Gorilla trekking gates of Bwindi Impenetarble National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is located in South-western Uganda, covering parts of Rukungiri, Kisoro, and Kabale Districts. It is situated in a mountainous countryside, which, together with some remnant lowland forest outside the boundary, constitutes an important water catchments area for many rivers, supplying the agricultural land of the surrounding region. This is the richest forest in Uganda, in terms of the number of plant species, as the area is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane communities merge. The valley bottoms contain a dense ground cover of herbs, vines, and shrubs with only a few trees hence its name, the impenetrable forest. This is one of the richest faunal communities in East Africa. There exists about one half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas. There are also several endangered species of birds with limited ranges. Gorilla tracking began on 1st April 1993. It is advisable to make reservations at least 3-6 months before your intended date of visit.
There are 4 Gorilla trekking gates of Bwindi Impenetarble National Park for tracking gorillas and these include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. The 4 locations have a total of about 18 families. Tracking permits need to be bought prior to tracking by booking directly with the reservations office at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Headquarters or through a reputable tour agent. Permits can be paid for up to two years in advance. Below is the List of Gorilla trekking gates of Bwindi Impenetarble National Park
Nkuringo Gorilla Family size 14 members
The Nkuringo group was named after the Rukiga word for “round hill” and was launched in 2004. One of the most important reasons for their habituation were problems they created for the local communities by destroying crops and other products. By opening up the gorilla family for visitors, the community could directly benefit from tourism and it formed a protection for the gorillas as well. The family was led by the silverback Nkuringo who died in 2008, leaving behind 2 silverbacks in the group. In November 2008, the Nkuringo family expanded thanks to the special birth of a twin – Katungi and Muhozi – though Katungi unfortunately died at the age of 1.5 years. Currently, the group has 4 silverbacks, 2 black backs, 3 Adult females and 3 infants.
Nshongi Gorilla Family- Family size 8 Individuals.
Located in Rushaga area on the Nkuringo side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Nshongi was the largest group ever habituated and was officially launched in September 2009. It was named after the river Nshongi, close to the place where the gorilla family was first seen. One remarkable fact is that the group is led by Nshongi, who is not even the oldest silverback in the family.
Because of its huge size and the increasing number of silver backs, around mid 2012 the group which consisted of 18 members broke to form the Bweza group. The original Nshongi remained with 8 members only- 1 silver back, 4 black backs and 2 Adult females and 1 infant.
Mishaya Gorilla Family- Family size 7 Individuals including 1 Silverback
In July 2010, silverback Mishaya decided to leave the Nshongi group with some females and start his own family. He was able to gather more females from other groups in the area, reaching a total group size of 7 gorillas, including 1 silver back, 3 Adult females, 2 infants and 1 sub adult. 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- Family size 18 individuals including 2 silverbacks
Kahungye is named after the hill with the same name which is in the home range of this gorilla family. Since October 2011 the group became available for tourism. With 26 members that are very active and full of life, the family is lead by
Silverback Gwigi, which means “door” in the local language. The whole group has 2 silver backs, 3 black backs, 4 Adult females, 1 sub adult, 3 Juveniles and 5 Infants.
Busingye Gorilla Family.
This is a break way family from Kahungye Gorilla Family. In early 2012, this family formed its own group. It is made up of 1 silverback, 4 Adult females, 1 Sub adult and 3 infants.
Bweza Gorilla Family.
Around mid 2012, Bweza gorilla family broke away from the Nshongi gorilla family. It was easy for the UWA rangers to habituate the group since it broke away from a formerly habituated family. This was because of the huge size of the Nshongi group and the increasing number of silverbacks that were trying to struggle for power. It is made up of 1 silver back, 4 Black backs, 4 Adult females, 2 juvenile and 2 infants.
At Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, there are three family groups – Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushegura groups. This is one of the best Gorilla trekking gates of Bwindi Impenetarble National Park
Mubare Gorilla Family
This group consists of 11 individuals.
The group has been the longest habituated at Bwindi and traditionally has been the favoured group to trek for viewing. However, in the last couple of years this group has quite often been quite far away from the start of the trekking point with many visitors walking up to 8 hours in order to view these magnificent animals. The group started with 12 family members, led by the dominant silverback Ruhondeza who unfortunately passed away in July 2012 after a vigorous fight with an unhabituated group of wild mountain Gorillas. Ruhondeza had the zeal of building a big family in that at one time, the group totalled to 18 individuals. Unluckily, due to fights with wild Gorilla groups and loss of members, Mubare reduced to a family of 5 individuals and after the death of Ruhondeza, only 4 members remained. Fortunately, his successor has managed to grab more 3 members from a wild Gorilla family to make 7 members and with births, it now has increased its members to 11.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family
This group consists of 17 individuals – 1 Silverbacks, 4Adult females, 4 sub- Adult, 2 Juveniles and 6 infants. This group is headed by a silverback named Rwatsigazi who was a dominant male in the original group and the adult females are led by the shrewd alpha female called Kisho. In history, the original Habinyanja group before separation had never ranged outside the Park. But after separation, Habinyanja A went outside the Park in Kasarabandwa DRC and was chased. This group derives its name from “Nyanja” which is the local word for ‘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.
Rushegura Gorilla Family
This group consists of 15 individuals – 2 Silverback, 3 Adult Females, 2 Black back, 3 Juveniles, 5 Infants. This group is headed by the silverback named Mwirima, who was not a dominant male in the original Habinyanja group. Two of the juveniles have just turned into Black backs. This group has good reproductive potential, with 3 adult females been observed mating several times.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
This group consists of 11 individuals, 4 silverbacks, 1 sub-adult, 3 females, 1 Black-backs, 2 juveniles and 1 infant. 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. The family can be found in the Ruhija area which is about a one and a half hours drive from Buhoma.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family
This group consists of 17 individuals with 2 dominant silverback
The Oruzogo group is one of the newest gorilla families that opened up for tourism in Bwindi National Park. This family is situated between Buhoma and Ruhija and is lead by the dominant Silverback Tibirikwata. The group consists of 17 individuals including two babies that were recently born. This family is located in Ruhija which approximately two and half hour’s drive from Buhoma.
1. Sometimes guides are asked by tourists / Visitors to take out more people, or more groups, than is allowed. If the park staff break the rules they may lose their jobs, taking more people out can stress the great apes, and can destroy the trails and environment through overuse.
2. Excited tourists also sometimes ask the guides to allow them to get closer than seven meters for a photo with the gorillas. This puts the apes’ health and safety at risk, for all the reasons already mentioned.
GUIDELINES FOR TOURISTS WHILE TRACKING GORILLAS IN UGANDA
Rules and guidelines have been carefully developed to try to protect the mountain gorillas’ health and safety. As mentioned, previous, Gorillas are extremely susceptible to human diseases and infections, and become stressed if too many visitors arrive or approach too closely. Remember that they are wild individuals, and very protective of their young. To remain healthy and survive these apes need to be undisturbed by visitors, and allowed to eat, rest and socialize with their own species.
RULE 1: If a tourist is ill, the park Staff has the right to refuse a visit to gorillas.
REASON: To protect the great Apes from contracting an illness or disease.
RULE 2: Only one visit is allowed per day and the number of tourists is limited to eight per group.
REASON: To minimize behavioral disturbance, stress and possible risk of infection.
RULE 3: Visitors must be at least fifteen years old.
REASON: To minimize risk of exposing Gorillas to childhood diseases (e.g. Mumps, Chickenpox Measles) and cold or Flu viruses.
RULE 4: The time spent with great Apes is limited to one hour.
REASON: To minimize behavioral disturbance, stress and possible risk of infection.
RULE 5: Flash photographic is not permitted.
REASON: It can upset or frighten Gorillas and may provoke an aggressive reaction or charge.
RULE 6: All visitors must remain at least seven meters away from Gorillas at times. If the great apes approach to two or three meters (as curious juveniles sometimes do) then visitors should slowly retreat back to five meters. If this is not possible, then the visitors will be asked to remain where they are. The guide’s instructions should be followed at all times. Keep your backpack and other items in places where young Gorillas can’t approach and investigate them.
REASON: To minimize disease transmission, stress and behavioural disturbance, to reduce the chance of possible future aggression towards tourists; and to prevent the Gorillas becoming too habituated to humans.
RULE 7: Tourists should remain in a tight group, without spreading out or surrounding the great apes.
REASON: This allows the apes plenty of room to move where they want to, without felling threatened (which may provoke a charge).
RULE 8: Where possible, visitors should sit or crouch whilst watching the Gorillas.
REASON: It can be very intimidating or threatening to Gorillas if you stand taller than they are, and stare. Standing biped ally is part of the great apes’ threat or aggressive displays.
RULE 9: Body language is important, and visitors should not raise hands or arms, or point, nor stare at them.
REASON: To gorillas their behaviours are signs of threat or aggression.
RULE 10: Visitors should not clear vegetation close to Gorillas so that they get a better view.
REASON: This can disturb or frighten the Gorillas. The guides will clear away vegetation, if it is possible and necessary
RULE 11: If a silverback gorilla beat his chest, displays or charges at you, do not run away. Tourist guides are asked to stop tourists from moving or running.
REASON: Although a charge may be frightening, the safest thing to do is remain quietly where you are.
RULE 12: Eating, drinking and smoking are not permitted near the Gorillas, or within 200 meters of them.
REASON: The behaviours could distract them and cause problems if they approach out of curiosity. Food and other remains can be a source of infection.
RULE 13: Visitors should be as quiet as possible, and whisper. If bitten by Safari ants or struck by stinging nettle, do not scream.
REASON: To minimize behavioural disturbance and avoid frightening and avoid frightening gorillas. Newly habituated gorillas may be afraid to come anywhere near noisy tourists, and if gorillas are already present, they may leave.
RULE 14: If you, the tourist, need to sneeze or cough, turn away from the great apes and try to cover your nose and mouth.
REASON: To minimize the spread of airborne bacteria or viruses that you might unknowingly be carrying.
RULE 15: All faucal materials must be buried. A machete may be borrowed from guides, a thirty centimeter (ten inch) hole dug and then the hole filled.
REASON: Fasces can be highly infectious to great apes and other animals.
RULE 16: All rubbish must be removed from the park, and visitors are asked to be particularly careful not to drop small items, such as, film boxes / canisters, tissues or handkerchiefs.
REASON: Apart from being unsightly, rubbish can interest animals, can cause problems if swallowed, and can be a source of germ or disease transmission.
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