Uganda Gorilla Groups

Though Uganda is known for sheltering more than half of the World’s remaining mountain gorillas which live in 39 families, it is important to know these groups and their unique characteristics to find out which group suits particular interests.

Of the 39 groups/ families, only 18 are habituated for tourism of which 17 are in Bwindi and one in Mgahinga parks, and then the 13th one for Research in Ruhija area of Bwindi while the rest roam in the wild jungles unfamiliar to human beings. The families sometimes meet with each other and on some occasions, severe fights have broken out leaving some badly injured.

Habituation of Gorillas in Uganda started in 1991 with the Mubare family. Since then, 17 gorilla families have been habituated in Bwindi and 1 in Mgahinga available for trekking every day.  It is paramount for one to know these groups in detail, where they live, how they behave and what to expect if allocated one or which group to choose in case one is given a chance to choose the group to track. The habituation process usually takes 2 years but some groups took a shorter time to be habituated because of being in close range with the habituated families where rangers and tourists would pass by them often hence becoming familiar to human beings.
gorilla families in Bwindi forest

The question of which gorilla group is best for tracking will always depend on one’s interests as there are no universal standards for measuring good or bad because it lies in the eyes of the beholder. What one person calls good may be bad for another, likewise, one may prefer the group that is closer to the tracking point whereas another may prefer the one that is farther and gives a hiking challenge. On this basis, therefore, I will shed light on these families and you will choose for yourself the one that is best for you.

Mubare Group
This is the oldest group which was first habituated in 1991 and got its first official tourists in 1993. The group was named after Mubare hills where it was first sighted by UWA rangers. The group started with 12 members under the command of great silverback known as ‘Ruhondeza’ which means ‘the one who oversleeps’. Ruhondeza’s great leadership saw the group size expand to 18 individuals in very few years but his over expansionist policy and ambitious character cost him the loss of many members in the years that followed. His constant battles with wild groups weakened him later and his protectionism and selfish character made him to kill or exile the upcoming silver backs leaving the family with no backup force for protection. In the year 2009, tragedy struck when the group lost about 3 of its members with one adult dying of a fractured skull leaving behind a little baby that died a few days later and was found on Ruhondeza’s bed.
gorilla families in Bwindi forest

Ruhondeza was attacked in his old age in March 2012 by a wild silver back and was forced into exile in the neighboring village of Rubona though with severe injuries. He lived among the people for a few months and was later found dead in June the same year. He was given a decent burial near UWA headquarters at Buhoma and the function was graced by a number of community residents, UWA officials, and many conservationists. He is still hailed as the father of Gorilla tourism in Uganda and at the age of 50 years, he is regarded as the oldest silverback ever known in the country

At his demise, the family disintegrated and his successor, Kanyonyi took over the mantle and has since increased the members from 5 to 8 that live currently and probably still hopes to expand the group size furthermore. The group is found in the Buhoma area composed of 9 members with one silverback.
The group is a great priority for most trackers as it roams within close proximity to the UWA headquarters at Buhoma and is sometimes regarded as easy to track.

Habinyanja Group
This group was first habituated in 1997 and received the first tourists in 1999. The name Habinyanja was derived from a Rukiga word, ‘Nyanja’ which means a ‘water body’ and therefore Habinyanja group got its name from the Swamp in the jungles of Bwindi where the group was first sighted.
gorilla families in Bwindi forest
At the time of habituation, the group had 30 members under the leadership of a silverback known as ‘Mugurusi’, a Rukiga word that means ‘an old man’. At the time of his death, his 3 sons had grown and begun a succession dispute over who could claim the father’s throne. The three silverbacks were Rwansigazi which means ‘the youthful one’, Mwirima which means ‘darkness’ and Makara which means ‘charcoal’.

After several fights, there was no sole winner and the group remained under the interim leadership of Rwansigazi and Mwirima but the two had several divergent and parallel characters that would not allow them to stay together for long. Whereas Rwansigazi wanted to adventure many places in the forest, Mwirima was not different from his father Mugurusi and wanted to remain in a small range. Due to these differences, it was inevitable that the group would split given the fact that it was even very large.

In 2002, Rwansigazi peacefully left together with other family members that liked moving in a wider range leaving Mwirima and the lazy members to form their own family. Rwansigazi’s group retained the name of Habinyanja and Mwirima’s group was named Rushegura. It is important to note that, the two groups continue to crisscross each other even today and no fights have been recorded but rather friendship still reigns between the two families

The group has 18 members including 2 silverbacks and is popular for its drama and commotion triggered by constant fights for dominance and family leadership between the two silverbacks; Makara and Rwansigazi. It occupies the Buhoma area and is somehow strenuous to track as the tourist needs about 3-8 hours.

Rushegura Group
gorilla families in Bwindi forestThe Rushegura group was formed in 2002 when Mwirima and a group of other members parted ways with the Habinyanja group. The group derived its name from the tree species locally known as Ebishegura which was abundant in the group’s home range. The group started with 12 individuals at the time of breakaway but due to the good leadership skills of late Mwirima, the family size is now 19 members including one silverback.

The group is a very calm and peaceful family and has now permanently settled in Bwindi though it used to roam across the border with Congo. It is also in the Buhoma area and sometimes shows up in the compound of Gorilla Forest camp. The founding leader of the group passed away this year and the leadership has been taken by an ambitious black back called Kabukojo. Tracking the group is not onerous as it is always not far from Buhoma village.

Bitukura Group
This group was named after River Bitukura that flows in Bwindi forest where the group was first sighted. It was the only gorilla group habituated for tracking in the Ruhija area until when Oruzogo family was habituated and opened for Tourism in 2011.
gorilla families in Bwindi forest

The group was first habituated in July 2007 and officially opened for tourism in October 2008, becoming the easiest group to be habituated in Bwindi. The group was originally having 24 members but with constant disputes, some left the group and joined others. They were however graced by the birth of a new baby in 2013. The group is said to enjoy harmonious living with Kyaguriro group that is meant for research and their close relationship is said to have yielded monthly get-togethers where the two families are seen playing and making fun together.

The group is one of the most peaceful groups in Bwindi and is composed of 14 members including 4 silverbacks but no fights have been experienced and the group lives in great harmony with one another which has been attributed to good leadership of Ndahura, the dominant silverback. There are few budget accommodations in this area, one may stay in Buhoma and drive early in the morning for about an hour and a half to track this group.

Mishaya Group
This group occupies the verdant forests of Rushaga in the southeastern part of Bwindi. The group was named after its founder silverback called Mishaya who broke away from Nshongi group in 2010 with other 9 members. The group was officially open for tourism in 2011 hence becoming one of the newest groups for tracking.
gorilla families in Bwindi forest

Mishaya is known as a fighter who often attacks and defends his family against any raiding group. It was from this background, that Mishaya was able to expand the group to 12 members. By 2013, due to loss of members to other groups, the Mishaya group had only 7 individuals with one silverback (Mishaya) which is the only adult in the group.

Tracking this group, tourists start their walk from the UWA headquarters at Rushaga or take 30 minutes to drive to the trailhead.

Oruzogo Group
The group was opened for tourism in 2011 and is found in Ruhija section of the park. The group is led by the dominant silverback known as Tibirikwata and is popular for its playful and energetic juveniles. The family is composed of 23 members including one silverback and is a favorite for many tourists.

This family can be tracked from Ruhija but needs one to secure accommodation within the area to be able to cope up with the pre-tracking briefing. However, due to limited budget accommodation options, one may as well sleep in Buhoma but has to leave very early at around 5 am for an hour’s drive to the park headquarters in Ruhija for the pre-tracking briefing.

Nshongi Group
This is the group that gave birth to the Mishaya group in 2010. Nshongi group was first habituated in 2007 and officially opened for tourism in 2009. By 2009, the group was the largest with 36 members including 4 silverbacks and 7 black backs all living harmoniously. In 2010, Mishaya broke away with some members to form his own family leaving Nshongi with 26 members. The group was later split into another group called Bweza with 10 members in 2013 leaving Nshongi with only 18 members.

Nshongi group occupies a large forested area in Rushaga where one is likely to be graced by the sights of other primates. It got its name from the R. Nshongi that flows within its home range. Nshongi river was named following its dark color that resembles honey which is called ‘omushongi two Bwoki’ in Rukiga.

The Nshongi group has a unique characteristic whereby Nshongi, the dominant silverback reigns over other adult female gorillas that are older than him which is a rare case among the primates.

Kahungye Group
This group also occupies the Rushaga area and was consisting of 27 members with 3 silverbacks at the time when it was opened for tourism in 2011. Barely a year later, the group split into two giving birth to Busingye family that too lives in Rushaga.
The group consists of 13 members with 3 silverbacks under the leadership of Rumansi and only the silverbacks have names.

Busingye Group
This is another splitter group from Kahungye which broke away in 2012. This was a result of the ambitious silverback called Busingye which means ‘peace’. Busingye is not a symbol of his name as he is known for his fights with other gorillas and his raiding character where he forces other groups’ members into his own whenever there is an encounter.
As by the year 2014, the group consists of 9 members with one silverback (Busingye), 3 infants, 2 adult females, and 3 juveniles. The group also inhabits the Rushaga area with the former groups mentioned.

Nkuringo Group
This group is located in the Nkuringo area of Bwindi national park. The group derived its name from the hill where they were first sighted. Nkuringo is a Rukiga word meaning ‘A round hill’. After 2 years of habituation, the family was opened for tourism in 2004. The family was led by a silverback called Nkuringo who passed away in 2008 leaving behind his mature sons; Rafiki and Safari.
Among other reasons for its habituation was because they used to attack peoples gardens, destroying sweet potatoes, and banana gardens. Habituating them was one way of compensating the community through tourism revenue as well as ensuring the Mountain gorilla conservation.

The family is now composed of 19 members with 2 silverbacks. After the death of his father, Safari took over the leadership role and in November of 2008, the group was blessed with the birth of twins; Muhozi and Katungi though the latter died of illness after one and a half years. This is the only group in the Nkuringo area and is probably the toughest group to track but very rewarding as it requires one to have good stamina to endure the trek.

Bweza Group
This group consists of 7 members with one silverback and is one of the splinter groups of the larger Nshongi group. In 2010, Bweza was among the members that broke away under the leadership of Mishaya to form the Mishaya group.

However, in 2012, Bweza discovered that his ambitions would not be fulfilled under Mishaya’s rule hence decided to break away with a group of 6 other members to form their own independent group. Despite UWA’s speculation last year that the group would reunite with Mishaya, it has remained independent and is open for tracking in the Rushaga area.

Nyakagezi Group
This group is under the leadership of Mark; a great Silverback who is very adventurous and often leads the group across borders of the 3 countries (Rwanda, Uganda and D R Congo). Since November 2012, the group has tried to remain stable on the Ugandan side and with the birth of a young one in 2013; the hope for their stay has been increased.

The group has 10 members including one silverback and is the only habituated group in Mgahinga Gorilla national park. Tracking this group is uncertain because of their unpredictable character and the permits can only be booked at the park headquarters in Mgahinga after the Rangers have sighted where the group is.

Kyaguriro Group
This is the only habituated gorilla group in Uganda reserved for research alone. The group is composed of 15 members and occupies Ruhija area. It is said that the group has been a great ally of Bitukura to the extent that some adolescent females have been reported to leave Bitukura for it.

Those are the Gorilla families so far and the list will always be updated as new groups come in. I hope with that little information, one will be able to get an insight of the gorilla group he/ she will be allocated.