Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable national park

What is the history of Bwindi Impenetrable national park?

Located in the south western part of Uganda on the rim of the Rift valley, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s most ancient wildlife habitats dating to over 25000 years ago. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was first in 1932 divided into two blocks and designated as north and south crown forest reserves. The northern block was designated as the “Kayonza Crown Forest Reserve”, and the southern block designated as the “Kasatora Crown Forest Reserve” on an area of over 207 square kilometers. These reserves were later enlarged and combined covering an area of 298 square kilometers and in the year 1942 was gazette as Bwindi Impenetrable Forest reserve. In 1964 mountain gorillas were spotted in the forest reserve thus the area was designated as an animal sanctuary and was under the joint control of the Ugandan government’s game and forest departments.

In 1992 Bwindi Impenetrable forest reserve was designated as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and It covers area of over 321 square kilometers and an altitude of over 1160 meters to 2607 meters above sea level. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was later in 1994 recognized as a World Heritage Site in Uganda by UNESCO. The park is now under the control of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

How to access Bwindi Impenetrable national Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south western Uganda is over 501 kilometers from the capital Kampala and can be accessed either by road or by air. It was previously a bit difficult to get to Bwindi. It would take at least two full days of travel there. Due to the improved road networks and a developed domestic air transport, it is now relatively easier and fast.

The fastest way to get to the park is by air transport. The domestic flights take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on which part of the park are the tourists traveling to. The tourists travelling to the northern part of the park to the trails of Buhoma or Ruhija, Kihihi airstrip is the closest but Kayonza airstrip is also an alternative. Tourists travelling to the southern trails of Rushaga and Nkuringo, Kisoro is the best alternative to fly to. The total duration of the flights is generally around 2 hours, which are then followed by a short drive of around 1.5-2 hours.

Traveling by road takes approximately 9 hours to 10 hours from the capital Kampala which is much longer compared to traveling by air. Road travel routes give you an opportunity to have fantastic sceneries of the country side through driving and opportunity to stop at the equator which is 0 degrees’ latitude. Driving gives tourists, a better understanding of Uganda as a country and the different cultures and foods in different places they pass. All road routes to the park converge at the town of Butogota and thereafter a 16 kilometers drive to the entrance gate at Buhoma.

What is the major tourist attraction in Bwindi?

The major attraction in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are the mountain gorillas. Bwindi is home to over 500 individual gorillas more than half of the entire world gorilla population. The other half being in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in DRC. Gorillas live in groups known as families headed by one adult male called a silverback. Uganda has over 50 gorilla families and 13 individuals live solitary. There are bout 19 families habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. These can be seen by tourists in four tracking sectors and these are Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.

Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable national park

Mubare Gorilla Family

This family is one of the oldest families located in Buhoma sector and it consists of 10 gorilla individuals with one silverback. Mubare gorilla family was habituated in 1998 in Mubare hills. It started with 12 individuals led by one silverback Ruhondeza but later grew to 18 individuals. This family lost many individuals due to fights with other gorilla families which also led to the death of Ruhondeza. In March 2013 the Mubare gorilla family had only 5 individuals. But it has now increased to 11 individuals. Mubare gorilla family has 6 adult gorillas, 1 teenager, 3 toddlers and 1 silverback Kanyonyi.

Habinyanja Gorilla Family

This family is located in the Buhoma sector and consists of 17 individuals with one silverback. Habinyanja family had over 25 individuals with several males. This led to fights for dominancy between the males. These fights led to the splitting of this big family into two families that is Habinyanja family and the creation of Rushegura family.

Habinyanja family got its name from ‘’Nyanja’’ which means source of water in the local language Rukiga because it was first sighted near a swamp pond in Bwindi in 1997. Later in the year 1999, it was visited and trekked for the first time by tourists. This family has 17 individuals that include 1 blackback, 5 adult females, 1 sub-adult, 3 juveniles and 6 infants. This family is under the leadership of Makara the silverback.

Rushegura Gorilla Family

This family is located in the Buhoma region. It broke away from the Habinyanja family and it has 19 individuals which are led by one strong silverback Mwirima. This family came into existence after breaking off from the Habinyanja family which had over 25 gorilla individuals but split because of internal conflicts between the silverbacks.

Rushegura gorilla family came together in 2002 with 12 individuals including 5 females. This family got its name from the local language “Ebishegura” that means a tree species that was abundant in the home area of the new family. In 2010 the Rushegura family increased from 12 to 19 individuals led by the calm silverback Mwirima a brother to Rwansigazi a former silverback of the Habinyanja family. This family is considered as the calmest family in Bwindi due to interaction with the villages nearby and in the forest camps.

Bitukura Gorilla Family

Located in the Ruhija sector, Bitukura family is one of the peaceful and playful gorilla families in Bwindi which makes it easier to relate with. This family once had over 24 members but because of internal disputes some individuals chose to willingly leave. This family now has 13 individuals that is 5 silverbacks, 4 adult females, 2 juveniles and 3 infants and was first habituated in July 2007. This process of habituation was shorter about 15 months compared to other families that take 2 years.

Bitukura gorilla family got its name from the river they were first spotted and it shares a close bond with the Kyaguriro family. Bitukura family has 4 silverbacks but it is led by the second youngest silverback Ndahura. Ndahura inherited power from Karumanzi who is aged and can’t defend the family.

Kyaguriro Gorilla Family

This family consists of 15 individuals including 2 silverbacks and it is located in the Ruhija sector. This was habituated in 1995 and it is the most treasured family group because it is reserved for research. This family was led by Rukina a silverback but unfortunately on 7th April 2015 at the age of 31 he was struck by lightning and died. He was replaced by a younger silverback Mukiza but due to his inexperience, he was over thrown and banished from the family by an immigrating adult silverback Rukara.

Mukiza Gorilla Family

Named after its silverback, Mukiza gorilla family is located in the Ruhija region and it consists of 10 individuals that is 4 adult females, 1 sub-adult, 4 infants and led by Mukiza the silverback. This was formed after Mukiza the silverback from the Kyaguriro family was over thrown and banished by an immigrating adult silverback Rukara from the Bitukura family. Mukiza broke off from the Kyaguriro family with a sizeable number of its individuals and started the Mukiza gorilla family.

Katwe Gorilla Family

Katwe Gorilla Family is located in the Buhoma sector in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It comprises of 9 individuals that is 1 silverback, 2 black backs, 4 adult females, and 2 infants. It is the newest habituated gorilla family having gone about 3 years of habituation. In August of 2018, Katwe gorilla family was opened for regular trekking.

Oruzogo Gorilla Family

This family is located in the Ruhija region of Bwindi and it consists of 25 individuals who are led by Tibirikwata the silverback. It was recently found by Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2011 and is the second habituated gorilla family in Ruhija sector. Oruzogo gorilla family got its name from the ‘Alchornea hitela’ a vegetation they often forage and feed on and it is known locally as ‘Oruzogo’. In 2011 the eldest females in the Oruzogo family Ntumurungi and Musi gave birth and later in 2013 Kankoba also gave birth to twins hence the large number of individuals in this family.

The Oruzogo family is one of the popular visited families by tourists in Bwindi not just because of the size but also the playful character and energetic juveniles and toddlers in the group.

Nkuringo Gorilla Family

Nkuringo gorilla family is located is the Nkuringo region of Bwindi and it consists of 11 individuals. It got its name from a local word ‘nkuringo’ meaning ‘round hill’. It Is a word from the Rukiga language, referring to the hill where the group was first sighted. In 1997 this family once had 17 individuals and it was the first gorilla family to be habituated in the entire south of Bwindi after the 2year habituation process. They were first habituated because they kept wandering into people’s farms and destroying their food.

The alpha silverback was also named Nkuringo but he died in April 2004. Leadership of the family was shared for a short period between two silverbacks, Rafiki and Safari but later Safari became the alpha in November of 2014. The family was later gifted with a set of twins Muhoozi and Katungi but unfortunately Katungi succumbed to illness before the age of 2 years.

A very unfortunately incident happened on June 1, 2020 when poachers killed the famous 25-year old Rafiki gorilla silverback. A month after the death of Rafiki, the family stabilized with 11 individuals under the leadership of the new silverback Rwamutwe.

Bushaho Gorilla Family

Bushaho Gorilla Family is located in the Nkuringo region of Bwindi and it consists of 9 individuals including the silverback Bahati. This family was formed after it broke off from the Nkuringo family in 2012 with the silverback Bahati leading out a sizeable number of individuals to a parallel family.

This family was later habituated and named BUshaho the topo name of the locals where the family forages most after close monitoring of the behavior of the new parallel family.

Nshongi Gorilla Family

Nshongi gorilla family comprises of 10 individuals and is headed by Nshongi the silverback and it is located in the Rushaga region of Bwindi. It was the largest group ever habituated with about 32 gorilla individuals in September 2009 and had over 4 silverbacks that lived in harmony and were led by Nshongi. This family was named after the river Nshongi, where the gorilla family was first sighted.

This massive family later in July 2010 split into two families that is Mishaya and Bweza gorilla families and it remained with only 10 individuals.

Mishaya Gorilla Family

Mishaya gorilla family was formed after the silverback Mishaya decided to leave the Nshongi Gorilla family in July 2010 with some females and started his own family. It consists of 12 individuals with Mishaya as the silverback and it is located in the Rushaga region of Bwindi impenetrable national park. This family group was able to grow because Mishaya the silverback was a typical fighter and was able to gather more females from other non-habituated groups in the region. Unfortunately, Mishaya the silverback died due to an obstruction of the intestinal gut on 3rd February, 2014. This led to the scattering of the remaining family individuals because they didn’t have any older male to lead them. Some of the individuals ended up joining Bweza family while others joined Bikingi family.

Bweza Gorilla Family

Bweza Gorilla Family is located in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi and is habituated with 12 individual gorillas with Bweza being the silverback. This family was formed as a result of a spilt from Nshongi family that used to be the largest ever habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. When Mishaya the silverback split from the large family of Nshongi, Bweza another silverback together with other females had left with him. When it was coming to the end of 2012 Bweza left with about 6 other members from the Mishaya Gorilla Group. It was later in 2013 introduced for tracking and since 2014 tourist have been trekking the Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable park for this family.

Bikingi Gorilla Family

Located in the Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bikingi gorilla family is a family that was first habituated in 2012 as a follow up to the dispersing individuals of the Mishaya family. It has 15 individuals that is 1 silverback, 5 adult females, 2 sub-adults, 2 juveniles and 5 infants. Some of the individuals of Mishaya had joined this family and other non-habituated members. It was later-on declared for habituation to keep close monitoring of the formerly habituated members.

Kahungye Gorilla Family

The gorillas from the Kahungye gorilla family where first sighted at a Kahungye hill in Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park hence the name ‘Kahungye’ gorilla family. This family has 17 individuals that is 3 silverbacks, 3 black backs, 3 adult females, 3 sub-adult, 3 juveniles and two infants. This family is led by Rumanzi a prestigious silverback.

In 2011 this family was opened for visitors and gorilla tracking but it then consisted of 29 individuals including 3 silverbacks. This family later split due to internal conflicts between the males over mating rights and leadership thus creating the Busingye gorilla family.

Busingye Gorilla Family

Busingye gorilla group broke away from Kahungye Family back in June 2012 after the silverback Busingye choose to be independent and create his own family. This family consists of 9 individuals that is 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 1 juvenile and 4 infants and it is led by Busingye the silverback. This family gets its name from the local word ‘Busingye’ which means ‘peace’. This family is rarely seen at the park edge since it is fondly known for foraging within the forest center.

Busingye the silverback is known for ruthless conquering of females from other families and he is also known as a legendary fighter.

Rwigi Gorilla Family

Rwigi gorilla family is a newly habituated gorilla family in Rushaga sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It has recently been announced and opened as the new gorilla family for trekking. It has 10 individuals and was a formed as a result of a break away from Kahungye gorilla family. It is led by Rwigi the silverback who formerly one of the three dominant silverbacks in Kahungye gorilla family.

This family was also formed as a result of a split up by the silverback Rwigi with some adult females and juveniles from Kahungye family who decided to start their own family.

Other attractions in Bwindi – Beyond the Gorillas 


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