It is with great sadness that UWA management announces the demise of Ruhondeza the oldest gorilla silverback and leader of the first habituated tourism gorilla family in Uganda – Mubare in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP). He succumbed to death yesterday afternoon after a four month spell in solitary life. Ruhondenza as he is fondly known died at over 50 years of age in his nest in Rubona village, neighbouring the park.
He was the first dominant silver back to lead the Mubare gorilla group in 1991 when Bwindi National park was gazetted. His family name Mubare originates from an area in the park called Mubare hills found South West of Bwindi where habituation started. He commanded a family of about 17 individuals in habituation of the group. By the time of his banishment to solitary life, the family had reduced to six individuals.
His name “Ruhondeza” in the local Rukiga dialect denotes a “sleepy fellow”. Ruhondeza right from the family habituation had manifested himself as a sleepy and lazy character that made many people wonder about his ability to lead Mubare. Many have however been pleasantly surprised that in his sleepy nature, he had managed to take the leadership mantle of the family till old age became a factor. He is believed to have been between 28- 32 yrs in 1991 when habituation started.
His leadership weakness in the long term caught up with him. His leadership style in his hay days shows that many male gorillas in his family were cunningly and systematically eliminated as he feared a future attempt on the popular head of family throne. This largely weakened his defence against other gorilla groups who continued grabbing members from him. This coupled with his inability to successfully service his females led to a gradual reduction of the family size. Females could for example prefer to join other gorilla families with strong males genes perceived superior than remain with him. This behaviour made silverback Makara of Katendegyere benefit from him by grabbing about 3 females.
With persistent interactions with other wild powerful gorilla groups, his regime collapsed in March 2012 when he was seriously beaten to submission by a wild group. Ruhondeza was forced to live a solitary life on private land as he was afraid of another fierce battle with strong silverbacks.
His only royal black back (Kanyonyi) safeguarded the remnants of his 2 family members. Kanyonyi due to his strength as a budded young silverback has since grabbed other 4 members from other groups to keep Mubare viable. Ruhondeza is believed to be the biological father of Kanyonyi and other former members of Mubare.
Until his loss of the coveted status of head of family recently, his leadership enabled gorilla ecotourism to develop and grow in Uganda.
Before abduction of his throne, he had grown weak due to old age and was unable to fight aggression. Efforts to get the silverback back into the park were futile till management reached an understanding with the communities who had grown fond of him to let him stay on the private piece of land in Rubona village where he was monitored on a daily basis till he passed on.
Ruhondeza’s Mubare group has enabled gorilla eco-tourism to grow and flourish in Uganda and the entire tourism community is saddened by his death.
We applaud this contribution to tourism and mourn his demise. A postmortem has been conducted to ascertain the exact cause of his death (beyond old age). He was given a decent burial near the park offices.
UWA is compiling all the rich literature and stories about Ruhondeza, which will be placed on a monument by his grave to ensure that even in death he continues to be a tourist attraction to Buhoma.
Ruhondeza is an icon symbolizing what gorilla tourism has done for Uganda and the Bwindi communities. One of his most celebrated achievements is the development of the Buhoma- Mukono Community Development Association and Buhoma community Hospital as a result of viable tourism.