Mountain gorillas are descendants of ancestral monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabian continents from the start of Oligocene (24-34 million years ago). They are one of the rare and critically endangered primate species found in the world. It was 9 million years ago that this group of primates later evolved into gorillas, originating from common ancestors with humans and chimps. This is when the genus ‘gorillas’ came up.
The most interesting and unique fact about gorillas is its behavioral resemblance to that of human beings. They are considerably social and live in groups of 2-40 led by the silver back. This is the dominant male who is the chief leader and protector of the entire family. The silverback guides and guards other members from attacks by potential danger, conflicts from other gorillas and other wild animals.
Majority of male gorillas leave their biological groups at around 11 years old, to either form their own group or confront an already established family and take over. The silverback then leads the group to the most ideal spot for feeding and resting throughout the year. A female gorilla gives birth when she turns 10 and off springs every after 4 years.
Most importantly, mountain gorillas share up to 98% of human DNA and just like human beings they can live for as long as 54 years.
In Uganda, gorillas can be trekked in Bwindi impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga gorilla national park, all located in south – western corner of the country on the border with D.R. Congo and Rwanda.
Bwindi National Park is made up of four distinct gorilla regions / sector each with individual families; these include; Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo sectors.
Gorilla families in Buhoma sector
This sector is situated in the northern Part of Bwindi national park, it was the first sector to receive tourists when Gorilla Tracking was first launched in 1993. It happens to be that this sector stands out as the most visited all year round because it is easily accessible and most famous of all other sectors in Bwindi national park. The families in this sector include;
This is the first group to be habituated in the year 1993. Mubare comprises 5 members under the leadership of 1 silverback. The name came from a gorgeous Mubare hill where they were first sighted.
There were 18 members at first and the number kept reducing due to deaths and massive migration. It has turned out to be the smallest gorilla family in Bwindi NP, especially after the demise of its pioneer silverback – Ruhondeza. Some of Mubare family members currently include Kanyonyi – the lead black back, Muyambi, Malaika and Kashundwe.
Habinyanja gorilla family
This comprises of 20 members with 2 silver backs. The name Habinyanja comes from the local name for water – “Nyanja” relating to the fact that the group was first discovered near a swamp.
This group is hard to trek because it moves over a wide range in the forest. Prominent members in this group are, Maraya the blackback,late Mizayo (Was brutally killed by poacher’s traps and spears), Binyonko, Nyabuche, Nyamuhango, Rukundo, Kisho, and Rugyendo the adult females, Kavuyo the sub adult male and Ruyombo the sub adult female, Malaika, Hamusini, Makara, Rwansigazi among others.
Rushegura group family
In the year 2000, Rushegura broke away from Habinyanja with 20 members and 1 silver back called Kabukojo. It is easier to trek this group because it roams around the park headquarters, sometimes coming to the lodges. Among others the members in this family include, mwirima, kabukonjo, kibade, nyamunwa, nyampazi, ruterena, kafuruka, kibade and karungyi, among others.
This is the newest edition to the gorilla family profile of Buhoma sector. Katwe was established in the summer of 2018 after successful habituation by Uganda wildlife authority. Katwe family comprises of 7 members including one silverback (Silverback Katwe), four adult females, three black backs and two infants. The exact number of members of Katwe family is still uncertain as new members keep joining and leaving the group occasionally.
Gorilla families in Rushaga Sector
This sector is situated in the southern part of Bwindi national park between Rubanda and Kisoro Districts. It is the sector with the highest number of habituated families in the park which include,
Nshongi gorilla group
It derives its name from a river close to it where this group was first sighted during habituation; it is the biggest gorilla family ever to be habituated. It currently has 25 members under the leadership of 2 silver backs as the group continues to expand. The members in this group are, Nshongi, Kakono, Bweza, Matama, Busasa, Bwire, Bukojo, Mahoro among others.
Mishaya gorilla group
Mishaya family comprises 12 members and 1 silver back which broke off from Nshongi in 2010 due to the dispute that broke out between competing silverbacks. Among other members include, Bakunzi, Mwiza, Rutaro, Mize, among others.
Please note that Mishaya – the former leader after which the group was named died and when he died, Mwine his son took over.
Kahungye gorilla group
Kahungye has over 13 members with dominant silver back known as Rumansi.
Busingye gorilla family
This is another group in Rushaga sector. The family split from Kahungye gorilla group, under silverback Busingye (peace). The family has 9 members including 3 infants, 5 black backs and 1 sliver backs. Uganda Wildlife Authority is yet to announce all the names of the members in this family.
Bweza gorilla group
With roughly 12 members, this group split up from the original Nshongi because of some simple rivalry. Despite UWA’s speculation last year that the group would reunite with Mishaya, it has remained independent and still open for tracking in the Rushaga area.
Gorilla groups in Ruhija Sector
Ruhija is located in the eastern part of Bwindi impenetrable National Park and can be easily accessed from either Kabale, Buhoma, Kisoro or Kigali. The sector has three gorilla families namely;
Bitukura Gorilla Family.
Bitukura is one of the most peaceful family groups and was 1st habituated in 2017. This Family has a group size of 13 members including 4 silverbacks with dominant silverback, Nduhura the youngest silver back in the park. The members in this family among others are Nduhura, Kakara, Twakire, Ruhara, Betina, Kadogo, Mugisha and Obia.
Oruzogo family Group
Oruzogo family is one of the newly opened families in Ruhija, with its habituation beginning in 2009 and the group was officially opened in 2011. It is till now open for tourists in the Ruhija sector all year round; with a family size of 16 members including 1 silverback (Bakwate). The members include Birungi, Bucura, Otaka, Bwoba, Muteesi, Nyakiina, Kaganga, Katooto, Kanywani, Busungu, Kakobe among others.
Kyaguriro gorilla group
Kyaguriro Gorilla family was first habituated in 1995, but the family was never visited by any tourist because by that time there was no guarantee to secure gorilla permits to trek this group.
Kyaguriro group is often found in the deep jungles of Ruhija sector and it is apparently comprised of 15 members including 2 Silverbacks. Despite its habituation, Kyaguriro Gorilla family does not receive visitors for trekking tours because it was put aside primarily for research and study purposes.
Families in Nkuringo Sector
Nkuringo is in the southern corner of the park in Kisoro district, near the boader with D.R. Congo. Nkuringo comprised of only one gorilla family, until 2018 when the second group, Christams was launched.
Nkuringo group is the original family to settle in this region with 18 members and 2 silver backs. In fact, this is the most exciting group to visit. However, you will need to be physically fit to do trekking in the sector because it is a bit strenuous though worth it. The members in this family among others include Rafiki, Bahati, Karungi, Karibu, Kwesima, Magara, Muhozi, Kiiza and Faraha.
This is the recent gorilla family to be habituated in Bwindi, together with Katwe family in Buhoma. Under the leadership of silverback Christmas, this group broke up from the original Nkuringo group. The group is comprised of 9 members, including one silverback, three female gorillas, one black back and one baby gorilla. Please note the number of gorillas in each group keeps changing because of many factors such as the birth of new babies, death, and migration to other groups, among other factors.