Habituated gorilla families in Uganda
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has the highest number of gorilla families in comparison to the other four National Parks in the Virunga massif. Bwindi National Park, is situated in South-Western Uganda at the extreme Rift Valley and its on an area of about 327 km² on the edge of the western Great Rift Valley neighboring the Democratic Republic of Congo border next to the Virunga National Park.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has 459 mountain gorillas that are distributed in 50 gorilla families.
Of the 50 gorilla groups, 19 have so far been habituated for tourism and can be tracked from four different sectors including Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Mubare Gorilla Family
Mubare gorilla family is located in Buhoma sector and is the oldest habituated gorilla family in Uganda with 9 members including 1 silverback as head of the group, and was fully habituated in 1991 despite opening up 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
Habinyanja gorilla family is located in Buhoma sector with 18 members including 2 silverbacks and was fully habituated in 1997. The Habinyanja gorilla family was 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 led 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 poachers 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
Rushegura gorilla family is located in Buhoma sector with 19 members including 1 silverback. Formed in 2002, Rushegura Gorilla Family’s name came from 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 females. His desire to create a stable family led the number to rise to 19 by April 2010.
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 peaceful environments of Bwindi Forest National Park. The group is known to be one of the most calm 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’.
Katwe gorilla family
Katwe gorilla family is located in Buhoma sector and is the newest family in the Buhoma region in the northern side of Bwindi with 7 members in the family with one dominant silverback.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
Bitukura Gorilla Family is located in Ruhija area with 14 members including 4 silverbacks. Its habituation process started in 2007 though it took over 15 months to have the group fully habituated. 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 peaceful 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 happier.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family
Oruzogo gorilla group is located in Ruhija Sector with 23 members including 1 silverback (Tibirikwata) and was habituated for trekking in 2011. The Oruzogo group is the second habituated gorilla family living in the Ruhija area. The family opened for tourism mid 2011 and since then has experienced 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”).
Mukiza gorilla family
Mukiza gorilla family is located in Ruhija sector and it was one of the silverbacks in Kyaguriro which splits out. The family has 10 members
Kyaguriro Gorilla family
Kyaguriro Gorilla group is located in Ruhija with 20 individuals who feature a fascinating history which is an attraction of itself, and it’s known as Kyaguriro group A and B, this explains that the group’s habituated in 1995,
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.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
Mishaya Gorilla Family is located in the Rushaga area with 7 members including 1 Silverback (Mishaya) which is the only adult in the group. 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 started expanding 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.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Nshongi Gorilla group, located in Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park has 18 members and it was officially launched for trekking on 26th September 2009. The Nshongi gorilla group was named after the river close where the family was first seen. The word Nshongi is derived 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.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
Kahungye Gorilla group located in Rushaga area with 13 members with 3 silverbacks which are the only ones named. The dominant Silverback is called Rumansi. This group was opened for gorilla trekking 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
Bweza Gorilla group is located in the Rushaga sector with 9 individuals including 1 silverback known as Bweza. Bweza split out from Nshongi family where it started its own group. 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
Busingye Gorilla Family is located in Rushaga with 9 members including 1 silverback and it broke away from Kahungye family in June 2012.
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.
Bikyingi Gorilla Family
Bikyingi Gorilla group is located in Rushaga area in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with 21 individuals including 1 silverback. The only silverback and leader of the group was named Bikyingi and he is very friendly to all his young ones.
Kutu gorilla family
Kutu gorilla family is located in Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with 8 members and one dominant silverback as the head of the family.
Mucunguzi gorilla family
Mucunguzi gorilla family is located in the Rushaga sector with 8 members dominantly female; it splits from Bweza after a serious fight Mucunguzi is the head of the family
Nkuringo Gorilla Family
Nkuringo Gorilla group is located in the Nkuringo area with 19 members including 2 silverbacks. The group was led by a senior Silverback called Nkuringo who died in April 2008, leaving behind 2 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. 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.
Bushaho gorilla family
Bushaho gorilla family is located in the southern sector in Nkuringo area with 8 members including 1 silverback known as Bahati.
Christmas Gorilla family
Christmas Gorilla group is the most new family in Nkuringo region with 9 members and one dominant silverback known as Christmas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
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 as they have been back in Mgahinga National Park since November 2012 and 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.