Gorilla habituation is the process through which a Gorilla family gets used to human existence. The process could take a period of time ranging from 2 to 3 years, undertaken by a group or team of researchers who select a particular Gorilla group, which they visit on a daily basis until they are certain that it is used to their visits. When the researchers are certain that the Gorilla group is used to their existence, they embark on conducting a mock tracking trips which last about 6 to 8 months. During the mock exercise trips, the Gorillas are then identified by the researchers; by Sex,age and also given individual names, well as the group as a whole. The habituation process has been a long term useful tool for researchers, to learn about feeding ecology and social behavior of the endangered species; well as providing daily protection and health monitoring due to the daily tracking encounter of the humans. Mountain Gorillas exist in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda Mountain Gorillas live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park, Southwest region, in the districts of Kanungu and Kisoro respectively; Rwanda Gorilla’s are found in Volcanoes National Park, North region; and the Democratic Republic of Congo having its Mountain Gorillas at Virunga National Park.
GORILLA HABITUATION IN UGANDA
In Uganda, habituation of gorillas began as early as 1993, with the first habituated Group, Mubare, in Buhoma area, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The park is primarily home to about 400 Mountain Gorilla individuals, which is literally almost half of the World’s total Mountain Gorilla population of about 880 individuals. The park is situated in the South Western Region of Uganda, in Kanungu District, covering an area of about 331Km². For those who undertake Gorilla safaris in Uganda, they get a chance to trek one of the 12 habituated Gorilla groups, which are scattered in four regions within the park. The regions include Buhoma, which is near the northern boundary of the Park; Ruhija near the Eastern Boundary of the Park; Rushaga near the Southern Boundary of the park; and Nkuringo near the South west boundary of the park.
The first habituated group in Uganda, Mubare, which was habituated in 1993 at Buhoma area, had 12 members at the time of habituation; with one lead silverback, Ruhondeza. Habituation of the group started on the 15th October in 1991 and was ready to be visited by Tourists on the 13th October 1993. Its population went on increasing, and by 1996, it had 18 memebers, 6 joining from other groups after the lead silver back seduced them to join his group, the Mubare group.Ruhondeza was so protective over his group from other Mountain Gorilla’s, and was friendly to humans. He allowed human beings to visit his family and did not react in an aggressive way towards them. It is believed that if it was not for Ruhondeza’s friendliness towards humans, Gorilla tracking safariswould not exist up to date. The Gorilla group currently has about 5memebers, with one lead silverback, Kanyonyi.
In 1995, a gorilla group known as Kyagurilo, was put under close monitoring by researchers and primatologists, a research effort made by the Institute of Tropical Forest conservation, in order to learn more about the endangered species, from social behavior to feeding ecology. However, due to the high poaching which was on going during that time, four of the group’s members were killed. The group had had a total of about 19 members. By 2010, the number had reduced further to 10 members. However, due to gorilla conservation effort by the Uganda Wildlife Authority along foreign help from organizations such as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, poaching activities on the endangered species were put at a stop, seeing gorilla groups such as Kyagurilo having an increase in the number of members. Kyagurilo currently has 18 members.
The second phase of Mountain Gorilla habituation happened in 1997, with the habituation of Habinyanja Gorilla Group.It was named Habinyanja because it was discovered near a swamp (Nyanja). At the time of habituation, the group had 25 memebers a lead silverback known as Mugurusi, which literally means ‘Old Man’. The silverback was named Mugurusi due to its old age. The group was habituated in Buhoma area. When Mugurusi died, his 3 sons, Rwansigazi (youthboy), Mwirima (darkness) and Makara (charcoal); battled for the leadership spot.However, for years, Rwansigazi and Mwirima shared leadership, and eventually,Mwirima became the lead silverback after Rwansigazi left the group to start up his own.
Later, still in 1997, in order to expand Gorilla safaris in Uganda and improve the conservation efforts in other areas of the park;it was decided that habituation of the endangered species is done in other areas of the park.Nkuringo area was chosen, with the habituation of another Gorilla group, Nkuringo Gorilla Group. However, the group was opened for tourism in 2004, after improving on the infrastructure of the area. Due to an increase in the number of undertakers of Gorilla tracking Safaris, more Gorilla groups were habituated, of Bitukura and Nshongi, in 2006. They were open for tracking later in 2008, situated in areas of Ruhija and Rushaga respectively. After the 2006 Gorilla census in Uganda, it was discovered that Nshongi group had the most members, of up to 30. However, in 2010, the group reduced to 8 members, as a result of conflict between silverbacksMishaya and Bweza.Mishaya left the group and took with him 8 other members.Bweza also left the group, taking with him 9 members.
BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has 12 habituated groups, with only one put under research by primatologists. They include Kahungye, Mubare, Rushegura, Busingye, Nkuringo, Habinyanja, Oruzogo, Bitukura, Mishaya, Nshongi, Bweza and Kyaguriro.
The social mountain gorilla groups are scattered in areas of Buhoma which is near the northern boundary of the Park; Ruhija near the Eastern Boundary of the Park; Rushaga near the Southern Boundary of the park; and Nkuringo near the South west boundary of the park.
Rushegura (19 members 1 silverback)
The group Started with 12 individuals in 2002, of which 5 were females. The name is derived from a Rukiiga word ‘ebishegura’, a dominat tree species found where the group lives. The has Mwirima as the a dominant silverback
Habinyanja (17 members 1 silverback)
The name is derived from a Bantu word ‘Nyanja’ meaning Lake. It’s named after the swamp where the group was first sighted in 1999. The dominant female is known as Kisho.
Mubare (12members 1 silverback)
This is the oldest group in Uganda. It was found in Mubare hills hence the name Mubare; and was habituated in 1993. It’s led by the dominant silverback, Ruhondeza. It once had 18 members, but the reduction of the group number was caused by death of some members due to territorial fights, and others migrating to other groups.
Bitukura (14members 4silverbacks)
The group is named after the river where it was first sighted. Its habituation started in July 2007 and after 15months it was visited by tourists. The dominant silverback is Ndahura who is the second Youngest amongst the adult silverbacks. The dominat female is Ruhara.
Oruzongo (23members 2silverbacks)
Led by a silverback Tibirikwata, the group become open to visitors in 2011. The dominant female is Ntamurungi.
Kyaguriro (19members 2silverbacks)
This group has been closely watched by researchers, primatologists learning closely much about Mountain gorillas social lives, behaviors and many other things, so as to understand one of Human beings closest relative, the Mountain Gorillas. The group is led by a silverback Rukina.
Nshongi (6memebers 1silverback)
It was the largest group habituated in the park. It was named after river Nshongi which is near where they were first seen in 2009. Nshongi is derived from a Runyankole word, OmushongiGwoboki which literally means Honey. Initially, the group had 25members, 2 silverbacks inclusive. However, it split in 2011 forming Mishaya and Bweza. The dominant silverback is Nshongi
Bweza (11members 1silverback)
The members were once part of the Nshongi group. In 2010 July, Silverback Bweza left the Nshongi group to start his own. He left with 6 other members to form the Bweza group. The group was open for tracking in 2012.
Mishaya (12members 1silverback)
The group was once part of the Nshongi group, in 2011 april, it departed with Nshongi with the influence of the lead silverback Mishaya. He however acquired several injuries during the fights that forced him to start up his own groups. The injuries were treated by veterans from the Mount Gorilla veterinary Project.
Kahungye (13members 3silverbacks)
The dominant silverback is Rwigi followed by 2 old gorillas Rumansi and Ruhamuka. The group once consisted of 27 members before some members split to form the Busingye group. It was open for tracking in 2011.
Busingye (9members 1silverback)
The group was formed after breaking away from Kahungye group. The formation of busingye was influenced by the dominant silverback Busingye. Busingye means peace. He is known for legendary fights with other gorilla silverbacks and grabbing female from other groups to join his.
Nkuringo (19members 2silverbacks)
Nkuringo means round hill in Rukiga. The group is named after the hill where it was first sighted. The group used to feed on the community’s plantation that included bananas. Tourist visits were then open where the community would directly benefit. The group was once led by a dominant silverback Nkuringo who died in April 2008. He had two sons, Safari and Rafiki. Safari became his father’s successor becoming the dominant silverback. The group received twins from mother Kwitonda, Katungi and Muhozi. Katungi however died at the age of 1 and a half years’ duetoilleness.
MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK HABITUATION
The park has one habituated Mountain Gorilla group,Nyakagezi Gorilla group, which leaves in Nyakagezi, 10km from the town of Kisoro. The group has 9 members with one 50 year old lead silverback. The silverback has 4 sons, Mark and Marfia (silverbacks); Rukundo and Ndungutse (blackbacks). These love to play in the trees.He has two females, Nshuti and Nyiramwiza; with daughters Furraha and Nkanda respectively.
HABITUATION IN RWANDA
Rwanda Gorilla safari undertakers stand a chance to encounter one of the 10 Mountain Gorilla habituated groups which are found in Volcanoes National park, in the Northern Region. They include Sabinyo, Agashya, Susa, Karisimbi, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Hirwa, Amahoro, Umubano and Ugende groups. The groups are under the conservation of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Bwenge Group (11 members 1 silverback)
The group was formed in 2007. It is led by a silverback named Bwenge. The group is trekked on the slopes of Karisonke Volcano at an elevation of about 600m altitude. The group was featured in the movie of Gorillas in the Mist, a tribute to Dian Fossey.
Kwitonda Group (18 members 1 silverback)
The group migrated from MgahingaNationalpark in Uganda, to Rwanda in 2003, to escape pressure from other groups. It settled in the area between Sabinyo and Gahinga Volcanoes. When the group migrated, Kwitonda was the head silverback. But upon his death which was around September 2012, the group got a new head, Akarevuro.
Susa Group (28 members 3 silverbacks)
The group is famously known for being studied by Dian Fossey. Its name is derived from the river where it was first seen, River Susa. The family is the hardest to trek as it lives high into the mountain of Karisimbi at about 4507m altitude, about but worth the trek. The group once had 42 members, but it split into two in 2008.
Karisimbi (16 members 2 silverbacks)
Just like its original Group, Karisimbi is a hard group to trek as it lives high up in the mountain of Karisimbi at an elevation of about 4507m altitude(highest peak of Rwanda). However, it is worth the trek for those interested in hiking. The group split from Susa in 2008.
Sabyinyo (13 individual 2 silverbacks)
Living on the gentle slopes between Sabyinyo and Gahinga Volcanoes, the group is the easiest to track. The group is famously known for its giant silverback, Guhonda. Guhonda is the oldest (41yrs) and heaviest silverback (220Kg) in the Volcanoes National park and the entire world. The group is named after the Sabyinyovolcanoe which means “old man’s teeth”. It was formed in 1992 and was initially called Amavubi which means Wasps which were a burden during the habituation. Upon the death of the leader Ryango, some of the silverbacks left the group taking with them females. The group reduced to 2 silverbacks and 4 females, changing the name to Sabinyo.
Amahoro (18 memebers 2 silverback)
The word “Amahoro” means Peace or serenity. Just like its name, the group is known for its peaceful ways of living making it approachable. The group was open for tracking in 2000.It lost some of its members to the Umubano group and it lives on the steep slopes of VisokeVolcanoe. It is led by Ubumwe.
Umubano (13 members 2 silerbacks)
Initially, the members belonged to the Amahoro group. The lead silverback, Charles always challenged the Amahoro group leader, Ubumwe. He was defeated and eventually broke out of the group taking with him females to form the Umubano group. Umubano means Neighborliness.
Hirwa (16 members 1silverback)
The lead silverback is Munyinya. He was originally a member of the Susa group. He always got involved in fights with the lead silverback of Susa for mating with the groups females. He then left the group with two females and went on picking to pick other females from other Agasha group. The group is found on the steep hills of sabyinyo volcano on the Side of Gahinga Mountain.
Ugenda Group (11 members 2 silverbacks)
Ugenda means to move. The group was named Ugenda due to its policy of moving from place to place, making it difficult to track. It wonders around the area of Karisimbi volcano.
Agashya Group (13 members 1 silverback)
It is led by Agashya. Agashya means ‘news’. The group was once led by Nyakarima but he was over thrown. It moves around lives around the slopes of Sabyinyo volcano on the Gahinga Mountain side.