Gorillas in Uganda
Uganda is the only country in Africa that harbors the highest number of endangered mountain gorillas which are found in Bwindi national park and Mgahinga national park which are located in south western Uganda.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in south western Uganda and is home to half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas population which are found in four gorilla Trekking sectors including Rushaga sector, Ruhija sector, Nkuringo sector, and Buhoma sector.
Rushaga sector located in the southern part of Bwindi national park is one of the sectors which inhabits 8 gorilla families and is the only sector in Bwindi national park with the highest number of habituated gorilla families, they include
- Nshongi family, this family was habituated in 2006 and at a time of habituation, it was the largest family with 36 members and led by Nshongi silverback. Nshongi group derives its name from a river where the rangers first sighted the group. The family now consists of 7 members after one of the silverbacks Nshongi split with 10 members to form his own family.
- Mishaya family, this group split from Nshongi where by Mishaya silverback left with 10 members to form his own family. Mishaya died in 2014 at the age of 28 years and was known for fighting other groups in order to grab more females to his group which made him stronger. Mishaya family is now led by Mwine silverback and consists of 12 members.
- Kahungye family, this group was open for gorilla trekking in 2011 and after habituation, it was comprised of 27 members with Rumansizi silverback as the leader followed by Gwigi. Later on, Busingye silverback split off with some members to form his own group. Kahungye group derives its name from the hills in Rushaga sector where it was first sighted and now it consists of 17 members and is dominated by Ruhamuka silverback.
- Busingye family, this group split off from Kahungye family in 2012 and is named after the dominating silverback Busingye who is popularly known for fighting fellow gorillas so as to take more members to his group. Busingye is a local word which means peace hence that’s where it derived its name. The family is comprised of 9 members with one silverback Busingye as the leader of the group.
- Bweza family, this gorilla group also spilt from Nshongi family due to increased rivalry in 2012; bweza family is comprised of 12 members and is dominated by Kakono silverback.
- Bikyingi family, the group derives its name from a dominant silverback Bikyingi and the group consists of 15 members.
- Rwigi family, this is a newly habituated gorilla family in the Rushaga sector that split off from Kahungye family. It consists of 6 members including 3 adult females, 2 juveniles, one baby and one silverback Rwigi who leads the family.
- Mucunguzi family, the group was named after the dominant silverback Mucunguzi and the word means savior. It was split from the Bweza family after a fight and Mucunguzi was the third and youngest silverback in Bweza family. Mucunguzi family is comprised of 8 members.
Rushaga sector has the highest number of gorilla families which means more gorilla trekking permits available on a daily basis for visitors who want to trek gorillas in the Rushaga sector. You will surely enjoy the visit to Rushaga as you encounter Gorillas in Africa.
Buhoma sector is situated in the northern part of Bwindi impenetrable national park in Kanungu district and is one of the most visited gorilla trekking sectors due to easy accessibility and connectivity to other sectors like Nkuringo and destinations like Queen Elizabeth national park. Buhoma sector is a home of four habituated gorilla families which include
- Mubare family, this was the first gorilla family to be habituated in 1993 and is the oldest family in Bwindi national park. Mubare group is easy to track as compared to other groups, consists of 9 members and is led by an alpha silverback Kanyonyi.
- Rushegura family, this group split from Habinyanga family and was open for trekking in 2000. The group lives near the park headquarters hence can be easily trekked by visitors who don’t like long hikes. Rushegura family is comprised of 21 members and is known as a calm, peaceful and welcoming family in Buhoma sector.
- Habinyanja family, this family was habituated in 1997 and opened for trekking in 1999. It derives its name from Nyanja a swamp where it was first discovered. The group was first led by Mugurusi who later died followed by his two son’s Mwirima and Rwansigazi who later separated in 2002. Habinyanja family is now dominated by Makara silverback and consists of 17 members.
- Katwe family, this is a new habituated family in Buhoma sector to increase on the number of gorillas trekking habits in Bwindi national park. Katwe members keep moving in and out of the group hence the exact number of individuals is not well known but currently, it is comprised of 10 members.
Buhoma offers 32 gorilla trekking permits daily to visitors due to the 4 habituated gorilla families found in the sector, the permits are available for visitors who want to trek gorillas in Buhoma sector and should be booked in advance because they are competitive and Buhoma is the most visited sector in Bwindi Impenetrable national park.
Ruhija sector is situated in the eastern part of Bwindi impenetrable national park and inhabits four habituated gorilla families available for gorilla trekking on a daily basis including
- Oruzogo family, this group was open for trekking in 2011 and has the biggest number of gorillas in the Ruhija sector. It derives its name from the plant species near its home range where it was first sighted. The group consists of 17 members and is dominated by Tibirikwata silverback. The family had twins in 2013 by Kankonda female and it’s famous for its joyful and playful family members who entertain the visitors.
- Bitukura family, the group was habituated in 2007 and opened for trekking in 2008 hence habituated for one and a half years compared to other families which are habituated for two years. It derives its name from the river where it was firsts sighted and is comprised of 14 members with 4 silverbacks and is dominated by one of the second youngest silverback Ndahura. Bitukura family is the most peaceful group in Bwindi national park for trekking.
- Kyaguriro group, the group was habituated in 1999 but was reserved for research. It was first led by Rukina silverback who was later struck by lightning in 2015 and the group was then dominated by an immature silverback Mukiza in 2016. The group was later split into two after a fight which are Kyaguriro A which is led by Rukara an immature silverback from Bitukura and is composed of 10 members.
- Kyaguriro B which is also known as Mukiza because it’s dominated by Mukiza silverback. Kyaguriro B was split from Kyaguriro A and consists of 10 members including 4 adult females, one sub-adult female, 4 infants and is led by mukiza silverback.
Ruhija sector is a home of 4 habituated gorilla families hence there are 32 available gorilla trekking permits for visitors who want to trek gorillas in Ruhija sector.
Nkuringo sector is situated in the southern region of Bwindi national park north of Kisoro town and is a home of three habituated gorilla families namely
- Nkuringo family, this was the first group to be habituated in Nkuringo sector in 1997 and opened for trekking in 2014 and the name Nkuringo means hills where it was first sighted. The group is neighboured by Nshongi family in Rushaga sector and is one of the interesting gorilla families in Bwindi national park. Nkuringo family is comprised of 12 members and is led by Rafiki silverback; the name is a Swahili word which means friend.
- Bushaho family, this was the first gorilla family to give birth to twins in Nkuringo sector and is known for foraging outside the national park most of the times. Bushaho family got some of its members from Nkuringo family and is now comprised of 8 members with Bahati silverback as the leader of the family.
- Christmas family, this was the third family to be habituated in Nkuringo sector and is the newest family for gorilla trekking in Nkuringo sector Bwindi national park. The group is dominated by Christmas a silverback who was born on Christmas day. Christmas family is comprised of 9 members but only 6 are seen during gorilla trekking.
Nkuringo sector harbours 3 habituated gorilla families hence has 24 available gorilla trekking permits for visitors to trek the gorillas on a daily basis.
Rushaga is the only sector in Bwindi national park where gorilla habituation process takes place. Gorilla habituation is the process whereby the mountain gorillas are trained to get used to the human presence for trekking. There is one gorilla family in Rushaga known as Kutu family which is going through the habituation process which takes place for 2 years and allows a maximum of 4 visitors to engage in the habituation process.
Mgahinga national park is another destination in Uganda which harbours the endangered mountain gorillas. Mgahinga national park is one of the small national parks in Uganda, it’s located in south western Uganda bordering Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga national park is a home of about 100 gorillas and has one habituated gorilla family Nyakagezi which is available for trekking on a daily basis allowing a maximum number of 8 people and will spend one hour with the gorilla family.
- Nyakagezi family used to cross to Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park in the past hence making trekking difficult in that visitors were afraid of buying a gorilla permit and not seeing the gorilla family but the family is currently settled in Mgahinga national park and is available for trekking on a daily basis.
Mgahinga national park gives you the best gorilla trekking experience in that it has one habituated gorilla family hence no gorilla crowds because the park only allows a maximum of 8 people.
Gorilla Trekking Age Restriction
Gorilla trekking age restriction. Gorilla trekking age restriction is in place to have persons below an age which they cannot take part in gorilla trekking. Gorilla trekking is an activity that involves hiking deep into the rainforest jungles of Africa in search of the gorillas, mountain gorillas to be exact. Mountain gorillas can be found in only 3 countries including Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In these countries are 4 gorilla destinations that travelers can visit for gorilla trekking adventures; these 4 gorilla destinations include Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda.
Up until 2018, mountain gorillas were considered critically endangered. Given the amazing conservation efforts of various government bodies and conservationists, the mountain gorillas were declared only endangered, with a population of about 1,063 mountain gorillas in the 4 destinations. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park inhabits more than half of the world mountain gorilla destination with the rest shared by the rest of the 3 gorilla destinations of Virunga National park, Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
To uphold the conservation efforts of the different stakeholders, there are a number of gorilla rules that are in place to protect the mountain gorillas as well as the tourists or visitors who visit the gorillas.
One of the many gorilla trekking rules and guidelines to follow include that persons below the age of 15 cannot do gorilla trekking. This gorilla trekking age restriction is in place for many reasons, including;
- Mountain gorillas are very susceptible to human illness given that mountain gorillas share a 98% DNA with humans. To protect the gorillas from such illnesses therefore, children below the age of 15 are not allowed to track gorillas, as the children are most to carry infections like cough and other childhood killer diseases.
- Persons below the age of 15 are also quite unpredictable in nature and behaviour, especially their reaction towards encountering the mountain gorillas. Children below the age of 15 could scream out of fear or excitement, resulting into discomforting the gorillas that may end up charging at the trekkers. Also during the trek, children could also make unnecessary noises and gestures that would be wrongly interrupted by the gorillas and stress them, thus charging at the gorillas.
- Mountain gorilla trekking is a strenuous activity that entails long hikes through dense forests and the different terrains. Persons under the age of 15 are highly considered unfit to complete the trek successfully given the extent of the strain. To protect the children therefore, gorilla trekking for persons below 15 years is not possible.
However, there have been instances where persons below 15 years are allowed to trek mountain gorillas; this is a rare occurrence however. For this to play out, parents or legal guardians of the children in question looking to do gorilla trekking. Children almost the age of 15 could be considered for trekking given the permission of parents or legal guardian. Legal guardians and parents are to sign a disclaimer that should anything happen to the child during the trek, the park officials are not liable.
Should your 15 year old, more or less be given a chance to do gorilla trekking, there is a choice to hire porters that could help with a push or pull, or even sedan chairs bamboo stretchers that can be used to carry the children all throughout the trek. While hiring porters can be done while at the park headquarters after briefing, booking for sedan chairs is to be done in advance due to high demand.
Gorilla trekking age restriction is only for persons below the age of 15, and thus no limit to how much older one is, for as long as the travelers can manage the hike or opt for use of sedan chairs that have been in use even for persons with limited mobility. Persons of even 100 years have been known to be able to do mountain gorilla trekking, say the former Attorney General of Kenya, General Charles Njonjo who did gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
To take part in gorilla trekking, one needs to acquire a gorilla trekking permit. A gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is currently at 700$ per person, while in Rwanda it is 1,500$ per person and only 400$ per person in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gorilla trekking permits must be booked in advance.
As you look to plan your gorilla trekking safari, with possibilities of having your 14/15 year old tracking with you, get in touch with a reputable tour operator to help you pitch an amazing gorilla trekking safari.