Gorilla Families!

Gorillas stay in groups comprising of approximately 25 – 35 members. Normally there is a single leading male, who is accompanied by numerous females plus their young ones. The size of gorilla groups is very variable. An average gorilla group contains four to ten members. The biggest gorilla group known to date was found in Rwanda: It consisted of 65 individuals for a short period. When the group leader dies, the group dissolves or a subordinate silverback male, usually the son of the dead leader, takes over.

Book your Gorilla Safari »

Uganda Groilla Families

Yes, it is factual that Uganda harbors over half of the Global Mountain Gorillas and they have been on the increase over years in both Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park in southwestern Uganda. Being shared with in 3 African countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, most of gorillas still find Uganda protective. There are 12 habituated Gorilla groups in Uganda, 11 groups are habituated with in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest and 1 is habituated in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. There is also one we can call a 13th group in Bwindi- Ruhija left alone for research There also other several families that are left alone not familiar to people at all and no one tracks them. These groups roam around the jungle and on some events; they meet with others and cause a big fight scratching each other into injuries, wounds and bruises. A gorilla tracking activity is one that you can call a “Life time” experience and indeed it is, a day begins for you to track and it may end with that one activity, this hike can take you a range of 2 to 8 hours because gorillas are unpredictable and roaming animals. They move from one place to another and they never sleep in the same place they slept the previous night. However, one can track gorillas for 8 hours today and another one can track the same group for 2 hours the following day. There are four sectors within Uganda’s Bwindi Thick Forest where different Gorilla groups keep moving. Below is where you can have a look at the area and which Group dwells there. It is very important for you to book a gorilla permit earlier on before you travel to Uganda, this will help you have a memorable safari because your GoExplore Safaris will follow up and choose the favorable Gorilla group to trek, which is preferably not so far from the place of your accommodation. Maybe for the tourists with long holidays and road trip lovers, going to Bwindi and trek the Gorillas should not take you that long on the road (9-10 hours). You can always arrange and fly direct from Entebbe to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or fly to Kigali in Rwanda and have a shorter drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Below are the zones where different Gorilla groups live, Buhoma zone is however the busiest zone of the Bwindi Park with too many activities one can take part in. This area is historically recorded to be the first one opened for Gorilla Trekking. Below are gorilla families and their zones of dwelling:-

The Mubare Gorilla Group

This group is also called the M-Group and it is the first group that was habituated for tourists within the year of 1991. Its name came from the beautiful Mubare Hills where the group was first seen by the park rangers. This group received the first visitors in 1993 and initially they were 12 members of the family under the dominant male called Ruhondeza.

Ruhondeza as a main silverback led the group well that it grew on to about 18 members, however, whenever Ruhondeza involved in battles, he ended up losing family members to death, the number reduced on. Around 2012, Ruhondeza had grown as old as 50 years and a wild Silverback attacked him, took him into exile where he died of severe injuries. He was later buried very respectfully near the UWA head offices.

This group is popular for their Ruhondeza who made history to have been the one who lived up to the age of 50 years and recorded as the oldest Silverback the country has ever known. The group got a new leading Silver back and has been growing over years there is still more hop for the group to grow and expand.

This group is found in areas of Buhoma where most trekkers like to trek so much, most people like this group because they regard it as easy to trek since it dwells within the immediacy of the UWA head offices.

The Habiyanja Gorilla Group

This gorilla family derives its name from a Kikiga word “Nyanja” which means a Lake, it was first habituated in 1997 and the first tourists visited it within the 1999. The group was one of those that were habituated first within the areas of Buhoma and the name they got was from the swamps of Bwindi Forest where they were first discovered.

At their first time of habituation, the group had around 30 members plus the dominant leader silver back called ‘Mugurusi’ which means an ‘old man’ in the Rukiga Language. Mugurusi died but had 3 sons, who had to take over the leadership. These 3 sons were named Rwansigazi meaning ‘ young-looking’, Makara meaning ‘Charcoal’ and Mwirima meaning ‘darkness’.

The silverbacks Mwirima and Rwansigazi started to battle for the throne and they never used to agree for a long time. But since Rwansigazi liked travelling and touring the forest in long distances, he moved on in 2002 with the other members who wanted to move like him and they remained with the initial name Habinyanja. His brother Mwirima was not too much different from his father, he liked keeping around in close and shorter distances so he formed his group with his fellow sluggish gorillas and they were named Rushegura family.

The two groups still zigzag around each other and there has never been any battle between them. The Habinyanja group still stands with around 18 members and have hope to increase with the leadership of the silverbacks Rwansigazi and Makara. The group can be trekked around the areas of Buhoma and trekking them is a bit strenuous.

The Rushegura Gorilla Group

This is a sister group to the Habinyanja group, it was formed in 2002 after its Leader silverback Mwirimi failed to agree with the brother for one to take over his father’s throne. The group name came from the tree species called ‘the Ebishegura’ as it was everywhere around the gorillas’ dwellings.

They started their family with 12 members who have grown on over years due to the good leadership of Silverback Mwirima. The family has 19 members plus 1 silverback and it’s a humble group which moves around Buhoma Zone and at times forages around the areas of Gorilla Forest Camp. Due to the death of Mwirima the initial leader, the throne was taken up by a determined Kabukojo. Tracking this group is not so tiring because the group keeps roaming around the Buhoma communities.

The Oruzogo Gorilla Group

This gorilla family has its location in Ruhija and it has 25 individuals including 2 silverbacks and the dominant one is called Tibirikwata. This group is known for the playful and energetic juveniles including twins born to Kakobo the twin mother.

The family was introduced to habituation in the mid 2011, they started receiving visitors in the same year and since then they have been growing and expanding, you can trek this family within Ruhija but you have to make good plans for you to make your trekking memorable. Book an accommodation within Ruhija so that you make it early enough for the gorilla briefing. It should be noted however, that Ruhija has limited lodges so it’s advisable to book early enough or get accommodation in Buhoma where you may need to wake up very early in the morning.

The Bitukura Gorilla Group

This gorilla family won its name from the Bitukura River which flows into Bwindi Forest and this was the very spot where the group was first seen. This one was the only group habituated in the sector of Ruhija before the start of Oruzogo in 2011. Bitukura family was first habituated in July 2007 and was open to visitors in 2008.

This family group is so popular for being quick learners, they say it takes around 2 years for gorillas to get used to habituation, but this group was ready for it within just 15 months. This group had 24 members initially but constant wrangles reduced them to 14 individuals including 4 silverbacks, some moved and joined other groups. It’s well-known to be a peaceful group with Kyaguriro family which was set aside for research and they are over seen playing around together.

This group is said to be living in harmony, there are 4 silverbacks but they live calm with their leader Ndahura. Trekking these gorillas may cost you time, so it’s better to book in time to get nearby accommodation in Ruhija, but since there are few and limited accommodations, it’s important to sleep in Buhoma, but wake up at 5am to make it for the Gorilla orientation at the park head offices. This family is also known for being so good to one another.

The Kyaguriro Gorilla Group (Reserved Group)

This is the third family within the zone of Ruhija; the group has a size of 15 individuals with 2 silverbacks. This group is habituated but not visited by the tourists because it was left aside to be for research, only accessed by researchers. This group has helped the conservationists to learn more about the gorillas especially those in Bwindi. Initially the group had a dominant silverback called Zeus, who was aging and so was banished by his contender called Rukina.

The Mishaya Gorilla Group

This gorilla group dwells in the South Eastern parts of Bwindi Forest in Rushaga and the family got its name from the fighter and strong silverback called Mishaya who had battles in the Nshongi family and parted them with other 9 members to form his new one Mishaya within the year of 2010, the group later became open for trekkers in 2011.

The dominant silverback Mishaya is a fighter who attacks and defends his group members all the time. The power and determination of Mishaya is the reason the group kept expanding, but still during the battles some members left the group. Trekking this family needs trekkers to start their hike from UWA head offices or you may end up driving to the trails.

This family has 7 members including 1 silverback now since they lost members in the battles with other Gorilla groups.

The Nshongi Gorilla Group

This group was opened up to habituation in 2009 and was one of the largest groups to be trekked. This family was named after the River Nshongi where they were first spotted. Unlike any other group, this family has more than two silverbacks that live in peace and harmony without any battle for the throne, the dominant silverback Nshongi is not even the oldest, but he rules peacefully.

The group initially had 36 members who split in 2010 and created the present day Mishaya family. The family further split in 2013 to form the today’s Bweza gorilla family leaving the Nshongi family with 18 members. They live in harmony around the forested sectors of Rushaga and there is an opportunity to view birds, primates and butterflies in their own natural habitat.

The Bweza Gorilla Group

This family can be trekked around the Rushaga zones of the Bwindi forest; it is also a product of the Nshongi Family whose family was the largest in Bwindi but split as some members left to create the Mishaya Family who later also split as Bweza the silverback left the group with other 6 members to create the present day Bweza Gorilla Family. The family has 7 members including 1 Silverback.

The Kahungye Gorilla Group

This gorilla family can also be trekked around areas of Rushaga in Bwindi Forest National Park and earned the Kahungye from the hill in Rushaga where this group was first sighted. It has a size of 13 individuals including 3 silverbacks and their alpha male is called Rumansi. The other two silverbacks are old and named Ruhamuka and Rwigi.

This family was introduced to the tourists to trek in 2011 and they split shortly where the Busingye Gorilla Family also came into existence. Initially the group had 27 members together with 3 silverbacks; the split made the Busingye a new born family in the Rushaga sector.

The Busingye Gorilla Group

The word Busingye translates to mean “peace” and its actually not the right description of the Busingye the alpha gorilla of the group, the silverback Busigye is a sturbon one who picks fights with others and snatches females from other groups which has helped the group to grow up to the 9 individuals now. This family split from Kahungye family around 2012. This group is also trekked in Rushaga zone and their permits can also be handled in the Bwindi Local Uganda Wildlife Authority Offices within Rushaga.

The Nkuringo Gorilla Group

After 2 years of habituation process, the Nkuringo family was introduced to tourists for trekking; the word Nkuringo is a Rukiga language which means a “round Hill” around which the group was first discovered. This family was introduced to habituation due to their behavior of getting into local people’s gardens and plantations.

The group was open for visitors so that the local people could benefit from these gorillas, the group had a dominate male who passed in 2008 leaving 2 other silverbacks to take over Rafiki and Safrai. Safari took the throne and a few months later the group welcomed twins who were named Muhozi and Katungi but Katungi died of illness.

Trekking this group of 19 members in the Nkuringo zone needs a hiker to be more energetic because it is one of the toughest yet elated hikes in Uganda.

The Nyakagezi Gorilla Group

The Nyakagezi family is the only family that is habituated in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and it consists of 10 members with 1 Silverback called Mark who dominates the daily activities of the family. This alpha male tends to lead the way always and makes these gorillas travel across borders from Uganda to Rwanda and Congo. Over the years now, the group has tried to inhabit in the Uganda’s Mgahinga and its settled there and they call Uganda Home.

The group is highly unpredictable on their movement which calls for your permits to be booked at the local UWA offices in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park so as to be on safer side.

It should be noted that every trekker should be well prepared, equipped and ready for the life time activity and make it unforgettable.

Rwanda Groilla Families

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is the only place where you can trek Gorillas within Rwanda. You have an opportunity to choose from the 10 gorilla families which are open for tourists, these 10 groups of Gorillas have under gone habituation and people are allowed to visit them as long as they are in groups of 8 people.

The presence of the 10 habituated Gorilla groups means that Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park can have a maximum of 80 trekkers each day all around the year. Trekking requires one to have good physical fitness to make it through the steeply slopes of the rain forest and the muddy trails while on the trekking activity.

The first thing is the briefing at the park head offices about the gorillas and orientation on how the park connects; there must be strictly 8 people per group per Gorilla family enjoying 1 magical hour in their presence. Here are the Gorilla families and the little depiction about each, am sure after reading this, you will be able to choose right the Family you will enjoy trekking.

The Susa Gorilla Family (SUSA A)

A trek to this family is a demanding one that sometimes these gorillas move very far too high that one cancels the trek on such a day. These gorillas dwell on the higher altitude within the mountain more than any other group. This group is one of those that the Late Dian Fossey studied during her research in Rwanda.

Initially the group was the largest with 42 individuals which later split to create the Susa B family, they are now 28 individuals with 3 silverbacks. The family earned the Susa name from River Susa which flows directly in the gorillas’ dwellings. This group has the playful twins; Byishimo and Impano and also has one of the oldest Gorillas Poppy who is also believed to have come from the real Gorilla groups of Dian Fossey.

The Karisimbi Gorilla Family (SUSA B)

This group came into existence as a result of the large Group of Susa (A) splitting into two and created the Karisimbi group or Susa B. This group has 15 individuals including 2 silverbacks; it is also a tough hike because the family stays on the lower levels of the Karisimbi Volcano the highest peak in Rwanda. Good hikers are advised to take on this hike to meet these Gorillas and the activity can take a full day.

It should be noted however, that on days the group climb so high the trek is normally cancelled.

The Sabyinyo Gorilla Group

This one is one of the easiest Gorilla groups to trek in Rwanda’s Volcanoes; it is a family to the biggest silverback called Guhonda. This family derives its name Sabyinyo from Mountain Sabyinyo which Rwanda shares with Uganda. The group got the name because they are normally sighted on the gentle slopes of the Sabyinyo and Mgahinga which makes it easy to trek.

Guhonda is the authoritative silverback of this group and the hugest silverback of the group whose enormous bodily look helped him to keep his challenger Ryango out of the group of 8 individuals including 1 silverback. The word Sabyinyo translates to mean “Old man’s teeth”.

The Amahoro Gorilla Group

The word Amahoro is a Rwandese word to mean ‘peace” and this family lives in a peaceful life. They are 18 individuals with 2 silverbacks including the calm Ubumwe the dominant male of the group, Ubumwe is so calm that he even accepted some members to leave his family and joined another family of Umubano. The size of the group is good enough for a good trekking day.

You have to be physically fit on your trekking day to climb the steep slopes of the Mount Visoke where this family roams. In case of the need for porters to carry your luggage up to the Mountain, they are always available to help you through your trekking day.

The Omubano Gorilla Group

Umubano as a word means ‘living together’ and the group was initially part of the Amahoro Gorilla Family but the two silverbacks Ubumwe and Charles had wrangles being in the same group, so Charles slowly broke off the family and created his own family to be the head there.

The Family now stands with 11 individuals including 2 silverbacks but Charles dominates them all. The trek of this family is not so much difficult, it can be done by most hikers.

The Agashya Gorilla Group (13 Group)

Initially this group had 13 members where it earned its first name “13 group”, later the name changed to Agashya which means “something special”. The name was from the dominant silverback of the group called ‘Agashya” who took over power from Nyakarima who was the former leader of the group.

The family tends to move up to the lower hills of Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Ghahinga but still roam so much in the Sabyinyo Gorilla Family territories or deep into mountains. The good conservation policies have made the group to rise to up to 27 members now with 1 silverback.

The Hirwa Gorilla Group

This family is recognized as one of the new groups and was born in 2006 from two families Sabyinyo family and Agashya family. The word Hirwa means “The lucky one” and the group has 9 individuals including 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 3 sub adult females and 3 babies.

This family is normally found in the areas of Mountain Sabyinyo and Ghahinga and the trek may be difficult depending how the way the family may make its movements that day.

The Kwitonda Gorilla Group

The word Kwitonda means “the humble one” and the group was named after its dominant silverback. This group is said to have migrated from DR Congo and has 18 members including 1 silverback.

They say the fact that it came from Congo is the reason the family moves and makes the trek a bit strenuous, the family dwells around Mount Muhabura. This family likes roaming around with the Karisimbi Gorilla Family.

The Bwenge Gorilla Group

This gorilla family came into existence in 2007 and the word Bwenge means “wisdom”. The group experienced hard times when they lost about 6 infants but lucky enough they have continued to get several births and the group is rising again with 11 individuals plus 1 silverback Bwenge.

This family can be trekked on the lower lands of Karisoke Volcano and the hike may take about 3 hours with muddy and hilly trails. The group is said to have featured in the “Gorillas in the Mist” movie.

The Ugenda Gorilla Group

This group consists of 11 members including 2 silverbacks; the family got its name from being on the move all the time. Ugenda means “being mobile” or “moving” and this family keeps moving from one place to another, building new nests in different place.

It may not have been difficult to trek this family, but only that they keep moving it may not be easy to catch up with them. The group keeps roaming around territories of Karisimbi.

Why should I go on a Mountain Gorilla Tracking (Trekking) Safari Tour in Uganda, Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo?" Which one of the three is a better choice for gorilla tracking?

The answer to that is very simple and there are many reasons why Uganda is the best choice to go Mountain Gorilla tracking (trekking) and in Uganda you can easily combine Mountain Gorilla Viewing with the fabulous Ugandan Wildlife and or go Birding.

Uganda has about half of the population of Mountain Gorillas in the World:

In Uganda you will find the largest population of Mountain Gorillas. Besides they are thriving and growing in number to the tune of about 7%. Recently rare gorilla twins were born in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The Mgahinga Gorillas have returned to Mgahinga Gorilla Park which is good news and you now can track mountain gorillas in two areas of Uganda which is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
Uganda has over 400 of the world’s critically endangered gorilla estimate of 880 (November 2012) mountain gorilla population that has been under protection since 1964. There are 12 habituated mountain gorilla group families open for visitors gorilla tracking here.

Combine Mountain Gorilla Tracking (Trekking) with a Uganda Wildlife Safari: Uganda gives you a diversity of wildlife combined with gorillas that other surrounding countries cannot match or like the Democratic Republic of Congo are presently unstable and unsafe. While Uganda gives you diversity and safety, you can add many other things to gorilla tour during your visit to the Pearl of Africa. Climb the extinct volcanoes in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. You can go Chimpanzee tracking (trekking) Kibale Forest National Park, see the wildlife in Lake Mburo along with its Zebras or simply swim and relax at Lake Bunyonyi with its Bilharzia free waters and of course go on a wildlife Safari at Queen Elizabeth Park, all within the same region of Uganda.


The gorilla is the largest of the great apes family, which includes the chimpanzee and orang-utan as well, and can be divided into four subspecies:

  • Western Lowland Gorilla (gorilla gorilla gorilla); these type of gorillas are mostly seen in zoos. As of 2008, there were an estimated 125,000 western lowland gorillas living in Africa.
  • Cross River Gorilla (gorilla gorilla diehli); the rarest of all types, with only 300 left in the wild. They are found in the border area between Cameroon and Nigeria.
  • Eastern Lowland Gorilla (gorilla gorilla graueri); about 5,000 live in the wild. They can be found in the eastern Congolese rainforest.
  • Mountain Gorilla (gorilla gorilla beringei); the most endangered of all with only about 790 remaining. They are living in the afro montane forests in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern DRC.

All types of gorilla are considered critically endangered. But the mountain gorilla is the most endangered specie of the great apes family. And because they can’t survive in captivity, you will never see a mountain gorilla in the zoo.

The mountain gorillas live in the almost impenetrable parts of the tropical forests in Central Africa. The entire world’s population is spread out over only two different places. Approximately half of the individuals inhabit the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes, stretching out from the border area in Congo to Rwanda. The other half are found in Bwindi National Park in Uganda, covering an area of about 330 sq kms.


Gorillas live in groups consisting of 6-7 individuals up to 35 members. Usually there is one leading male, accompanied by several females with their young.

When a baby gorilla is born it weighs on average 3-4 pounds (1.4-1.8 kg) which is about half the weight of a newborn human baby. However, this baby develops twice as fast. Within 40 weeks it can walk and reaching 3 years it slowly becomes independent. At 6 years they are about 1.20 meter tall and weigh almost 70 kg. At this age the female gorilla matures, though they continue gaining weight for the next 4 years. Males on the other hand don’t reach maturity till they’re 10 years old. When their black back starts turning into grey it is time for them to leave the parental group. They wander alone or join other males for some time, before attracting females who will join them. In this way they form their own family.

Gorillas reproduce slowly, hence the world population doesn’t increase rapidly. Gestation period is approximately 8.5 months and gorilla mothers give birth to a baby once every 4 years. Unfortunately at least 30% doesn’t survive their first year because of diseases and accidents. Another situation that causes death among the baby gorillas is when their father dies and another silverback takes over. This new male often kills all the babies of his predecessor, securing his own genes in the posterity.


Although the chimpanzee is our closest living relative on the planet, the gorilla resembles us in even more aspects. Their hands and feet are like ours, they spend more time on the ground and consequently gorillas are better able to walk. In fact, they share almost 98% of our DNA!

Gorillas have high social qualities and relationships within the family are very important. They express their feelings, varying from loving and hating to shame and jealousy, by at least 20 distinct vocalisations, all with a different meaning. Besides, beating on the chests or on the ground is a common form of communication as well. It is mainly the silverback who does this, in order to show his power and to intimidate others. Aggression is rarely seen within gorilla families. Despite their impressive looks, they are extremely gentle and peace loving. In case of danger they stand up for each other and defend the weaker ones. Serious fights only might take place when two leaders of different groups meet each other.


Hierarchy is clear and important within the gorilla family. The dominant silverback enjoys the highest rank and the adult females rule over the younger ones. Like with other species in the animal world, gorilla males achieve the high ranking because of their size. Male mountain gorillas can weigh up to 200 kg and can reach 1.70 meter when they’re standing upright. Besides the strength they also have to prove their experience and abilities. It is their duty to protect their family from danger and intruders.

It is not difficult to figure out where the name silverback comes from. Around the age of 12 years, they develop light grey hair on their back, giving them a ‘silver back’.


An ordinary day in the life of a mountain gorilla starts at sunrise, around 6 am. They wake up and begin looking for food which covers a great part of the morning. In general, a gorilla spends about 30% of the day with feeding, 30% with travelling and 40% with resting. In contrast to many primates, the gorilla lives mainly on the ground. They travel not more than a kilometre per day within their home range of about 20 square kilometres.

Gorillas are vegetarians, though occasionally they may eat ants and other insects. Their daily meal consists of roots, leaves, stems and pith of herbs, vines and shrub, and some fruits. During certain months of the year bamboo shoots supply a major part in their diet as well. A male adult can even eat up to 20 kg per day! Because the gorillas receive a large quantity of water from its diet, they rarely have to drink.

The afternoons are mainly spent with resting and playing. This last activity is very important in the social life, especially for young gorillas, as it determines their integration into the group. They hug each other, bite, hit or wrestle till one is pulled down on the ground.

At the end of the day, just before dusk, the great apes start constructing a nest where they will spend their night. Every single gorilla has its own nest, except for the infants who sleep next to their mothers. Nests are built on the ground or in trees and are carefully constructed by branches of bushes and other plants.


The existence of the gorilla was ‘discovered’ in 1902 by a German explorer. Nearly 60 years later, the American scientist George Schaller was the first one to study the gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi. Later Dian Fossey continued his research and she became famous because of her movie “Gorillas in the Mist”. She worked with the gorillas in Rwanda from 1967 till 1985 and thanks to her dedication the world began to learn about the mysterious beauty of these apes. To this day, the Karisoke Research Centre in Rwanda can still be visited.

Even before the research started, an estimated of 450 mountain gorillas were living in the Virungas. Only 20 years later, the population was decreased to 250 individuals. Although the gorilla has just a few enemies, the most dangerous one is the human being. Habitats were destroyed through deforestation, they suffered from wars, diseases were transferred and they were commonly hunted for meat or just as a trophy. The number raised again thanks to the conservation efforts of Dian Fossey.

It may be clear that the mountain gorilla is one of the most endangered species in the world. To make people aware and to protect the gorillas, it has been made possible to visit some gorilla families. In this way visitors will learn about the life of the gorilla and revenues will benefit the conservation.

Before gorillas safaris can be made they need to be habituated to the presence of human beings. This is a long and careful process and can take several years. Special trained rangers approach them carefully and spend increasing periods of time with them. The habituation can be risky for both gorillas and humans. Not only the silverback might feel threatened, but the gorillas can also easily be infected with diseases. Therefore it is important to maintain strict rules when habituating and visiting the gorillas.