Gorilla Families in Uganda & Rwanda Safari Parks
Bwindi Impenetrable National park has 11 habituated mountain gorilla groups ready to be tracked and one that is available for research. A maximum of eight people are allowed to track each group per day. These groups include per tracking area;Buhoma- Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura.
Ruhija- Bitukura, Oruzogo and the research group Kyaguriro.
Nkuringo – Nkuringo Gorilla group.
Rushaga – Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza, and Busingye.
Mubare Gorilla Family has 8 members including 1 silver back. It is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda. It was found in the Mubare hills, deep in Bwindi forest and the official habituation of this gorilla group started on 15th October in 1991 and it received its first official visitors on 13th October 1993 (2 years later).The group started with 12 family members, led by the dominant silverback Ruhondeza. In March 2012, the family faced an attack was from a wild gorilla group who broke Ruhondeza’s leadership and took away some of the females. The silver back took refuge in a nearby community forest but was under researcher’s supervision, until he passed away in his sleep on 27 June 2012 in Rubona village near Bwindi National park at over 50 years of age. On your trip to Buhoma feel at ease to inquire from your guide the location of this great silverback’s grave. The group remained with 5 members for several years until March 2013 when 4 other members including a new dominant silverback joined and its now an interesting group to visit. Kanyonyi – Ruhondeza’s successor managed to expand the family again and increased it to eight members including a baby named Kashundwe. Due to its proximity to Queen Elizabeth National Park providing a faster connection and with limited tracking hike, Mubare gorilla permits are cherished by both the tourists and the tour operators.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family has18 members including 2 silverbacks. This group was habituated in 1997 and first visited by tourists in 1999. The name is derived from a local word “Nyanja” literally meaning body of water. It denotes the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the group was first sighted. At the time of habituation the group was led by the dominant Silverback Mugurisi, literally meaning Old man. After his demise due to old age, the two brothers Rwansigazi and Mwirima shared power but they were so incompatible that it couldn’t stand the test of time. Rwansigazi was an adventurous gorilla and liked travelling, while Mwirima was 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 cede leadership to Makara who is now the dominant silverback of the Habinyanja family. Sometimes, both groups still come across each other but co-exist in harmony. Visitors tracking this family need about 3 – 8 hours since the group likes covering a wider range thus it is advisable to get lodging in the Buhoma area of Bwindi. The adult females are led by the shrewd alpha female called Kisho.
Rushegura Gorilla Family has 19 members including 1 silverback. It came together in 2002, after one of the silverbacks – Mwirima broke away from the Habinyanja group. They started with 12 individuals including 5 females. This group derives its name from Ebishegura – a tree species that was abundant in the home area of the new family. The Rushegura group is a calm family despite the earlier border crossings to DRC. They are usually within the environs of Buhoma village and sometimes even wander through the gardens Gorilla Forest Camp.
Bitukura Gorilla family has 14 members including 4 silverbacks. It is named after a river where the family members were first sighted. The habituation that started in July 2007 was a relatively easy process as the gorillas were already frequently encountered by the UWA rangers. Despite the normal two year habituating process, Bitukura group could already be visited by tourists within 15 months after the start. Bitukura is a peaceful family including 4 silverbacks and some playful juveniles. They share a close bond and often have group meetings or get-togethers.
Formally, the group was 24 members but due to clashes within the family, some gorillas simply opted to leave the group and were probably recruited to other families. The group has a newborn that arrived in early 2013. It is advisable to stay in Ruhija if one is to track this group or it is possible to stay in Buhoma though leaving early to catch up with pre-track orientation cannot be skipped.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family has 23 members including 1 silverback. It is one of the recent gorilla families opened for visitor access in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This family is situated between Ruhija area and is led by a dominant Silverback Tibirikwata. It was opened in 20th June 2011 making it the latest habituated gorilla family which increased the opportunities for more visitors to track the gorillas in Bwindi national park. Its playful and energetic juveniles and toddlers not necessarily the size makes it popular to tourists. The challenge of tracking this group is limited accommodation in Ruhija area while one hour drive from Buhoma also demoralizes visitors from using accommodation in Buhoma.
Nkuringo Gorilla Family has 19 members including 2 silverbacks. Nkuringo is a local Rukiga word literally meaning round hill referring to the hill where the group was first sighted. It was launched in 2004 after the 2 year habituation process. One of the reasons for their habituation was their continued encroachment into the local communities’ gardens feeding on bananas, sweet potatoes and other crops. Nkuringo who died in April 2008 was the first family head and he left behind 2 Silverbacks that is Safari and Rafiki. Safari took over the leadership and same year in November, newborn twin baby gorillas Katungi and Muhozi arrived and expanded the family further. Regrettably, Katungi died at the age of 1½ years due to sickness. Tracking this group takes a bit more energy and stamina and it may be the toughest trek in Uganda though not many are arguing about being drained. This challenging trekking generates a memorable safari experience.
Nshongi Gorilla family has18 members. This was the largest group ever habituated with about 36 gorilla members and was officially introduced in September 2009. It was named after the River Nshongi, where the gorilla family was first found. Despite the fact that most gorilla families usually consisting of about 25 members have one or two Silverbacks, this group is unique as it contains 4 Silverbacks. The group leader Nshongi is not even the oldest Silverback in the family but it co-exist in harmony with other three silverbacks and seven black backs without any leadership struggle. 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. The Nsongi Gorilla Group is now in a large forested area presenting an opportunity to see other primates, birds and butterflies.
Mishaya Gorilla Family has 7 members including 1 Silverback. In July 2010, Silverback Mishaya decided to break away from the Nshongi Gorilla Group with some females and started his own family. Mishaya is a great fighter which enabled him to conquer more females from other non-habituated groups in the area, reaching a total group size of 12 gorillas, including three infants. Mishaya is the only adult in the group and is known for being a fighter who often starts interactions with other gorilla families.
Kahungye Gorilla Family has 13 members with 3 silverbacks. It derives its name from a local hill Kahungye in the area. The dominant Silverback is called Rumansi followed by the other two old male gorillas named Rwigi and Ruhamuka. The group was opened for visitors and gorilla tracking in 2011 but in less than a year the group split, creating the new Busingye Gorilla Family. Before the separation, the family consisted of 27 individuals including 3 silverbacks.
Bweza Gorilla Family has 7 members including 1 Silverback. It was formed when Silverback Bweza broke away from the Mishaya group of gorillas towards the end of 2012. Early in 2013, speculations by the UWA park management that the Bweza split would re-unite with Mishaya did not produce fruit and Bweza was introduced for tracking.
Busingye Gorilla Family has 9 individuals including 1 silverback. This group broke away from the Kahungye family in June 2012 when Silverback Busingye decided to part ways and create his own family. Busingye is a local word literally meaning peace which is quite contradictory to his personality considering his legendary fights with other gorilla groups. He prefers exhibiting his might to the extent that when he encounters a wild family he ruthlessly seizes a female to supplement his own family. In January 2014, the group was 9 members including 3 infants, 2 adult female and other were youths or young teens.
Kyaguriro Gorilla Family has 15 Members including 2 silver backs. Initially the family was led by an aging silverback Zeus. Regrettably he died in exile after being usurped and banished into the forest by his rival Rukina. This group is another habituated Gorilla Group but not set for tourism but has been reserved for research and other studies.
Rwanda Gorilla Families
Volcanoes national park is gifted with a good number of these endangered mountain gorillas and various gorilla families forge their survival in this verdant volcanic area. These gorilla families are in two categories that is; Study groups available to scientists and researchers and tracking groups available to tourists.
Study groups include; Beetsme, and Pablo’s Shida’s with the highest number of individuals. Tourism tracking groups’ number to ten including;
Susa -A Family
This family has 28 members with 3 Silverbacks. Formerly, it was the biggest gorilla group with 42 individuals attracting a lot of studies by Dian Fossey before splitting into two. The group is named after the River of Susa of which they live along. The young twins of Impano and Byishimo make this group famous because of their playful and jumpy behaviours. This group spend much of its time in low levels of the forest compared to the Susa B family which dwells at an altitude of (4507M) on the slopes of Karisimbi Volcano.
Karisimbi Family (Susa-B Family)
This group is a renegade of the former Susa group (Susa-A) and is currently named Susa-B or Karisimbi group. The group has 15 individuals and dwells in the slopes of Karisimbi – the highest Rwandan peak. Being on higher altitude, the group is suitable for enthusiastic hikers stretching to a whole day trekking experience.
This group has 9 members with 2 Silverbacks and is one of the groups that can be easily accessible in Volcanoes Park. The strongest silverback is Guhonda and the group dwells in the gentle slopes between Mount Gahinga and Sabyinyo
Amahoro the local dialect literally meaning peaceful is a crown name of this group. The group is led by a calm silverback called Ubumwe (literally meaning Unity). The family comprises of 17 members with one Silverback. Trekking this gorilla group requires enduring a relatively steep climb generating a memorable trekking encounter.
Group 13 (Agashya Family).
Agashya is the family’s second name. The group had 13 members at the time of habituation deriving its name from its number though it has since then expanded to 25 individuals. It is headed by Agashya – the dominant silverback. This silverback is known for protecting his members from all external attacks and under powerful conditions, he can take them to the top of the Volcanoes for protection. Agashya took over from Nyakirima – the former head of the family.
This family has 18 individuals and 2 silverbacks. It tends to migrate from Democratic Republic of Congo. The dominant silverback is called Kwitonda literally meaning the humble one. As a result of the inter boarder migrations, the group tends to provide long trekking distance creating difficulty.
This group split from Amahoro group and is headed by the Silverback called Charles. Disagreements between Charles and Ubumwe led to the split of the former group after several fights. Charles managed to gather a few females and created his own group. The group now has 9 individuals with 1 Silverback.
With 12 members and 1 silverback, this family arouse from groups of gorillas 13 and Sabyinyo plus other gorillas. Hirwa a local dialect meaning the lucky one, has a silverback from the former Susa group. It was opened for tracking in 2006 and regardless of being new it is an established group with a position among other gorilla families.
This family is located in Karisimbi region of Rwanda. It consists of 11 gorillas with 2 silverbacks. It tends to move from one area to another explaining its name Ugenda which means being on the move. Thus trekking sometimes gets prolonged as locating the group may not come too easily.
The family has 11 individuals with Silverback. It can be located from the Karisoke Volcano slopes. The dominant silverback is called Bwenge who formed this group in 2007. The group underwent difficult times after losing 6 infants however it has grown strong overtime with two positive births. Trekking this group is a bit challenging with a 3 hour hike over 600m in height.