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New gorilla families in Uganda

There are 22 gorilla families now in Uganda. Before the pandemic, there were 19 groups but new ones have been added in Bwindi Impenetrable forest with a total of 21. In particular, Buhoma sector has 6 groups including Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura (the oldest families habituated in 1993) and Katwe, Binyindo and Muyambi (new ones). Rushaga sector in south has 8 groups including Bikingi for the habituation experience. Nkuringo sector has 4 which are Nkuringo, Christmas, Bushaho and Posho which is under habituation.

Elsewhere, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has 1 gorilla group and forms part of Virunga volcanic Mountain Ranges sharing borders with Rwanda and DR Congo.

The differences between tracking in Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo

Buhoma lies at 11160 meters above sea level and trekking is easy. Great chances to find the gorillas without extreme tire are high. Personally, I spent 2 months there as a student doing internship and did both early morning and regular visitor treks. Mubare group was the easiest to find while group H and R weren’t. Moreover, three new three families have been added and Buhoma is the best habituated area with better opportunity to view gorillas.

Having said that, be aware of the time it takes to find the gorillas. It’s always unpredictable. The gorilla group you get allocated to matters regardless of the difficulty of trekking whether in Buhoma or other sectors which are relatively at higher altitude – 2607m.

If you don’t get gorilla permits in Buhoma, then opt for Rushaga sector. Given that it has many gorilla groups, you might find them easily. Ruhija sector has four families and in particular I recommend Bitukura which I trekked during a FAM Trip of 2018. We found the gorillas in less than 1 hour and the record was there for previous trekkers. This place is coldest of all Bwindi sectors but less crowded.

Where is it beautiful to stay

In terms of beautiful scenery, go to Nkuringo which has spectacular view of Virungas and Albertine rift valley. Its also beautiful to stay in Rushaga due to a wide range of lodges some of which are positioned on the shores of Lakes such as Mutanda and Mulehe. The sector is located between Rushaga and Nkuringo and Mgahinga. You can base from there reach both of these areas.

Gorilla permits

Permits for the new gorilla families are now available in the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) system. you might check the cost here. Booking for permits should be done 2 – 3 months during high season from December to February and June to September. Gorilla tracking gives visitors 1 hour with fully habituated gorillas whereas gorilla habituation experience allows up to 4 hours with semi-habituated groups.

Gorilla Families in Buhoma

Buhoma the headquarters of Bwindi has 6 habituated gorilla families. At total of 32 gorilla permits available daily for Buhoma and this sector offers a wide range of luxury lodges including those inside the forest.

Mubare

The first gorilla family to be habituated in Uganda 1991, Mubare was opened for tracking in 1993 when Bwindi was inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage sites. This is one of the sociable gorilla families because its much used to human interaction. This family is also easier to track because its home range Mubare slopes not so far from main visitor center. Mubare currently has 12 individuals led by one silverback called Kanyonyi. Its composition has changed over time since the death of the oldest silverback Ruhondeza in 2012 due to injuries it sustained after a fierce attack by a wild silverback. Often, the group feeds few kilometers from the visitor center UWA guides and trackers often locate the gorillas along River Ivi trail. However, gorillas also tend to move far deep into the forest. Mubare hill has many birds like short tailed warbler, primates and bush duikers are frequently encountered on the way to gorillas.

Habinyanja (group R)

 Habituated in 1997, Habinyanja is among the oldest gorilla families to be habituated in Bwindi. The family has 17 gorillas including 2 silverbacks and 3 infant gorillas. Makara is the dominant silverback who took leadership after death of Mugurisi who was the head at the time of its habituation. The family stays in a wide home range which can make tracking difficult but not all the time. You should be fairly physically fit to track this family because the area includes a swamp habinyanja and there are forest elephants which sometimes interact with gorillas. When that happens, forest elephants may disrupt trails and movements of gorillas thereby making the search more complicated. The trails heads are a few minutes’ drive away from the briefing center. Thus, if you are not fit enough you shall have to express your interest on the very day of gorilla tracking.

Rushegura / group R

This family was habituated in 2003 and includes a 35-year-old female. Presently it has 19 individuals led by Mwirima (dark) the silverback. Other members include kibande, Buzinza, Nyamunwa and Karungi (adult females), kabukojo (black back), kalembezi and Ruterana (sub adult females), 4 infants and 4 juveniles.  The family was named after one of a Ugandan wildlife authority ranger called Kishegura who created a short cut trail that take visitors to the home range of the family. This gorilla family tends to move long distances often times been feeding on higher slopes and treks may take longer for that case. However, there’s a time when gorillas feed or stay near Buhoma visitor center giving shorter and exciting treks. Treks start right away at the briefing center.

Katwe gorilla family

This is the newest of the gorilla families habituated in Bwindi forest. The actual number of its family members is not yet established but rangers were able to observe some of its members including 1 dominant silverback, adult females and infants.

Muyambi

This family split from Mubare and formed a new group that was habituated in 2020. There are six members including silverback.

Binyindo

Tracking this family begun in 2021 and it became the 6th group in Buhoma sector.

FAMILIES IN RUSHAGA SECTOR

Rushaga gorilla sector has the largest habituated gorilla families in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park. There are 7 gorilla families including 2 for habituation experience. Also found in this area is the largest gorilla family in Bwindi forest with 24 members.

Kahungye gorilla family

With 24 individuals including 3 silverbacks, Kahungye is the largest habituated gorilla family in Bwindi Forest. Its home range Nyabarema hills about 6 km from the Rushaga visitor center. Thus, after briefing visitors are transferred to the area which is characterized by steep and thick forested hills. Kahungye was fully habituated and made available for tracking in 2011.

Nshongi gorilla family

Nshongi was once the largest gorilla family in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park with 36 members. Unfortunately, two gorilla families Bweza and Mishaya split to form their own. Today. Nshongi has only 7 members which include 1 silverback, 1 black back, 2 adult females, 1 juvenile and an infant. This family was named after Nshongi river because its where the gorillas were first discovered during habituation. The area along nshongi river t has a lot of other wildlife to see on the way including monkeys, birds, butterflies and plants.

Bweza

This family was formed when habituated members from Nshongi joined together to create their own family. Bweza was identified in 2010 by Uganda wildlife authority rangers who decided to open for tracking. Today, Bweza has 12 members including 1 silverback and it found in Rushaga sector.

Busingye

Busingye which means “peace??? in local language is the nickname for the silverback that leads this family with 10 individuals. Rangers have for so many times found strange wild members in this family. Despite that, the silverback is known to be one of the peaceful because it has a tendency to stay calm when visitors approach allowing for clear photography.

Mishaya

Mishaya gorilla family has 12 individuals including 1 silverback, 2 babies. 3 adult females, 3 juveniles and 3 infants. The silverback of this family is known to be violent because for several times it crashed with other wild gorillas from which it has sustained injuries.

the silverback was injured along with an infant. The other members of the family include

Bikingi (for habituation)

One of the 2 families reserved for gorilla habituation experience in which visitors can visit this spend up to 4 hours with gorillas. Bikingi family has 16 individuals and the silverback leader has not been identified since it still being closely monitored.

The maximum number of visitors who can participate in gorilla habituation experience is 4. Visitors are accompanied by guides, trackers and researchers follow the gorillas and spend 4 hours once they are located.

Bushaho

Just like Bikingi, this family is also reserved for habituation experience. It has 9 members including 1 silverback, 1 black back, 4 adult females, 1 sub adult, 1 juvenile and 1 infant. The price for gorilla habituation experience is $1500 for foreign non residents and $1000 for foreign residents. Bushaho tends to stay in an area between Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors. Therefore, visitors in both sectors can visit this family.

NKURINGO SECTOR

 Nkuringo sector has 4 habituated gorilla families which include the following.

Nkruringo

This was the first gorilla family to be habituated in 1999 in Nkuringo sector. And before it was opened for tracking the gorillas started to raid crops of the nearby local farmers because they were exposed to human interaction. The Uganda wildlife Authority opened the group for tourism and also created a buffer zone in partnership with Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation (NCDF) so that farmers could benefit from gorilla tourism as well as reduce the problem of crop raiding.

At the time of habituation, Nkuringi had 20 members but most of them went away after death of the silverback. Today, it has 12 members including 3 other silverbacks.

Tracking this family can be both exciting and challenging due to steep ridges and beautiful views. Nkuringo family was habituated in 1999

Christmas gorilla family

In order to promote gorilla tracking in Nkuringo sector, the second family was habituated in 2018. Christmas is now open for tourists and includes 9 members led by a silverback but being a new group, some of its members tend to shy away from visitors.

RUHIJA SECTOR

Ruhija is the highest point of Bwindi impenetrable Forest national park at 2,350 meters above sea level. There are 4 gorilla families.

Bitukura

This group was amongst the gorilla families that quickly got accustomed to humans within just 11/2 years during habituation. Bitukura gorilla family has 11 individuals including 3 silverbacks. Sadly, it lost its young silverback Ndahura at the age of 28 who fell of a tree branch on 18th December 2016. After the death of Ndahura, an old silverback that had retired once again took leadership. The gorilla group was named after River Bitukura, a muddy river that flows through its habitat range. Trekkers usually encounter riverine primates and lots of birds.

Oruzogo

Oruzogo gorilla family found in Ruhija sector has 17 members including a baby and q silverback. This family is reserved for both tracking and research purposes.

Kyaguriro

Kyaguriro gorilla family has 15 individuals controlled by 1 silverback. It was initially habituated for gorilla tourism research purposes but now it’s open for tracking in Ruhija sector. It’s led by 1 dominant silverback named rukina who took over the group following the death of Zeus silverback.

GORILLA FAMILIES IN MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK

Nyakagezi Gorilla Family

Nyakagezi Gorilla family is found in Mgahinga gorilla national park. It has 10 individuals and being the only habituated gorilla family in the park, it’s very nomadic but feeds within the borders of Uganda not as previously sought to cross over into Rwanda.

The dominant silverback Mark leads 4 black backs, 2 adult females, 2 juveniles and 1 infant which was born in August 2016.

Most of the tourists who go to Mgahinga gorilla national park for gorilla trekking are also attracted by golden monkeys, birds and 3 dormant virunga volcanoes with amazing volcano hiking opportunities. 

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