are now 14 Gorilla  Family Groups open for visitation – meaning that they are habituated and used to human beings.  80 permits are now available on daily basis in Uganda- which makes it a bit easier for you to find one. Even if there are no permits available at Uganda Wildlife Authority – tour operators belonging to AUTO have a network with which they inform other members of AUTO and most often permits can be found. Certainly the Gorillas of Uganda are not to be missed – their locations makes it easy to add-on other activities such as a visit to Lake Bunyonyi, the Batwa Forest Trail with the original people of the forest – the pygmies, Volcano Climbing, Golden Monkey Tracking, Wildlife viewing such as the Ishasha Tree Climbing Lions and Chimpanzee Tracking at Kyambura Gorge or Kibale Forest.

One of our best selling safris is a 5 day Gorilla – Chimpanzee – Wildlife Safari that combines Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park with the Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha – the Chimpanzees of the Kyambura Gorge – and other wildlife such as Elephants, Buffaloes, Antelopes, Hippos, Birds, and Crocodiles – a fabulous combination of some of Uganda’s finest offerings.

Half of their world population lives in Uganda. They are mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) a species listed as endangered and can only be found in Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Parks in Uganda. However, it is only in Bwindi, where half of the World’s 880 mountain gorillas. The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Some primatologists speculate the Bwindi population in Uganda is a separate subspecies, though no description has been finalized. As of September 2016, only an estimated 880 mountain gorillas remain.

Uganda’s dense forests are home to over half the world’s 880 or so mountain gorillas – the rest live in the neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As they do not survive in captivity, preservation of these fragile habitats is essential for their survival.

Where to find mountain gorillas in Uganda?

Before embarking on your gorilla safari it is important to learn more about these incredible creatures and read interesting facts about the various gorilla families. However, keep in mind that the mountain gorillas are wild animals and details such as the group size, location in the forest and leading silverback might change without notice.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park is located in south western Uganda was set up in 1942 and later on renovated to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1992. In 1994, it was acknowledged as the world Heritage site. Rukiga is a language commonly spoke in this area and the word Bwindi in realty means Impenetrable. What makes Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the fact that it covers an area of about 327km2 of scrambled vegetation draped over an intensively fissured landscape of the steep, haughty ridges as well as the slippery valleys and high. The terrain may be hard for you to manage but remember it’s what makes Africa an exciting continent. The park has a big population of gorillas. Bwindi is well known to be very cold in the morning and at night. The coolest months are usually June and July and the average temperature is about 70c-200c.When it concerns what to pack for gorilla trekk please pack warm clothes because Bwindi is so cold and receives about 2390mm of rain. It has two rain seasons, little rains are in the months of March-May and heavy rains are in the months of September as well as November. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National is divided into four gorilla trekking regions. Namely;

Buhoma region in the north of the park

Ruhija region in the East of the park

Rushaga region in the South of the park

Nkuringo in the South of the park

Each region has given well habituated gorilla families for visitors to tracking and studies. If you are to trek gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, then you need to mind about a specific region where you are going as this will affect the Lodge to be booked, gorilla permit as well as your transport. Contact gorilla trekk for more information.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park Gorilla Tracking Sectors

Buhoma sector is famous than other trekking sectors of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and re-known as the pioneer of gorilla trekking activity of Bwindi National Park and Uganda in general. The sector was the first to host the first group of the trekkers when the Mubare gorilla family was formed for trekking in 1993 two years after Bwindi was gazette into a National Park. Therefore, gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park cannot be mentioned without the Buhoma sector, because it is always the top on the list in the minds of tourists and Tour operators. Buhoma region is situated in the North-western side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Kanungu district. It is undeniable that this is where gorilla tourism in Uganda started from. There are currently three habituated gorilla families in Buhoma sector and they include Mubare, the first group to be opened for tourism (in 1993), Habinyanja, the second habituated gorilla group (opened for tracking in 1997) and Rushegura sector (habituated in 2000). This implies that only 24 gorilla permits are sold for this sector per day. The fact that it was the first sector to be opened for tourism undoubtedly contributes a lot to its popularity.

Gorilla families at Buhoma sector of Bwindi

Mubare Gorilla Family

Location: Buhoma

Group size: 8 individuals including 1 silverback

The Mubare gorilla group is the oldest habituated gorilla family in Uganda and was opened for tourism in 1993. The name derives from the Mubare Hill, deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where the gorillas were first sighted by trackers. Initially, the group consisted of 18 individuals, led by the dominant Silverback Ruhondeza. Unfortunately, over the years the family lost many members until there were only 5 left in 2012. This was due to moving to other groups, life losses during fights and the death of a baby gorilla.

In March 2012, the family was attacked by a wild gorilla group who broke Ruhondeza’s leadership and took away some of the females. Old Ruhondeza took refuge in a nearby community forest but continued to be monitored by researchers, until he died in his sleep on 27 June 2012. He was believed to have been well over 50 years of age. When visiting Buhoma feel free to ask your guide for the location of this great silverback’s grave!

In the meantime, Ruhondeza successor Kanyonyi managed to expand the family again and increased it to eight members including a baby named Kashundwe.

Habinyanja Gorilla Family

 

Location: Buhoma (ranging from Kahororo to Rubona)

Group size: 17 individuals including 2 silverbacks

The Habinyanja gorilla family was habituated in 1997 and first visited by tourists in 1999. The name “Habinyanja” comes from the Rukiga word “Nyanja” meaning “a place with water”. The reason for this name is because the group was first seen near a swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

At the time of habituation the group was lead by the dominant Silverback Mugurisi, which means “Old man”. After passing away because of old age, the two brothers Rwansigazi and Mwirima shared power but they were so different that it couldn’t continue. Rwansigazi was an adventurous gorilla and liked travelling, while Mwirima preferred to stay at a small range. It was therefore inevitable that in 2002 the two silverbacks decided to separate, without any fights. The group that followed Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja and the members who stayed with Mwirima came to be known as the Rushegura family. Later, Rwansigazi had to give up leadership to Makara who is now the dominant silverback of the Habinyanja family. Sometimes, both groups still come across each other but co-exist rather peacefully.

Sadly, a tragedy happened in June 2011 when the friendly blackback Mizano was found dead with evidence of spear wounds about the shoulders and neck. It is believed that a group of poacher with their dogs ran into the group. Mizano, who naturally defended his family, was speared and died instantly. It was the first poaching incident whereby a gorilla has been killed by poachers since 1995.

Rushegura Gorilla Family

 

Location: Buhoma

Group size: 19 individuals including 1 silverbackRushegura is the name of a place where the separation of this group from the larger family of Habinyanja took place in February 2002. The breakaway was led by Mwirima who took with him seven members/started with 12 individuals including 5 femails. His devotatoin to create a stable family wierp vruchten af as the number of individuals increased to 19 by April 2010.

At an estimated 25 years of age, Mwirima is without question the most dominant silverback in his group and does not back away from showing his strength during fights with wild gorilla groups. They used to cross to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo but came back and now enjoy the peacefully environments of Bwindi National Park. The group is known to be one of the calmest families and usually stay in the vicinity of Buhoma Village. Do not be surprised to even see them wandering around the lodge gardens or visit the souvenir shop of Gorilla Forest Camp as they are very curious as well. Especially the youngsters do not shy away from visitors and often like to ‘get a better look’.

Ruhija is located in the Eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park and has three gorilla families which include Bitukura gorilla family, Oruzogo Gorilla group and Kyaguriro group which is for research. This therefore means that 16 gorilla permits are available every day and sometimes the research group is also trekked if you formally ask permission from UWA. Only 6 people instead of 8 people are allowed to view Kyaguriro research group. Due to the fact that, there few families in Ruhija, there is less congestion as compared to Buhoma which is more touristic in nature so Ruhija offers a more ecotourism experience compared to Buhoma. (This depends and varies from Individual to individual)-Just an opinion.

Rihija trekking center can be accessed from several angels. If you are coming from Kampala/Entebbe, it’s better to path through Kabale town and then proceed to Ruhija, you can as well come from Kampala, branch off at Ntungamo to Rukungiri, kihihi, Butogota then drive another two hours to Ruhija. All these routes requires a Four wheel drive car as some sections of the road is rough, bumpy, dusty and during rainy seasons, they tend to get muddy. For those interested in flying, there no direct flights/scheduled flights to Ruhija so the only option is to fly via Kihihi (which ideally is on Buhoma’s side) and then drive two hours to Ruhija. You can as well land in Kabale town (use charter flights) and then drive to Ruhija. Flights remain tricky for Ruhija but we wait to see what will happen in the near future.

Several accommodation properties do exist in Ruhija and these include Rushija Safari Lodge, Gorilla Mist Camp, Bakiga Lodge, Cuckland and Ruhija Gorilla Resort,Ruhija community rest camp. The good news is that if one is interested in staying at Buhoma in the northern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, he/she can still trek gorillas in Ruhija section. This however will take you approximately 2 hours drive on a bumpy and dirty road. Those trekking Ruhija Gorillas can as well stay in Kabale town and have an early drive to Ruhija. Accommodation properties do exist in Bunyonyi and they include Bunyonyi Overland, Arcadia Cottages, Bunyonyi Resort, Birds Nest and White Horse Inn in Kabale town.

Ruhija section of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is popular for bird watching and therefore if you trek gorillas in Ruhija, you stand a great chance of watching birds that you might not find in other regions. Ruhija is also popular for the Black and White Colubus monkeys that jump from one branch to another and are interesting to watch.

For those interested in connecting to Rwanda, then Ruhija is much closer to Chanika Boarder and Katuna Boarder compared to Buhoma section of Bwindi Impenetrable national Park so for those whose itinerary continue to Rwanda are better off booking gorilla permits for Ruhija or the southern sectors of Rushaga and Nkuringo.

Gorilla groups in Ruhija

There three gorilla groups in Ruhija that are habituated for gorilla trekking. These are Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro which used to be reserved for research but nowadays have been opened up for trekking. Ruhija region of Bwindi Impenetrable national park which is located in the eastern part of the forest is the second most preferred region after Buhoma due to the fact that with Ruhija, one can choose to stay in Ruhija or Buhoma or Kabale and manage to make it to the starting point of gorilla trekking. The road connecting Buhoma to Ruhija has been in a sorry state most especially during rainy season and as such it should be avoided. Those insisting on staying in Buhoma and are looking at tracking gorillas in Ruhija should ensure that they have 4 x 4 vehicles to cater for any eventualities. The advantage with Ruhija gorilla families much is this is not confirmed is that those who trek them tend to return earlier as compared to other region but of course there is no guarantee on this. For more information on Gorilla gorilla groups in Ruhija and gorilla tours to this regions, do contact us and we will advise accordingly

Bitukura Gorilla Family
Location: Ruhija

Group size: 14 individuals including 4 silverbacks

The Bitukura family is located in the Ruhija side of Bwindi Forest National Park. This mountain gorilla family was named after a river that bears the same name, where it was first sighted. Habituation started in July 2007 and the group was opened for tourism in October 2008. Taking only 15 months is remarkable, since the habituation process normally lasts at least 2 years. But thanks to the close bond that they share with the Kyaguriro family, with whom they have regularly have ‘get-togethers’, they had frequent encounters with the UWA rangers and thus made the habituation easier.

The Bitukura group with originally 24 members has been reduced to only 14 individuals during the last years. It is a peaceable family with four silverbacks, where the second youngest silverback Ndahura is the leader. He took the role from former Silverback Karamuzi who stayed over 40 years and is now retired.

Despite of the loss of several members, who defected to other gorilla families, Bitukura now looks happily and closer to one another. Especially since a new member joined the family in April 2013. Adult female Ruhara gave birth to a baby gorilla, which is closely guarded by the proud father Ndahura.

 

Oruzogo Gorilla Family
Location: Ruhija

Group size: 25 individuals including 2 silverbacks

The Oruzogo group is the second habituated gorilla family living in the Ruhija area. The group consists of 23 individuals and is led by Silverback Tibirikwata. The family opened for tourism mid 2011 and since then has experienced a growth thanks to a number of births. Female adult Ntamurungi gave birth to a baby gorilla in June 2011 and Musi gave birth in October 2011. More joy came when a set of twins was born in March 2012. The twin mother is Kakoba. Other individuals in the group include Busungu (meaning “short tempered”), Kaganga (“the giant one”) and Bwoba (“the coward”).

Kyaguliro Gorilla Family
Location: Ruhija
Group size: 20 individuals including 2 silverbacks

Kyaguliro Gorilla group is the third group with 20 individuals, habituation started out as early as 1995 but no gorilla trekking permits were ever officially sold out to tourists to trek this family of gorillas as it was set apart for research studies by the German Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology

Kyaguliro Gorilla Family was for long led by Silverback Rukina who on the fateful date of 7th /April/ 2015 lost his life to lightning that struck him dead. This sudden death of Rukina left the family under the leadership of Mukiza- an inexperienced young fellow. However, Mukiza’s reign over the entire Kyaguliro Gorilla family was short lived after Rukara a fully grown Silverback from the Bitukura Gorilla group with whom they share vicinity to date raided the peaceful 20 members Kyaguliro group causing a split of the Kyaguliro gorilla Family into Kyaguliro A – led by Rukara , and Kyaguliro B – led by Mukiza  – the split of the Kyaguliro gorilla group all happened in May 2016.

Kyaguliro A – led by Rukara is made up of 10 members: 01 silverback, 02 black backs, 03 adult females, 02 juveniles, and 02 infant gorillas.

Kyaguliro B – led by Mukiza is made up of 10 members: 01 silverback, 01 black back, 04 adult females, and 04 infant gorillas.

 

Nkuringo sector is located in the southern part of Bwindi Forest, one of the forest in Uganda to inhabit and protect the 880 mountain Gorillas left in the world although the park has 4 sectors were Gorillas can be trekked and Nkuringo is one of the sectors .

In the deep thick and high part of Bwindi Forest lives the Gorilla family ‘Nkuringo’ which was named after the ‘rolling hills’ where the Family was first sighted. The habituation of this family was launched in 2004, the hills are the very first picture one would see when travelling to this sector.

Nkuringo family has 19 members in the family that was habituated, this group members used to be found in the villages and this became the reason for them to be habituated since they were seen destroying people’s crops, and the group was opened for tourists so the communities could benefit from the mountain Gorillas.

The sector has only the Nkuringo family and this group which originally was led by the silverback Nkuringo who died on 2008,and later Safari and Rufiki the silverbacks took over the power to led the family . In the same year the family welcomed a set of twins from Kwitonda the twin mother ,the twins were named Muhozii and Katungi making the family to expand more however Katungi died before turning 2 years.

When tracking nkuringo gorillas, you have an opportunity of doing other activities in the forest or the surrounding local community. Nkuringo walking safari is yet another opportunity to explore the forest and nearby community on foot. If you are a nature lover, a forest walk from Buhoma side to the Nkuringo side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is rewarding. While in Nkuringo, you can walk to Lake Mutanda and to Kisoro town. If you have some time, you can continue to Mgahinga national park for volcano hiking as well. A combination of walks and Nkuringo gorilas makes this part of the forest worth visiting.

The other unique point about Nkuringo gorillas is that they can be trekked from Rwanda and Uganda. Nkuringo is surprisingly close to Rwanda than Uganda if driving from Entebbe. If driving from Kigali, one will take approximately 6-7 hours while the one driving from Entebbe International Airport may take up to 10 hours on the road. From Kigali, you pass through the northern part of this tiny country as if going to Volcanoes National Park. You continue to Chanika Uganda Rwanda boarder and then to Nkuringo via Kisoro town. From Entebbe International Airport, one has to pass via the Equator, to Mbarara, Kabale and onwards to Nkuringo.

There are several lodging facilities available to those planning to trek Nkuringo gorillas. The Rubuguri village has many budget and Midrange accommodation properties while Clouds Mountain gorillas Lodge and Nkuringo Gorilla Camp provide options for Mid Range and up market lodges closer to the starting point respectively.

When planning to trek gorillas in Nkuringo, one need to do so in advance due to the fact that there is only one gorilla family yet the region is popular due to Clouds Lodge where many tourists prefer to stay as well as other attractions in the area.

Gorilla families at Nkuringo sector of Bwindi

Nkuringo Gorilla Family
Location: Nkuringo
Group size: 19 individuals including 2 silverbacks

The habituation process of the Nkuringo gorilla group was completed in 2004. Nkuringo means “round hill” in Rukiga, referring to the hill where the group was first spotted. They were often found in the vicinity of the villages outside park, which eventually became the main reason for the habituation. Because of their behavior to feed on bananas, sweet potatoes and other crops, they created a problem for the local communities. It was then decided to open the group for tourists, so the villagers would directly benefit from tourism and the gorillas would be protected at the same time.

Rushaga Sector, Region of Bwindi

Rushaga region is found in the southern sector of Bwindi the impenetrable forest National Park, the park known in the history of Tourism for protecting the endangered species of animals the ‘mountain Gorillas’. The park is a heritage to the popular mountain Gorillas left in the wild ,these wild apes inhabiting this park are recorded to be 880 in number and the Rushaga sector is one of the region with the biggest number of Gorilla families ‘five in total’.

The region protects the Nshongi, Busingye, Kungye, Bweza, Mishaya families. In this article you have an advantage to learn about Rushaga sector and why you must trekk in this sector compared to other sectors of Bwindi.