MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN UGANDA
Mountain Gorilla is the major tourist attraction that Uganda depends on most as of now. They are giant genus of primates’ black in colour, the male gorillas have silverbacks up to the hips and normally lead the family. The Gorillas are classified into the Eastern and Western gorillas, Western gorillas are found in the central West Africa countries and Eastern gorillas are also known as MOUNTAIN GORILLAS which almost half of them are found in Uganda and some are found in the DRC near Rwanda boarders.
These gentle giants are so close to human beings almost like humans because they also give birth to young ones like humans, their gestation period is 8.5 month approximately 258.7 days and a life span of 35-40 years though the oldest gorilla is in 50’s. The Male Gorillas weigh up to 140-180kg and female weigh 68-110kg.
These mountain gorillas are found in only two parks Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. They are classified according to groups and families such as:
- MUBARE: This is the oldest gorilla families with 9 members with 1 silverback. It is located in Buhoma in Mubare hills deep in Bwindi Forest and was opened in 1993. It started with 12 members led by a silverback Ruhondeza growing to 18 members in just few years but due to instant fights with the wild animals many died including the Ruhondeza. They remained 5 until in 2014 when 4 members joined including the silverback and now it’s an interesting family.
- HABINYANJA : This is the first visited by tourist in 1999 having 18 members and 2 silverbacks located in Buhoma, got its name from the local word Nyanja referring to swamp in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where were first seen or traced. The family has a lot of drama due to fights from the silverback over leadership which led to split forming a new gorilla family which is joined by those members being rejected from their families and those lonely gorillas. But they retain oneness and don’t fight former members when they meet, the trekking of these gorilla family takes about 3-8 hours and the adult female leader is called KISHO.
- RUSHEGURA: This family has 19 members with 1 silverback in Buhoma area. It was brought together in 2002 after the split of 1 silverback from Habinyanja family and this family started with 12 members including 5 females. It quickly got a name from Ebishegura the abundant tree species in home area of that newly formed family. Rushegura is a very calm family and are always in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and sometimes meander through the Gorillas Forest Camp.
- BITUKURA: This family has 14 members with 4 silverbacks in Ruhija area. It was named after a river where this family was first seen and started in July 2007. Initially the group had 24 members but later split due to conflicts among themselves, some left to other families.
- ORUZOGO: It is the recently opened family for tourists on 20th June 2011 with 23 members with 1 silverback known as TIBIRIKWATA in Ruhija sector. It is the most popular visited family by tourist because the members are playful and energetic juveniles. The only problem in the area where this family is found is that there are few lodging options especially the budget ones.
- NKURINGO: This family has 19 members with 2 silverbacks. Nkuringo means round hills where the group was first seen and was opened in 2004 after habituation process. The 1 silverback Nkuringo died in April 2008, 2 silverbacks Safari and Rafiki remind and Safari took over the leadership of the family. Nkuringo is the toughest family to trek in Uganda.
- NSHONGI: This group has 18 members in Rushaga area. It was opened in September 2009 and got its name after river Nshongi were these gorillas was first sighted. Officially had 36 members and 4 silverbacks, the family was led by Nshongi who was not even old but they lived in peace thus never fought for leadership but later split forming Mishaya family in July 2010 and further more in 2013 split forming the Bweza family and reduced to 18 members. This family is found in a large area where you can see other primates and birds.
- MISHAYA: This family has 7 members with 1 silverback in Rushaga area. In July 2010 decided to leave Nshongi with some female and were joined by other members from other groups up to total of 12 gorillas with 3 infants and known for being a typical fighter but by the end of 2013 the group was 7.
- KAHUNGYE: This family has 13 members with 3 silverbacks in Rushaga area dominated by silverback known as RUMANSI followed by RWIGI and RUHAMUKA. It was opened for tracking gorillas by tourists in 2011 but in less than a year split forming Busingye but before split had 27 members with 3 silverbacks.
- BWEZA: This family had 7 members with 1 silverback in Rushaga area. It is one of the Nshongi group that used to be large but in 2012, Bweza walked away with 6 others members from Mishaya choosing to be independent.
- BUSINGYE: This family has 9 silverback in Rushaga area. This group split from Kahungye in June 2012 Busingye decided to create own family. Locally Busingye means PEACE but is known for his legendary fights. Then in January 2014 the group was 9 members with 3 infants, 2 adult females and others were youth.
- NYAKAGEZI: It is located in Mgahinga area and is the only group in Mgahinga National Park. The family has 10 members with 1 silverback known as Mark and is the one leading the group. Mark likes travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and DRC but are trying to settle on Ugandan side. In 2013 May when new born gorilla came the group increased to 10 members.
These mountain gorillas have some characteristics such as, Mountain Gorillas has large bodies, distinguished by its large skull with a wide face and angular nostrils. They are also distinguished by their long hair which are black in color hence helping them keep warm as they live at the higher altitudes than other gorilla types.
During the tracking of Mountain Gorillas there are some things you have to carry with you such as: A passport and a gorilla permit at the check in point, 2 litred bottle mineral water, packed lunch, some money if it happens you want to buy a T-shirt and other souvenirs, long pants due to the stinging nettles as we move through the bush, walking boots and hiking socks as you put your trousers into the socks to avoid ant bite, the thin hand gloves to prevent stinging nettles and thorns, also carry your cameras without flashes to be with a remembrance since you’re not going to see gorillas always.
After being humbled with this incredible experience we are presented with a tracking certificates as a sign of appreciating and also remembering that moment in life.