As of (2014), there is a total of 36 Uganda gorilla families available in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, however, only 14 of these Gorilla Families are habituated and can be visited for trekking. The other migratory group, the Nyakagezi gorilla family in Mgahinga Gorilla Park frequently moves between Uganda and the DRC is very unpredictable and therefore rarely visited by trekkers. The Gorilla habituation experience is a unique experience from the usual gorilla trekking and takes not less than 2 years. During this time gorillas are trained to get used human presence which has greatly enhanced and promoted the Amazing Gorilla Safaris in the country. As the habituation takes place, the gorillas still remain in their gorilla families as they to do their routine activities in the wilderness even when human beings are present. According to the UWA conservation rules, only 8 adult visitors can be allowed to track each of the habituated gorilla groups each day. That avails over 120 gorilla tracking permits each day for Bwindi Impenetrable along with 8 for the Mgahinga gorilla family.
Uganda Gorilla families move to new places every day and never stay in one place twice. There is nothing like closest or furthest gorilla family, trek terrain may be different but the time taken is unpredictable. A 2 or 3-hour trek today could be tomorrow’s 6 or 7 hours. Booking your preferred gorilla family is possible but has to be done through your preferred tour agency/operator ahead of time.
The Mubare Gorilla Group
Family size: 9 members including 1 silverback, Location: Buhoma
Mubare is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda. It was found in the Mubare hills, 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 for several years until March 2013 when 4 other members including a new dominant silverback joined and it is now an interesting group to visit. Due to its convenient location with the Queen Elizabeth Park and with limited tracking hike, Mubare gorilla permits are now a priority for many tour operators and tourist.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family
Family size: 18 members including 2 silverbacks, Location: Buhoma
The Habinyanja group was first visited by tourists in 1999. 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. Habinyanja is a fascinating family with a lot of drama and commotion. This is caused by the power struggles between the dominant silverbacks and fights for family leadership.
It’s not strange 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. Visitors tracking this family need about 3 – 8 hours and it makes sense if they stay at a lodging in the Buhoma area of Bwindi. The adult females are led by the shrewd alpha female called Kisho.
Rushegura Gorilla Family
Family size: 19 members including 1 silverback, Location: Buhoma
The Rushegura gorilla family was brought together in 2002 after one of the silverbacks from the Habinyanja group decided to break away. They started with 12 individuals including 5 females. This “Habinyanya 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. The Rushegura group is a calm family. In the past, they used to cross the border and venture in the neighboring DRC every now and then but returned and have always been in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. They are usually not far from Buhoma village and sometimes even wander through the gardens Gorilla Forest Camp.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
Family size: 14 members including 4 silverbacks, Location: Ruhija
The Bitukura group was 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. 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. 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.
Originally, the group was 24 members but due to disputes within the family, some gorillas simply chose to leave the group and were probably recruited. The group has a newborn that arrived in early 2013. To visit this family, it is 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
Family size: 23 members including 1 silverback, Location: Ruhija
The Oruzogo group 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’s the latest habituated gorilla family and was opened for tourism on 20th June 2011. This increased the great opportunity for more visitors to track the gorillas in Bwindi national park. 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 are 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 at 6:30 am latest.
Nkuringo Gorilla Family
Family size: 19 members including 2 silverbacks, Location: Nkuringo
Another section of the Uganda Gorilla Families can be found in the Nkuringo Sector. 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 Nkuringo group was launched in 2004 after the 2-year habituation process. One of the reasons for their habituation was their continued venture into the local communities’ gardens feeding on bananas, sweet potatoes, and other crops.
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 on April 2008, leaving behind 2 Silverbacks 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. 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.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Family size: 18 members, Location: Rushaga sector
Nshongi 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. 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. The Nsongi Gorilla Group is in a large forested area where you can also see other primates, birds and butterflies.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
Family size: 7 members including 1 Silverback, Location: Rushaga
In July 2010, Silverback Mishaya decided to leave the Nshongi Gorilla Group with some females and started his own family. He is 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. Mishaya is the only adult in the group and is known for being a fighter who often starts interactions with other gorilla families. By the end of 2013, the group was having only 7 gorillas but as we noticed earlier, gorilla families sometimes are joined by friends or even acquire more member in successful battles.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
Family Size: 13 members, Location: Rushaga area
The size of this group is 13 members with 3 silverbacks which are the only ones named. 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.
Busingye is one of the newest groups in the park found in the Rushaga sector close to the Nshongi and Mishaya gorilla groups.