Habituated gorilla families in Uganda
With approximately 400 mountain gorillas living in the impenetrable forests, Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s total population of mountain gorillas. The majority is found in different areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourism destinations in Africa. A small number lives on the lower slopes of the volcanoes in Mgahinga National Park.
Mubare Gorilla Family
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
Group size: 19 individuals including 1 silverback
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 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’.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
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, who is closely guarded by the proud father Ndahura.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family
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”).
Nkuringo Gorilla Family
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.
Initially, the group was led by the elderly Silverback Nkuringo. He died in April 2008, leaving behind two silverbacks, Safari and Rafiki. It was his son Safari who took over the leadership. Seven months later, the Nkuringo family welcomed a set of twin gorillas from mother Kwitonda, named Katungi and Muhozi. Unfortunately, Katungi died at the age of 1.5 years due to illness.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Group size: 26 individuals including 4 silverbacks
The Nshongi gorilla group was named after the river close where the family was first seen. The word Nshongi derives from “Omushongi Gwoboki, meaning ‘honey’ and referred to the deep color of the river. Being opened for tourism in September 2009, the family was unique due to its large size. With 36 individuals it was the largest gorilla group ever habituated. Even more remarkable was that the three silverbacks and seven blackbacks lived in harmony with each other and did not make an attempt for leadership. Especially since the dominant silverback Nshongi was not even the oldest silverback in the family. However, in July 2010, the group split into two: the Nshongi group with 26 individuals, including 4 silverbacks and a newly formed family led by the silverback Mishaya with 10 members.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
Group size: 12 individuals including 1 silverback
Silverback Mishaya was part of the Nshongi group but decided in July 2010 to establish its own family. Being known as a fighter who often starts interactions with other gorilla families, he was able to gather females from other groups in the area and could expand his group. In April 2011 he clashed again with a non-habituated gorilla family, resulting in serious injuries for himself and a 2-year old infant. The wounds were treated by veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
Group size: 13 individuals including 3 silverbacks
The Kahungye group is one of the most recent habituated gorilla families in Bwindi National Park. The family was opened for tourism in October 2011 but in less than a year the group split, creating a new family that is called Busingye. Before the separation, the family consisted of 27 individuals including 3 silverbacks. The group is active and led by the dominant silverback Gwigi, which means “door” in the local language.
Bweza Gorilla Family
Group size: 9 individuals including 1 silverback
Originally, the Nshongi family was the largest gorilla group ever habituated. However, in July 2010 Silverback Mishaya decided to start his own family. Two years later also Bweza, another silverback preferred to separate himself from the rest of the group. Initially, the UWA rangers suspected that they would get back together again, but when it appeared that the split was infinitive, this ‘new’ group opened for tourism in December 2012.
Busingye Gorilla Family
Group size: 9 individuals including 1 silverback
In the same period, in the same sector, but another gorilla family experienced a breakaway as well. It was Silverback Busingye who decided to split from the Kahungye group in June 2012 and create his own family. Busingye means ‘peace’ which is quite surprising since this ambitious silverback is known for his legendary fights with other gorilla groups. He likes showing his power and whenever encountering a wild family he mercilessly grabs a female to add to his own family.
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family
Location: Mgahinga National Park
Group size: 10 individuals including 3 silverbacks
Mgahinga National Park only hosts one gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi Group. The group is led by Mark, the dominant silverback, who likes travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Lately it seems they are trying to regain their Ugandan citizenship again as they have been back in Mgahinga National Park since November 2012 and may are likely to stay for a while. Even more good news came in May 2013 when a new baby was born, increasing the group to 10 members.
Due to quite unpredictable behavior, permits for this group can only be booked at the park headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Kyaguriro Gorilla Family
Group size: 15 individuals including 2 silverbacks
Although the Kyaguriro family is habituated, it has not been visited by tourists until now but is put aside for research only. By closely keeping contact with this group, conservationists have been able to learn a lot about the mountain gorillas of Bwindi, including some remarkable differences with the mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga Volcanoes. Initially the family was led by an aging silverback Zeus. Unfortunately he died in exile after being usurped and banished into the forest by his rival Rukina.