Bwindi Gorillas – Information about Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Facts, Gorilla trekking Guide, History and Travel Tips
Bwindi Gorillas are the main drawing factor for visitors to the south-western part of Uganda and are the iconic animals of the montane rainforests of East and Central Africa. As the wildebeest migration are to Kenya and Tanzania, mountain gorilla trekking is to Uganda.
History about Bwindi Gorillas
Bwindi Gorillas date back to 25,000 years (the same existence of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest) and lived a quiet but troubled life (resulting from poaching, habitat loss and diseases) until early 1990s when the Park was eventually gazetted as well as gorilla tourism developed. From the late-1970s to early 1980s, Uganda was still suffering tremendous effects of civil wars as well as political instabilities, to the point that the mountain Bwindi gorillas were killed for bush meat while their habitats were used hiding places for rebels.
However in 1986 after the National Resistance Army (under Yoweri Kaguta Museveni) took over power, peace was slowly restored which later resulted into establishment of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park among other gazetted Protected Areas. The first gorilla group to be habituated in the Park was Mubare (in 1994), followed by Habinyanja and Nkuringo Groups among others.
Gorilla Groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
There are presently over 21 habituated and semi-habituated Bwindi Gorillas, that exist in four trekking regions/sectors that include Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga.
Buhoma trekking region
Mubare Gorilla Group
Known for being the first habituated gorilla group in the sector, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Uganda in general, Mubare was named after the stunning Hills of Mubare where the group was first found. It first received its visitors in 1994 and now has 9 members that include one silverback.
Habinyanja Gorilla Group
This was the second gorilla group to be opened for trekking in 1999 and derived its name from “Nyanja” to mean water body, because it was first sighted close to a swamp. It is presently made up of 17 members that include one silverback, one blackback, five alpha females, four juveniles and six infants.
Rushegura Gorilla Group
Rushegura is the breakaway group from Habinyanja and was first recognized as a separate group in 2002. It was named after special tree specie, locally referred as “Ebishegura” because it is common within the group’s home range. It is sometimes referred as “Habinyanja 2” and is comprised of 17 members that include one silverback, four alpha females, four blackbacks, four juveniles and four infants.
Katwe Gorilla Group
Katwe Gorilla Group was officially opened for trekking in 2018, thereby increasing the number of groups in Buhoma sector after several years of having only three trekkable groups. Katwe is made up of 7 individuals that include one silverback.
Muyambi Gorilla Family
This is currently the youngest/newest gorilla group in Buhoma sector, after being opened for trekking in 2019. This is the breakaway group from Mubare and presently comprises of 7 members that include one silverback. At the time of opening, the group had six members but after the new addition in May 2020, it is evident that the group size is gradually growing.
The exceptional Gorilla Groups in Ruhija sector, Eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are Bitukura, Kyaguliro, Oruzogo and Mukiza.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
Named after River Bitukura, a River where it was first spotted by Park Rangers and its habituated started in 2007. While most gorilla groups take 2-3 years of habituated before being opened for trekking, this group took only one year and three months. It presently has 13 members that include four silverbacks (Ndahura being the head), four Alpha females, two juveniles and three infants.
Kyaguliro Gorilla Group
Known as the research group, Kyaguliro began its habituated process in 1995. The group was led by Rukina who lost his life due to lightning shock, leaving an inexperienced silverback (Mukiza) as the leader.
Members of this group were later ambushed by another silverback from Bitukura group (known as Rukara), bringing about the split into Kyaguliro A and B. Rukara remained with the original members of the group with 10 individuals including three Alpha females, two blackbacks, two juveniles and also two infants.
Oruzogo Gorilla Group
Oruzogo Gorilla Group lives in the higher slopes within Ruhija sector, making it a medium-to-trek group and visitors are required to have endurance as well as stamina to successfully find its members. It first received visitors in 2011 and is popular for ranging and feeding in areas marked by “Alchornea hitela”, locally referred as “Oruzogo” hence the name of the group. There are currently about 17 members including two silverbacks, five Alpha females, two blackbacks, three juveniles and five infants led by Bakwate.
Mukiza Gorilla Family
Kyaguliro B group was formed under the leadership of Mukiza, a young inexperienced silverback who was challenged by Rukara, making him to walk away with some members to form his own family. There are presently 10 members here with one silverback, four adult females, one blackback and four infants.
Nkuringo Trekking sector
The sector of Nkuringo, in the south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to Christmas, Bushaho and Nkuringo Gorilla Groups.
Nkuringo Gorilla Group
Nkuringo was the first gorilla group in Nkuringo sector, in the south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park opened for trekking in 1997 after 2 years of habituation. The 11-member group is made up of two blackbacks (Rwamutwe being the leader), two adult females, two sub-adult females, three juveniles and two infants. The word “Nkuringo” means “round hill” in the local Rukiga dialect, which describes the hill where the group was first spotted. The group was put in the spotlight in 2020 after the death of their 25-year old silverback (Rafiki), killed by poachers.
Bushaho is another gorilla group in this southern sector and is said to be a breakaway group from Nkuringo. A follow-up in 2012 discovered that Bahati (silverback), walked away with a number of non-habituated members to form his own family that now has 8 members including one blackback, three adult females, one sub-adult female, one juvenile and one infant.
Christmas Gorilla Group
Being the newest gorilla group in the sector, Christmas was opened for trekking in 2018 and has about 9 members, including one silverback (known as Christmas), one blackback, three adult females and one baby that are always visible.
Rushaga Trekking region/sector
The different Gorilla Groups in Rushaga sector are Nshongi, Rwigi, Bikingi, Mishaya, Bweza, Kahungye, Mucunguzi, Kutu and Busingye.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
Mishaya is one of the many gorilla groups in Rushaga sector, discovered in July 2010 after separating from Nshongi group and was led by a silverback known as Mishaya. This group went through a tough time, more recent being in 2014 when their leader from an intestinal obstruction. It is now led by a silverback known as Tinfayo and made up of 10 members that also include four adult females, one blackback, one sub-adult female and three infants.
Rwigi is one of the newest groups in the sector and is made up of six members that include one silverback (Rwigi) and is said to be a breakaway group from Kahungye.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Nshongi was named after River Nshongi where its members were first sighted and was the largest group to be habituated at the time with over 32 members.
This 7-member group (including one silverback and two infants) broke away from Nshongi group, once largest group. Its formation resulted from the numerous fights in Nshongi and in 2012 was opened for gorilla trekking after two years of habituation.
Mucunguzi Gorilla Group
Named after its dominant silverback (Mucunguzi), this gorilla group is made up of 8 members with many females than any other group in the sector. It is said to have split from Bweza group after a serious fight, whereby Mucunguzi was chased. He led a lone life until he invaded Bikingi group and took several females to start his own group. It is comprised of 12 members.
This 8-member group is made up of one dominant silverback and is one of the latest additions to the southern sector of Rushaga.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
Opened in 2011, Kahungye was named after a beautiful rolling hill in the sector where the group was first spotted. The group is comprised of 13 members that include three silverbacks, led by Gwigi (meaning door in the local Rukiga dialect).
Busingye is the breakaway gorilla group from Kahungye, also in Rushaga sector and was formed in August 2012 after months of misunderstandings. There are now about 12 members in the group including one silverback (known as Busingye), five adult females, one blackback, three juveniles and two infants.
Bikingi Gorilla Group
Bikingi is another riveting gorilla group in Rushaga sector and its habituated started in early 2012 until mid-2016 after follow-up exercise. Mountain gorillas in this group were originally members of Mishaya group and are now made up of 15 members that include one silverback, five adult females, two sub-adult females, two juveniles and five infants.
Physical and Behavioral Characteristics of Bwindi Gorillas
Bwindi Gorillas are characterized by darker, thicker and longer fur that allows them survive in areas of high altitudes marked by colder temperatures and dense vegetation.
Being the second largest sub-species of gorillas, mountain gorillas weigh about 220 kilograms (for males) and 98 kilograms (for females) in addition to having standing height of 1.5 meters. They also possess large chests, muscular arms as well as broad hands and feet.
The Bwindi gorillas are generally terrestrial creatures that spend the largest part of their time on the ground, where they also build their nests much as they are excellent tree climbers. Young gorillas enjoy climbing trees, compared to the adults that only do so when grabbing fruits, succulent branches and leaves.
Mountain Gorilla are generally sociable animals that live in troops is 5-30 members that usually include silverback/s, several females, blackbacks, sub-adult females, juveniles and infants.
When it comes to lifespan, these primates can live up to 40 days in the wild (no mountain gorillas are found in captivity).
Bwindi gorillas are herbivores that feed on leaves, ants, fruits, bamboo shoots, stems, roots and sometimes insects as well as invertebrates. Their gestation period is 8.5 months, after which they give birth to one baby although there are also chances of giving birth to twins. A mature female gorilla can give birth to 3-4 offsprings in a lifetime and it is this slow reproductive rate that explains the “endangered” status of these Great Apes under IUCN Red List.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi is done within one of the four trekking regions/sectors and is so far the most sought-after tourist activity in the country. For a gorilla permit costing $700 per person for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and Shs. 250,000 for East African residents, travellers can get the chance to enter the jungles of Bwindi to search for the Great Apes.
Gorilla treks usually begin in the morning with converging at the Park Headquarters for briefing, followed by allocation into any of the gorilla groups (based on physical abilities, age and personal interests). Following the lead of armed Ranger guides, travellers start walking through the dense forest to search for the allotted gorilla group, lasting 1-5 hours. When visitors start seeing gorilla nests, it means the gorilla group is nearby and if finally located, spend one hour with the mountain gorillas.
Best time to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest National Park
The best time to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest National Park is during the dry season (June to September and December to February) when rains are low and hiking trails are not muddy and slippery hence excellent for gorilla trekkers. While most travelers avoid the rainy season (March to May and October to November), the weather is mid and offers easier/faster chances of finding the mountain gorillas because they have plenty of food and thus not have to move far. Generally, both seasons (dry and wet) are wonderful times of the year to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Given the fact that Bwindi is generally a Tropical rainforest, rains can be expected any time of the year and therefore travellers should come prepared.
Where to stay in Bwindi after gorilla trekking
Where to stay in Bwindi after gorilla trekking largely depends on the chosen trekking region/sector but the top places to choose are Buhoma Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Mahogany Springs Camp, Lake Kitandara Camp, Bwindi View Bandas, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp, Gorilla Resort and many others in Buhoma sector.
Rushaga Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Nshongi Camp, Four Gorillas Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge and Gorilla Valley Lodge are some of the places to stay when trekking gorillas in Rushaga or Nkuringo sectors.
The likes of Ruhija Community Rest Camp, Gorilla Hills Eco Lodge, Bakiga Lodge and Ruhija safari Lodge are the places to stay when booking Bwindi gorillas from Ruhija sector.
How many people are allowed to track Gorillas in Bwindi?
Eight people are allowed to track gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and this is done to avoid behavioral changes among the Great Apes as well as reduce possible transmission of diseases.
Age limit for gorilla trekking in Bwindi
Fifteen years is the age limit for gorilla trekking in Bwindi and this is done because children may not be able to deal with the negative reactions from mountain gorillas. While these Giant Apes are calm, peaceful and gentle creatures, they sometimes become aggressive hence a certain level of maturity is required to deal with them.
Gorilla Trekking Permits for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla Trekking Permits for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for one hour in the presence of the Giant Apes cost $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and Shs. 250,000 for East African residents while visitors who wish to spend four hours during the Gorilla Habituation Experience will need to part with $1500 per person.
How to obtain gorilla permits for Bwindi Forest
Gorilla Trekking permits for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be booked directly from Uganda Wildlife Authority (Park Headquarters, telephone or via email) or indirectly through a trusted Tour Operator who will charge a small discount to purchase gorilla permits on your behalf. The latter is easier and hassle-free because all you need is to provide your passport details and make payments on time. The most wonderful thing is that there are more than one thousand certified Tour Operators in the country who can make the process faster for you.
Gorilla filming in Bwindi Forest National Park
Gorilla filming in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors who wish to shoot professional films/videos or documentaries on the beautiful lives of mountain gorillas. Before undertaking this activity, visitors have to purchase gorilla permits in addition to getting permission from Uganda Wildlife Authority whereby a Memorandum of Understanding will be signed between the Authority and Filming Company. Filming fees will therefore be paid and the filming crew has to be accredited in addition to the equipment cleared at immigration and customs.
Three amazing things about Bwindi Gorillas
Bwindi Gorillas have nose prints that differ from one individual to another, like finger prints in humans. These primates are also peaceful, gentle, shy and strong creatures that only become aggressive when provoked.
Bwindi Gorillas live in altitudes of 2500 to 4000 meters above sea level and these areas are generally cold. They are able to survive within these uncomfortable habitats, because of their darker, longer and thicker fur on their skin.
Mountain gorillas are interestingly intelligent and make use of different tools in their natural environment to make life easier. They can use sticks to extract ants from holes, use stones to crack nuts and many others.
How to book a gorilla safari to Bwindi
After making the decision that a gorilla safari is what you want, go ahead to choose the date you intend to undertake the trip then come up with a budget estimate. Afterwards, go ahead to send inquiries to different Tour Operators, send an email/make calls and make your interests known. With the help of our Professional Travel Consultants, we shall tailor-make a perfect trip with memories that will last a lifetime, then you can make payment/deposit for the gorilla safari.
Conclusively, Bwindi Gorillas are one of the main driving forces for travellers to Uganda. Book your gorilla safari to Bwindi to learn about the history of these gorillas, the gorilla groups in the park, the interesting characteristics of Bwindi Gorillas, how treks are conducted, best time for the activity, where to stay after this phenomenal activity, the age limit for gorilla trekking, how permits can be booked and also gorilla filming among other riveting information.