Gorillas in Bwindi Southern Sector
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi's Southern Sector
The Gorillas in Bwindi Southern Sector is mostly preferred by seasoned travellers, photographers & those that want the Bwindi challenging jungle hiking experience. The Bwindi southern sector is further subdivided into two trail heads; Rushaga and Nkuringo trail heads. Nkuringo trail head leads you to 3 habituated gorilla groups (24 gorilla permits available per day) and Rushaga trail head leads you into the jungle to one of the 6 habituated gorilla families (48 gorilla permits available per day) and 2 semi habituated gorilla groups with one available for a 4 hour Gorilla Habituation Experience.
Nkuringo trail head is about a 5 minute walk from the lodge and Rushaga trail head is about 45 minutes drive from Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge. You should know that tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi's southern sector is physically demanding due to its jugged terrain. So challenge yourself to some physical exercising before you head to Nkuringo-Rushaga.
3 GORILLA GROUPS, 24 GORILLA PERMITS PER DAY
Gorilla tourism started in Nkuringo in April 2004 after the habituation of the group that started in 1996. The group ranges to the Kashasha river valley below the Nteko ridge and was often to be found foraging in close proximity to the indigenous populations outside the park. This was regarded as being detrimental to the health and well-being of the animals as they became premonitory crop raiders devastating banana plantations, feeding on eucalyptus and sweet potato.
Rangers from the Human Gorilla Conflict Force were tasked to chase the group back into the park on an all too regular basis. It was decided in the best interests of both the animals and villagers well-being that the International Gorilla Conservation purchase a 12 Kilometre (7.5 miles) long and 350 metre wide strip of public land along the river to create a buffer zone adjacent to the national park, where planned land usage would not be appealing to the gorillas encouraging them to remain within the park.
Kwitonda gave birth to twins on 1st November 2008 one of which passed away at 2 years. In November 2009 came the exciting development of a yet another baby being born to Mama Xmas named Kiiza. The group currently includes 16 animals after the loss of one of the twins and the silverback Bahati leaving the group in July 2011: Bahati went ahead as started his own family of Gorillas, which is the today Bushaho Gorilla family and Christmas, who was mama Xmas’s baby in 2009 is leading his own family of Gorillas called Christmas group – all tracked from Nkuringo Headquarters.
The Nkuringo Group became famous for its photographic nature—the gorillas always moved from the thick misty Bwindi Jungle to the Buffer zone which was mostly their feeding grounds.
Trackers would walk down the Kashasha Valley and there were the most beautiful family of Gorillas waiting. Each tracker returned with the most amazing photos of this group and the Nkuringo Gorilla Group became famous so did our business get rooted to the company we have become today. We enjoy each day seeing grins on the faces of guests that stay with us at Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge as they are filled with joy as the flip through the images of their gorilla trek.
The Nkuringo Gorilla Group was led by the gentle Silverback named Nkuringo. He led the group till 2012 when he died at the age of 45 years. Nkuringo left the group with 3 Silverbacks, Safari, Rafiki and Christmas and the brothers kept together as Safari led the group. Safari disappeared after the gorilla group encountered another family; Bushaho Gorilla group and till this day, no one knows what happened to Safari – and that’s when Rafiki took over the family and has gracefully led the group till his demise on June 1, 2020.
Rafiki is a Swahili word that means “friend” and indeed he was a friendly Gorilla and valued family member; even when his brother Christmas left the group to start his own group, at times you would find Christmas return and be part of the Nkuringo group – like that prodigal son, Rafiki always let his brother return home.
Current Nkuringo Group Members include:
- Rwamutwe (Dominant blackback) — One with a big ego, the new leader of the group
- Tabu (Second in command blackback) — One who brings problems to family
- Kwitonda (Adult Female) — The humble one
- Kuhirwa (Adult Female, just given birth) — The Lucky one
- Furaha (Adult Female, just given birth) — The happy one
- Kiiza (Adult Female) — One who follows the twins
- Nderema (Adult Female) — One who fails to take care of self
- Kamara (Blackback) — The dispute settler
- Muhoozi (Blackback) — The tax collector
- Guma (Juvenile) — Be strong
- Owamani (Juvenile) — One with strength
- Unnamed infant
- Unnamed infant
Mama Christmas (Adult Female) — has left the group to join her son (Christmas)’s leadership nearby.
6 GORILLA GROUPS, 48 GORILLA PERMITS ISSUED PER DAY
Gorilla tourism started at Rushaga some 17 km from our Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge in April 2009. The habituation of the group had started only 2 years earlier where very quickly this the largest group ever habituated by Uganda Wildlife Authority and led by the alpha male Nshongi provided opportunity for the first tourist visits in April 2009. The official opening of the group was celebrated in September 2009 with an all star list of celebrity visitors and festivities in the locality of Rushaga and at UWA headquarters in Kampala. Visitors to these groups are welcomed at the Rushaga visitors centre within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where they report on the morning of tracking for breifing before being guided into the forest by professional trackers and guide.
The Nshongi group split in 2010 where the sub-ordinate silverback Mishaya separated taking females and infants to establish his own group of 13 gorillas. Another Alpha male Bweza also went ahead to spilt from the Nshongi group to start his own group The Bweza group.
Kahungye and Busingye Gorilla Groups
The Kahungye group is located on the south side of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and tracked from the Rushaga visitors centre. The groups feeding territory stretches from the edge of the forest close to the town of Rubuguri and overlaps with that of Mishaya and the Nkuringo group.
The group at this time comprises 28 gorillas where there are 3 Silverbacks within the group. The group appeared to be on the verge of splitting into two group where the sub-ordinate gorilla to the Alpha Male also has his own family The Busingye group within this larger unit. The two groups are often found feeding together as one unit every now and then.
Gorilla Habituation Experience
4 HOURS WITH GORILLAS, 4 PERMITS ISSUED PER DAY AT US$1,500/PERSON
Gorilla Habituation Experience in Rushaga
Introduced in 2015 and available for a very limited duration of only 2-3 years, the gorilla habituation experience in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is only done in Rushaga southern sector and currently only a single gorilla group is available for the experience with only 4 gorilla habituation permits issued out per day. Another new group is under observation and once the Bikingye Gorilla family is semi-habituated this will be opened for the Habituation Experience.
In order to become habituated to the presence of tourists, each gorilla group has undergone an extremely delicate process, lasting around five years, gradually getting accustomed to the presence of humans. Park rangers start off by spending a short period of time with the gorillas every day, at a certain distance that represents the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone. As the years go by, they gradually increase the time and reduce the distance until they deem the gorillas ready for paying clients to visit them.
The gorilla habituation experience for the first time allows paying clients to participate in this process. It is limited to two gorilla families in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bikingye and Bushaho, in the Rushaga sector of the park. Due to the steep terrain, dense vegetation and high altitudes a high level of fitness is required.
The cost for gorilla habituation experience permit is US$1,500 per person.