Officially opened in 1999 for tracking, Habinyanja gorilla family is absolutely the second oldest gorilla group to be habituated in Bwindi national park after Mubare. Habituation of Habinyanja began in 1997 and lasted for only 2 years until 1999 when the first group of tourists visited it.
The name Habinyanja derives from a local Kiga dialect “Nyanja” which means a place of water due to a small river within the forest where this family was first sighted.
Habinyanja is an interesting family made up to 18 members, with 1 silverback known as Makara and 1 dominant alpha female, Kisho. Predominantly, Makara is the incumbent head of the group with other members which include Maraya – the black back, Mizayo (who was brutally murdered by poachers), adult females are Nyabuche, Binyonko, Rukundo, Rugyendo and Nyamuhango. Ruyombo is the sub adult female, Kavuyo the sub adult male and Hamusini, Malaika and Elisa are juveniles.
Habinyanja group of Gorillas is among the five habituated gorilla families that can be trekked from Buhoma where one called Binyindo is mainly for research.To reach the starting point, you sometimes need to drive for 30-45 minutes to reach the trail head at Nyamishaba village depending on where they are.
At the time of habituation, Mugurusi which is means “Old man” in Rikiga was the dominant silverback amidst his old age. The most interesting part of this was that at the time of habituation, Mugirusi was commanding a big group of 30 members which is quite big compared to other families whether habituated or not habituated. As time went on, Mugurusi had to pass away because of old age.
This later caused succession disputes as the siblings were fighting for leadership of the family. This was because at the time of Mugurusi’s death, the family had four silverbacks waiting in the cue of who would succeed their father. These silver backs were Rwansigazi which means “The youthful boy”, Mwirima which means “darkness” and then Makara “Charcoal”.
Rwansigazi was supposed to succeed Mugurusi but because at the time of his death Mwirima had equally grown stronger and thus wanted to challenge for family leadership. For several years, Rwansigazi and Mwirima shared power after their father’s death but as time went on, something had to happen.
History has it that because of the differences, these two silverbacks decided to separate and make two Gorilla families depending on the interest of the members.
In 2002, the family had to separate and those members that preferred adventure followed Rwansigazi while those who preferred a small range remained with Mwirima. No fights were report at the time of separation. The group that stayed with Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja while the one that left came to be known as Rushegura.