Habituated Mountain Gorilla Families in Uganda
Over half the World’s mountain gorilla population of lives Uganda’s Bwindi and Mgahinga Parks – Combined. According to the 2018 census results released by the Uganda Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, Mountain Gorilla population is on the increase. The global population of mountain gorilla’s increased to over 1,063 from the 880 (2011) total divided between the 3 African countries i.e. Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to a survey conducted between May and December 2018, there is a minimum of 459 gorillas from 400 individuals of 2011 in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park alone and about over 80 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The Bwindi population holds a bit less than half of all mountain gorillas in the world, thus its importance for the global survival of these great apes cannot be overstated.
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park population is divided into 50 gorilla families and 13 solitary individuals however; only 21 of families are habituated and can be accessed by visitors in 4 tracking regions i.e.; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has one tracking region – Ntebeko, – and Nyakagezi Gorilla Family is the only habituated gorilla group here. This 10 member group used to be migratory and were frequent travelers, taking off for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. Fortunately they returned home and have not moved again since 2012.
Gorilla habituation is a process that takes 2 years. During this time gorillas get accustomed human beings so they remain doing their routine activities in the wilderness even when human beings are present.
According to the UWA conservation rules, only 8 visitors age 15 years+ can be allowed to track each of the habituated gorilla groups per day. That avails over 160 gorilla tracking permits each day along with over 8 for Mgahinga family.
There is nothing like closest or furthest gorilla family when trekking the gorillas. Terrain may be different and the time taken is always unpredictable. Gorillas move to new places everyday and never stay in one place twice. A 2 or 3 hour trek today could be 6 hours the next day. Booking your preferred tracking region is possible and done through your preferred tour agency. There is a whole list of legitimate ones from the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) website.
Below is a list of the 20 mountain gorilla families (2023) for trackers along with their respective Bwindi Impenetrable National Park regions in Uganda.
Mubare Gorilla Family
Mubare is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda. It was found in the Mubare hills Buhoma sector, deep in Bwindi forest, and was fully habituated in 1998. The group started with 12 family members, led by the dominant silverback “Ruhondeza”. In a few years the group grew to 18 individuals. Unfortunately, due to fights with other wild gorilla groups, it lost several members including the one Ruhondeza who used to take care of everyone else in the party. The group remained 5 members until March 2013 when other members including a new dominant silverback joined and its now 11 members – an interesting group to visit – led by Kanyonyi – the Silverback. There are 6 adults, 1 teenager and 3 toddlers. Due to its convenient location with the Queen Elizabeth Park and with limited tracking hike, Mubare gorilla permits are now priority for many tour operators and tourist.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family
The once a 25 member Habinyanja group was first visited by tourists in 1999 ,the group is found in the Buhoma Sector. The name comes from a local word “Nyanja” which means ‘body of water’. It refers to the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the group was first sighted. The group had several strong males which caused power struggles between the dominant silverbacks fighting for family leadership which led to splitting into two families – causing the creation of Rushegura family.
It’s normal for such large families to split. – the split forms a new gorilla family and sometimes can be joined by members rejected by other families or other solitary gorillas and even when they do, gorillas retain the brotherhood and don’t fight against former family members if they meet. The 17 members are; 1 silverback, 1 blackback, 5 adult females, 1 sub-adult, 3 juveniles and 6 infants. Visitors tracking this family need about 3 – 8 hours and it make sense if they stay at lodging in the Buhoma area of Bwindi. The family is headed by the shrewd alpha female called Makara.
Rushegura Gorilla Family
The Rushegura gorilla family was brought together in 2002 and is located in the Buhoma Sector, after one of the silverbacks from the Habinyanja group decided to break away. They started with 12 individuals including 5 females. This “Habinyanja 2 group” quickly received a new name that derives from “Ebishegura” – a tree species that was abundant in the home area of the new family. They are usually not far from Buhoma village and sometimes even wander through the gardens Gorilla Forest Camp. Those wanting a shorter trek should note that this large gorilla group can be often tracked in a shorter time than 5 hours. There is, however, no guarantee that the gorillas may choose to venture off and it will take a longer time to track them.
Katwe Gorilla Family
Katwe is a newer Gorilla family in Buhoma region having gone about 3 years of habituation. The group was open for regular trekking in August 2018. For a several years, this region has had just 3 habituated gorilla families, hiking the demand for gorilla permits in area since its closer to Queen Elizabeth Park and offers more luxury lodging facilities in Bwindi. There is now 32 gorilla passes available each in this this region of Bwindi Gorilla Park.
Muyambi Gorilla Family
Muyambi gorilla family is the newest group in Buhoma region of Bwindi launched early 2019. It has six members of the family. Muyambi was an adult family member of Mubare family and it spit away from the family to form other group called Muyambi group now. The gorillas are amazing to watch as they live their daily life of eating, communicating, Resting and movement on ground and in the trees. The family had a new addition that arrived in May 2020.Habituated Gorilla in Ruhija Region of Bwindi – about 1½ from Buhoma area of Bwindi
Bitukura Gorilla Family
The Bitukura group was named after a river where the family members were first sighted and is located in the Ruhija Sector. The habituation that started in July 2007 was a relatively easy process as the gorillas were already frequently encountered by the UWA rangers. Although the habituation process normally takes a minimum of two years, this group could already be visited by tourists within 15 months after the start. They share a close bond and often have “group meetings” or get-togethers.
The group was 24 members but due to disputes within the family, some gorillas simply chose to leave the group and were probably recruited other families. Bitukura family likes foraging around Ruhija tourism station of BINP and sometimes along the forest edges in the area. To visit this family, its advisable to stay in the Ruhija area of Bwindi park but you can also stay in Buhoma though you have to leave very early to catch the pre-track orientation.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family
The Oruzogo Gorilla Family started to receive visitors in 2011 and those who came to visit them simply love this group which is located in the Ruhija sector. It is not an extreme trek but you need medium endurance and stamina. Oruzugo family is fondly known for foraging and feeding on vegetation dominated by ‘Alchornea hitela’ plant (locally known as Oruzogo) upon which the group’s family name also originates.
It’s one of the most popular families with tourists not just because of the size but the playful and energetic juveniles and toddlers in the group.
The only problem in the Ruhija area of Bwindi where the group is found is that there is just a few lodging options especially budget ones. Yet it’s possible but not advisable for visitors to sleep in Buhoma area which is over an hour drive away then drive to Ruhija area for a pre-tracking orientation. – You have to be on the road 6:30 am latest.
Kyaguliro Gorilla Family
Kyaguliro Gorilla group solely dedicated for gorilla research purposes in Ruhija. The groups’ habituation began in 1995 following the sudden death of the principal family head Rukina succumbed to an electric shock due to lightning on 7th April 2015. After Rukina’s demise, the family was left under the leadership of an inexperienced young Silverback (Mukiza) who was later ambushed by an immigrating Adult Silverback (Rukara) from the Bitukura family, this fueled a split of the family in May 2016 forming Kyaguliro A – under Rukara and Kyaguliro B under Mukiza. Generally, the entire family is known for spending almost all its time in the inner forest and very rarely gets close to the forest’s peripherals.
Mukiza Gorilla Family.
Mukiza family is was once under the Kyaguliro gorilla under the leadership of Rukina who deceased in 2015. Mukiza the young silverback lost leadership of the big gorilla family leading to a split of the group. Mukiza walked away with a sizable number or individuals forming the current Mukiza family.
Nkuringo Gorilla Family
Nkuringo is a local word meaning “round hill” – It’s a word from the Rukiga language, referring to the hill where the group was first sighted. The once a 17- member – Nkuringo family was the first gorilla group to be habituated in the entire southern area of BINP in 1997 after the 2 year habituation process.
On June 1, 2020, Wildlife Poachers killed the famous 25-year old Rafiki Gorilla Silverback and the family lost its lead. While there were no tourists during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, life was hard for those living around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and poaching was one of the few ways to stay alive. Nkuringo family future was quite uncertain after the leader had been killed but a month later, the family stabilized with 11 individuals under the leadership of Rwamutwe the dominant black back. Those who visited the Nkuringo Gorilla Family in Nkuringo and thousands of others shared their grief. Major news agencies far and wide reported on this tragic incident.
One of the reasons for their habituation was their continued venture into the local communities’ gardens feeding on bananas, sweet potatoes and other crops. This led to the displacement of the former local human settlers in the frontline villages in Nkuringo sector to create a buffer zone to minimize human-wildlife interface.
By opening up the group for visitors, the community could directly benefit from tourism and it formed a protection for the gorillas as well. The family was led by one Silverback – Nkuringo who died in April 2004, leaving behind 2 Silverbacks Safari and Rafiki. Safari took over the leadership and same year in November, newborn twin babies gorillas Katungi and Muhozi arrived and expanded the family further. Unfortunately, Katungi died at the age of 1½ years due to illness.
Tracking the Nkuringo Group takes a bit more energy and stamina. This is probably the toughest trek in Uganda. Yet there is not many complaining about being exhausted. A better word would be exhilarated after the experience of a lifetime. Nkuringo Family is a large group in the southern, scenic area of Nkuringo and not to be forgotten experience.
Bushaho Gorilla Family
Due to continuous walk away of individual members from the Nkuringo Family, a follow up research was conducted. A search for their whereabouts was launched in early 2012. It was found out that one of the Silverbacks – formerly a Nkuringo family member – SB Bahati who moved on earlier was leading a parallel family. Some of the members under his leadership were former members of the Nkuringo family among other non-habituated members. What started as a follow up exercise later led to close monitoring of the behavior of the new parallel family. The group was later habituated and named ‘Bushaho’ after the topo-name of the locality where the group forages most.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Nshongi was the largest group ever habituated with about 32 gorilla members in the Rushaga Sector and was officially introduced in September 2009. It was named after the river Nshongi, where the gorilla family was first found. Although most gorilla families usually consisting of about 25 members have one or two Silverbacks, this was a strange one with 4 Silverbacks. Another remarkable fact is that the group is led by Nshongi, who is not even the oldest Silverback in the family and that the three silverbacks and seven blackbacks lived in harmony with each other and did not make an attempt for leadership.
In July 2010 however, the group split and remained 26 members with the other split forming the present Mishaya Gorilla Group. In 2013 the family further split and reduced to 18, with the new split forming the present Bweza Gorilla Group with 10 members. Unfortunately, Mishaya Silverback (who had solely led the first splint as an adult male died of an obstruction of the intestinal gut on 3rd February, 2014). This resulted into the dispersal of the remnant family members as they had NO other adult male to take lead. Some of the members ended up joining Bweza family while others joined Bikingi family.
The Nsongi Gorilla Group is in a large forested area where you can also see other primates, birds and butterflies. This family welcomed a new member in May 2020.
Bikingi Gorilla Family
Habituation of Bikingi gorilla group commenced in early 2012 as a follow-up exercise of the dispersing members of the disintegrated Mishaya family. The family is found in the Rushaga Sector. Indeed, several members of the former Mishaya family were located in the group alongside other non-habituated members and later-on declared for habituation to keep close monitoring of the formerly habituated members.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
In July 2010, Silverback Mishaya decided to leave the Nshongi Gorilla Group located in the Rushaga sector with some females and started his own family. He was a typical fighter and was able to gather more females from other non-habituated groups in the area, reaching a total group size of 12 gorillas, including three infants. As mentioned earlier, Mishaya died in 2014 and was the only adult male in the group and was known for being a fighter who often starts interactions with other gorilla families.
By the end of 2015, the group was 7 gorilla but like we noticed earlier, gorilla families some time are joined by friends or even acquire more member in successful battles.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
The “Kahungye” name comes from a hill in the Rushaga area where the gorillas were discovered. The group was opened for visitors and gorilla tracking in 2011 and consisted of 29 individuals including 3 silverbacks. Less than a year later, the group split due to intra-male rivalry, fission – creating the Busingye Gorilla Family. You realize that the size of families change as they split, divorce, have feuds and runoff in a huff, while the males may raid another group and grab a few females to come along.
Bweza Gorilla Family
Bweza Gorilla Family is one of Nshongi Group that used to be the largest ever habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Rushaga are. However, due to the July 2010 Silverback Mishaya decision to leave the group and start his own family, he left with reasonable number of them including the Silverback Bweza. Towards the end of 2012, Bweza chose to be independent; he walked away with about 6 other members from the Mishaya Gorilla Group.
Early in 2013, there were speculations by the UWA park management that the Bweza split would return and re-bond with Mishaya but this never came to pass and was later introduced for tracking. Since 2014, they can be tracked in Rushaga area of Bwindi Park.
Busingye Gorilla Family
Busingye Gorilla Group is another splinter gorilla family having broken away from Kahungye Family back in June 2012 in Rushaga. It was Silverback Busingye who decided to split and create his own family. Busingye is a local language word for ‘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. Busingye family is fondly known for foraging within the inner forest and very rarely comes toward the park edge.
Kutu Family Gorilla Family
The Kutu Family Members; 8 members and 1 silverback. Kutu is a new gorilla family in Rushaga area of Bwindi Park. This group is still under habituation and perfect for visitors who wish to embark on gorilla habituation experience. Kutu gorilla group has 8 members and 1 silverback.
Mucunguzi gorilla Family
Mucunguzi gorilla group is a newly habituated gorilla family in Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The word Mucunguzi means ‘savior’ a name that is given to a third and youngest silverback at the time within Bweza gorilla group. Mucunguzi group split off from Bweza family. Mucunguzi gorilla group is composed of 8 mountain gorillas.
Rwigi Gorilla Family
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park of recent officially announced and opened a new Gorilla family for trekking. Rwigi is a newly habituated Gorilla family in Rushaga sector of Bwindi Park. Rwigi Gorilla family is a break away from Kahungye Gorilla family also found in Rushaga area of Bwindi Forest Park. Travelers who visit Bwindi forest can now track the new Gorilla family for fresh and memorable Mountain Gorilla tracking experience. Rwigi, formerly one of the three dominant silverbacks in Kahungye Gorilla family is now the leader of Rwigi Gorilla family.
Rwigi the now dominant silverback who after misunderstandings with other silverbacks in Kahungye family decided to make his own family Rwigi silverback fought hard and took a way some adult females and juveniles to make a new family now Rwigi Gorilla Family.
Mgahinga Gorilla Park – Uganda
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family
Nyakagezi Gorilla Group is the only family in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. 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. Over the past few years however, the group has been stable and they are trying to settle on the Ugandan side since November 2012, and are likely to stay for a while. In May 2013 when a newborn baby gorilla arrived, increasing the group to 10 members.
Due to quite unpredictable behavior, permits for this group can only be booked at the local Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. Once again, you cannot get permits for a particular group ahead of time, but the group you trek is determined with your input.
July 2020 – these are the Habituated Gorilla Groups we have in Uganda, the list will be updated with information as it comes. If you need help of any kind concerning to mountain gorillas, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help you out.