The Bwindi Mountain Gorillas are the star attraction of Uganda. These great apes are classified as the endangered mountain gorillas. did you know that there are as few as 900 mountain gorillas left in the whole world? The Bwindi gorillas constitute almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas. According to the 2012 Census about 420 mountain gorillas live Bwindi. The remaining population lives in the Virunga mountains spread through Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As earlier said, the Bwindi gorillas are the star attraction attracting most visitors seeking for leisure in Uganda. A visit to the gorillas is possible all year round and lots of great deals are available to those looking for safaris that include this memorable experience.
Please note that gorilla visits are guided by strict guidelines and require good preparation. There is a limited number of people allowed to visit the Bwindi Gorillas and a gorilla permit is required. There are several habituated gorilla groups of gorillas that can be visited. Each gorilla group allows only 8 tourists and watching the gorillas is limited to only one hour day a day.
Habituated gorilla families in Uganda
With about 480 mountain gorillas living in Uganda’s impenetrable forests. There are 14 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that can be visited by tourists. The majority is found in different sections of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and among Africa’s most popular tourism destinations. A small number lives on the lower slopes of the Virunga volcanoes in the neighboring Mgahinga gorilla National Park.
The country currently hosts fourteen habituated gorilla family groups and one group reserved is only for research purposes making it a total of fifteen. These include Rushegura, Mubare, Habinyanja, Oruzogo, Bitukura, Nkuringo, Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, Nshongi, Mishaya, Nyakagezi and the reserved group is Kyaguriro only available for research.
Before you finally get on your Gorilla adventure safari we call you to learn more about these incredible and most endangered species on earth. Read about their interesting facts and various gorilla families in Uganda. 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.
Mubare Gorilla Family
Located in Buhoma with the group size: 11 individuals including 1 silverback.
The Mubare 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. Originally, this family consisted of 18 individuals, led by the dominant Silverback called Ruhondeza. Sorry to say, but 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 2012, this family was attacked by wild gorillas that ruined Ruhondeza’s leadership and took away some members and many of them were females. The Old Ruhondeza took refuge in a close by 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!
At the moment, Ruhondeza successor Kanyonyi is doing well and has managed to expand the family again and has increased to eleven members including a baby named Kashundwe.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family
Located in Buhoma (ranging from Kahororo to Rubona) with the group size of 17 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The Habinyanja gorilla family was fully habituated by 1997 and first visited by tourists in 1999. The group derived its name “Habinyanja” from the local Rukiga word “Nyanja” interpreted “a place with water”. The reason being the group was first seen near a swamp deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
At the time of habituation the group had a dominant Silverback called Mugurisi, which means “Old man”. After passing on as a result of old age, the two brothers Rwansigazi and Mwirima took over and decided to share power but lived a different lifestyle that the group couldn’t continue. Rwansigazi was more of an adventurous gorilla and liked travelling, whereas Mwirima preferred to stay at a small range. It was therefore inevitable that in 2002 the two silverbacks amicably decided to part ways 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.
Miserably, in June 2011 a tragedy happened a friendly blackback Mizano was found dead with evidence of spear wounds about the shoulders and neck. It is thought that a group of poacher with their dogs ran into the group. Mizano, who naturally defended his family, was speared and died on spot. It was the first poaching incident that resulted into killing of a gorilla by poachers since 1995.
Rushegura Gorilla Family
Located in Buhoma with a group size of 19 individuals including 1 silverback
Rushegura is the name of a place where the separation of once a big family – Habinyanja took place from in February 2002. This breakaway that was led by Mwirima, he took with him seven members/started with 12 individuals including 5 females. His devotation to create a stable family resulting into the number of individuals increasing to 19 by April 2010. At about the age of 25 years, Mwirima is without doubt the most dominant silverback in this group and does not shy away from showing his strength during fights against wild gorilla groups. At some time they used to cross borders to neighboring D.R. Congo but came back and now enjoy the peacefully environments of Bwindi Impenetrable 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
Located in Ruhija sector with a group size: 14 individuals including 4 silverbacks
The Bitukura family is located in the Ruhija side (Sector) of Bwindi Forest National Park. The family name was derived from a river where they were 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 at first had 24 members but 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.
Regardless 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
Located in Ruhija sector with a group size of 25 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The Oruzogo group was the second gorilla family to be habituated in the Ruhija area. The group consists of 23 individuals and is led by a dominant male 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
Located in Nkuringo sector with a group size of 19 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The habituation process of the Nkuringo gorilla group was completed in 2004. Nkuringo means “round hill” in a local language (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.
Originally, the group was led by a dominant elderly Silverback Nkuringo. He passed on in April 2008, leaving behind two silverbacks, Safari and Rafiki. It was his son Safari who assumed group 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
Located in Rushaga Sector with a group size of 26 individuals including 4 silverbacks
The Nshongi gorilla group was also named after the river close to where the family was first spotted. The word Nshongi derives from “Omushongi Gwoboki, meaning ‘honey’ and referred to the deep colour 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 black backs 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
Located in Rushaga sector, with a group size of 12 individuals including 1 silverback
Mishaya was part of the Nshongi group but in July 2010 decided part ways 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
Location: Rushaga sector with a group size of 13 individuals including 3 silverbacks
The Kahungye group is among recent habituated gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable 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
Located in Rushaga area with group size of 9 individuals including 1 silverback
Gorilla in UgandaOriginally, 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
Located in Rushaga with a group size of 9 individuals including 1 silverback
Silverback gorilla 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
Located in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, with a group size of 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
Located in Ruhija area with a group size of 15 individuals including 2 silverbacks
Even though the Kyaguriro family is habituated, it has not been visited by tourists until now but is reserved 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. Originally the family was led by an aging silverback Zeus. sadly he died in exile after being usurped and exiled into the forest by his rival Rukina.