GORILLA FAMILY GROUPS IN BWINDI FOREST NATIONAL PARK UGANDA


Bitukura

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 12

Silverback: Ndahura, Rukumu, Karamuzi, Rukara
Blackback: Mugisha, Obia
Adult Female: Ruhara, Kamunga, Betina
Juvenile: Twakire
Infant: Mubwindi, Kadogo
This mountain gorilla familywas named Bitukura after a river that bears the same name. As it happens the family was first sighted in near the river which also turned out to be part of its homing range. Habituation of this group begun in July 2007 and the group was opened for tourism in October 2008. This was a relatively easy group to habituate as it had often been encountered by UWA rangers and trackers in their encounters with the Kyaguriro group and this non-threatening human contact made it easier for the group to become accustomed to human company much faster than with other gorilla groups which often take a minimum of two years to fully habituate.The Bitukura family is peaceable, with little in way of the politics and monkeyshines prone to gorilla families. Ndahura sees to that. The Bitukura and Kyaguriro families share a close bond and are known to have, what can be described in human terms as get-togethers about once each month. The biggest mystery surrounding this peaceable family is the migration of its eldest juvenile daughter to the Kyaguriro family. Whereas it is known that on reaching adulthood, female gorillas are prone to leave the family in favour of starting a family with an eligible solitary male, or simply joining another family – like Twigukye did – she was nonetheless rather young to make the move. But she did it and a study of the family members may help give a clue to this unusual occurrence. Friend them and find out.
Habinyanja

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 14

Silverback: Makara, Rwansigazi
Blackback: Maraya
Adult Female: Kisho, Nyabukye, Binyonko, Rugyendo, Nyamuhango
Juvenile: Elsa, Hamusini
Infant: Hakato, Gacyaro, Bagenyi
The original Habinyanja group was habituated in 1997 and by 1999 tourists were already visiting the group. The name Habinyanja comes from the root of the Rukiga word for ‘body of water’ (nyanja). The original group was first sighted near a two pond swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
In the past one decade of interaction with this group it has provided enough intrigue, drama, power struggles, secret trysts and back-stabbings to rival the best (or worst) Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood family dramas.The saga begins during habituation in the reign of the dominant but aging silverback patriarch, Mukurusi. He was the undisputed leader of a peaceful family of about 30 individuals – a large number even by gorilla family standards. Mukurusi means ‘old man’ in Rukiga, whose days were numbered and sure enough, he soon passed away, leaving several sons. In most families – on and off-screen – the death of the patriarch unleashes smouldering sibling rivalries. Mukurusi’s brood was no exception. The first cause of friction was family leadership. This thorny issue was brought about by the fact that there were four silverbacks in the group. These being: Rwansigazi – A silverback at father’s death he was next-in-line to lead the family, but his dominance was not guaranteed because of his half-brothers. Mwirima – Also a silverback male  gorillaat father’s death and a contender for supremacy; initially, both brothers shared power but it was only a matter of time before the situation came to a head.Further fueling the struggles for dominance were Mukurusi’s other sons; The young and restless, Makara; The black-sheep (or is it gorilla) of the family, Binyindo and Maraya, he of elastic morals and equally elastic loyalties. The unfolding family chronicle is further embellished by the adult females of the group, led by the shrewd, self-styled, alpha female, one-eyed Kisho.

After the death of Mukurusi the original Habinyanja group remained as a family unit under the leadership of the two eldest silverbacks, Rwansigazi and Mwirima for a number of years. The two brothers would have continued living as one family unit except for one irreconcilable difference. Rwansigazi favoured a large home-range and would lead the family in difficult marches far away from the much smaller home range which Mukurusi had favoured. Perhaps Rwansigazi was satisfying a need to explore the world that he felt was denied him by his father who, at his advanced age, didn’t have the ability to travel long distances. Whatever the reason, his brother and co-leader, Mwirima preferred to keep the family within a narrower area.

On Valentine’s Day 2002, what could have potentially been a cause of conflict that may have ended in the death of one of the leading silverbacks, resolved itself peacefully. Rwansigazi may have communicated to the group that they were in for a long trek that day. To which Mwirima may have replied: “Well, I don’t fancy a long walk in the woods today bro, how about you just mozzey along without me and (turning to the group) whichever of you gals wants to hang around with me just feel free to do so.” That settled matters in an easy, friendly manner and the family divided with a cheerful “Cheerio” from both sides. The group that stayed with Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja.

Kyaguriro

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 15

Silverback: Rukina, Marembo
Blackback: Kafuzi, Byiza
Adult Female: Binyindo, Siatu, Mugwere, Tindamanyere, Twigukye, Matu
Juvenile: Happy, Thursday, Mukiza, Kabandize
Infant: Ponoka
The Kyaguriro group was habituated in 1999 as a group dedicated to research. By closely keeping contact with this group a lot has been learnt about the mountain gorillas of Bwindi. Previously it was believed that the mountain gorillas in Bwindi forest are similar to those of the Virungas, but it has been observed that there are differences between the two types of mountain gorillas. For example, it seems that the blackbacks in the Virungas mature into silverbacks much earlier than the ones in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.During habituation and shortly thereafter this family was under the leadership of an aging silverback called Zeus – yes, named after the Greek god – this was because he was ‘lord and master’ over all the gorillas in his family. That state of affairs didn’t persist for too long as his position was usurped by a rival, and he was banished into the forest. He died in exile. The fate of ousted despots (and even benign rulers) seems to be the same for man and beast alike). That said, mysteries abound in this family (and will most probably remain thus). For example, what claim does Rukina – the current dominant silverback – have as head of the family, seeing as he was no son of Zeus? Will he get a bitter taste of his own medicine, administered to him by Marembo? Where did the adult female Tindamanyere come from and why did the young female gorilla Twigukye, leave her family at such a tender age to join Rukina’s troop.
Mubare

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 6

Silverback: Ruhondeza
Blackback: Kanyonyi, Muyambi
Adult Female: Kashundwe, Malaika
Infant: Kashundwe Baby
This family was the first of the Uganda mountain gorillas to be habituated in 1998. It was first sighted by trackers around the Mubare hills that are to be found deep in Bwindi Impenetrable forest.
The dominant silverback in the group has always been Ruhondeza and back then he ruled a family with over 18 gorillas. Over the years his family has shrunk in number (as Ruhondeza has shrunk in size). This is because the now aging monarch has not groomed a successor. He’s the jealous type it seems. The UWA trackers have long suspected that he kills off any up coming blackbacks who may be tempted to usurp his position.2009 has been a particularly hard year for this family with a loss of three of its members. Early in the year one of the adult females died of a fracture to the skull. She left behind a wee infant of six months, whom the group tried to care for. The baby was found dead on Ruhondeza’s bed by trackers one morning. As the little mite had not been weaned and couldn’t eat
Nshongi

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 31

Silverback: Nshongi, Mishaya, Kakono, Bweza, Busasi
Blackback: Matama, Bwire, Bunwa, Kutu, Tifayo
Adult Female: Nkuhene, Bakunzi, Mwiza, Munini, Shidah, Bukozo,Nyampundu, Bwiruka
Juvenile: Tindatine, Mize, Mahoro, Mureba, Ruheruka, Muchunguzi, Rutaro
Infant: Mpororo, Fortunate, Katono, Kazani, Mukiza, Ninsiima
Nshongi is the name of a river close to where this gorilla family was first sighted. The river has a deep colour similar to honey, and as honey in the local language is called Omushongi Gwoboki the river was named Nshongi.Habituation of this Nshongi gorilla family begun in early 2007, and it was officially launched for tourism on 26th September 2009. This family is unique in that it has 36 individuals (at the last count) and growing, with the silverbacks and blackbacks living in relative harmony. Most gorilla familiesusually comprise about twenty individuals, with the oldest male silverback leading the group. In the case of this silverback dying, the group will usually split up between the eldest silverback (or the more dominant silverbacks) as was the case in the Habinyanja family. There are some cases where an older silverback can be ‘overthrown’ by a younger, stronger silverback as happened in the Rushegura and Kyaguriro families. It is therefore a distinctive feature of this family to have three silverbacks in the group and seven blackbacks. Even more astonishing is the fact that the dominant silverback – Nshongi is not the oldest silverback in the group.Several ‘conspiracy’ theories surround his leadership role. One being that he has inherited his father, Mishaya’s dominant position before the patriarch dies. Peace and harmony currently prevail, but for how long? Nshongi’s unrivalled dominance could be under threat from Busasi, the aggressive young blackback who may soon contend for dominance. This is even more likely with the unsettling presence of the adult female Bwiruka who is a favourite of Nshongi’s and has also been known to have secret trysts with Bweza.

What about the adult females in the family? Where do their loyalties lie? With three silverbacks in the family, each having mating privileges, the females in this group are spoilt for choice and it will be intriguing to follow the preferences of the females over this delicate matter of the available and eligible males in the family. How will the fortunes of this family unfold once the blackbacks mature into silverbacks? Friend them and follow the family drama.

Nkuringo

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 19

Silverback: Safari, Kirungi, Rafiki
Blackback: Bahati, Posho, Karibu, X-Mas
Adult Female: Kwetonda, Kasotora, Mama Xmas, Samehe
Juvenile: Ramutwe, Magara, Kwesima, Kuhirwa
Infant: Tabu, Fulaha, Katungi & Muhozi “The Twins”, Kiiza
This group was opened for tourism in 2004. Nkuringo is the Rukiga word for round hill. The group was first spotted and targeted for habituation at a hill named Nkuringo. This hill is not peaked and can be distinguished by its rounded crest.In the first few months of contact with the group, the habituating trackers noted that it was under the leadership of an elderly silverback, who they naturally named Nkuringo. However, even then, Nkuringo’s son, Safari, had began calling the shots and, as heir-apparent, he had apparently taken over most of the leadership responsibilities. The aged Nkuringo died on 27th April, 2008, leaving behind two silverbacks in the group, Safari and Rafiki. This meant that the threat of a leadership showdown was expected. How did the situation resolve itself? Was there a battle of biblical proportions to determine dominance? Find out by ‘friending’ the silverbacks of the Nkuringo


Rushegura

FAMILY STATISTICS

Family Size: 19

Silverback: Mwirima
Blackback: Kabukojo
Adult Female: Kibande, Nyamunwa, Karungi, Kirinvi, Buzinza
Juvenile: Kalembeezi, Ruterana, Kanywani, Kafuruka, Nyampazi, Karungi Juvenile
Infant: Kibande baby infant, Kirinvi Baby infant, Karungi Baby, Nyamunwa Baby, Buzinza baby

Rushegura is the name of a place where   the separation of   this group from the larger family of Habinyanja took place in February 2002.
The break – away was led by Mwirima, a strong-massive silverback , desirous to form his own family, carrying  away with him  seven members .
Mwirima, a son of Mukurusi, parted ways with his brother ,Rwansigazi who was famous for taking the gorillas on  distant  ranging expeditions, while Mwirima preferred shorter ranges.
The group was opened for Tourism in 2002 since the   individuals had been habituated under the original Habinyanja family .
True to  Mwirima’s determination to found a large –stable family,he worked so hard that by April 2010,the individuals had increased to  19  from the original  8.He is on record to have sired a number of off springs so far.
The group  which is known to at times cross in neigbhouring Democratic Republic of Congo ,currently boasts of  a one Silverback ,five Adult females ,one Blackback ,and a host of juveniles and infants.
The individuals under Mwirima feel secure given his proven heroics in fighting off rival and wild groups. Mwirima is known to engage in severe fights   in protection of his sovereignty and the family, using his sharp canines, slapping and tearing vegetation  , chest beating  and thumping the ground with palms  to display the end of the battle.
Rangers cite a recent example when Rushegura  group encountered a wild Makare group against whom Mwirima fought tooth and nail ,triumphed and ensured the group stayed feeding in the battle field for two days to celebrate his  rare feat.
Mwirima determines the movements of the group leading to appropriate feeding sites as well as mediating conflicts within the family. With the five adults bonded to Mwirima for most of the time, watch out if Kabukojo the influential – fast maturing Blackback will keep submitting to this dominant Silverback ,choose to lure some females into starting his independent family or even overthrowing Mwirima to take over the mantle of Rushegura group.

Newly Habituated gorilla families include

Mishaya, Oruzongo and Kahungye. Watch this space for their details with Katona Tours and Travel.

Compiled by Jackie

Uganda Tourism newsUganda safari news and gorilla trekking

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