Bwindi Impenetrable forest
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is found in the south western part of Uganda where the mountain forests and plain meet. It has more than 160 species of trees ,birds, ferns, butterflies as well as other endangered species like the mountain gorillas. It covers 32000 ha hence its exceptional diversity.
In 1932, it was divided into two blocks called the Crown Forest Reserves .These included the northern block “Kayonza Crown Forest Reserve” and the southern block “Kasatora Crown Forest Reserve”. Being combined together, enlarged and protected, these covered 207 square kilometers and were renamed the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest which covered 298 square kilometers under the joint control of the Ugandan government’s game and forest departments.
In 1964, the reserve became a habitat providing protection to various wildlife species like the mountain gorillas hence called the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve. In 1966, two other forest reserves were added to the main reserve thereby increasing its area to 321 square kilometers. The park continued to be managed both as a game and forest reserve.
In 1991 the Impenetrable Central Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla and Rwenzori Mountains reserves were designated as a national park ie Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This covered 330.8 square kilometers and was meant to protect various wildlife species like the mountain gorilla hence a large impact on the Batwa/ pygmy people since most were evicted from the forest and could not access the park with its resources. Gorilla tracking became a tourist activity in April 1993 and the park became a popular tourist destination since in 1994 it was inscribed on the World Heritage List .
How to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National park.
When travelling by bus, car, one can access Bwindi Impenetrable National park by taking a 2-3 hrs drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park to the north. Or 6 -8 hrs drive from Kampala through Mbarara,or1-2 from Kabale town to the southern and then you will meet a convergence at Butogota just 17 kilometers from Buhoma Entrance Gate. During rainy seasons, we recommend one to use a 4×4 vehicle.
When travelling with air, one can opt to take a flight from Entebbe,Kajansi airfield so as to meet their final destination at Tarmac airstrip Kisoro and Savannah Grass Kayonza airstrip. Bwindi is served by 3 airfields at Kihiihi, Kayonza for the northern area and Nyakabande in Kisoro for those that track mountain gorillas within the southern area which includes Nshongi,Mishaya and Nkuringo.
Activities at Bwindi.
These include the following;
Birding; Bwindi is an ideal habitat for a variety of birds hence called a bird-watchers’ paradise with 347 bird species of which ten of twenty six are threatened and 5 are endangered in Uganda. Bwindi has 24 of the total 25 Albertine Rift endemic bird species of which some have partial distributions in other places in their range like Shelley’s Crimson-wing, African Green Broadbill and Chapin’s Flycatcher. On the main trail of the Buhoma Waterfall Trail, the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija is where birding occurs.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park provides outstanding gorilla tracking experiences. It also acts as refuge to chimpanzee, monkeys, elephants, various small antelope and bird species. If you book a Uganda safari without Gorilla trekking then you will miss out an opportunity to watch the rare and threatened gorillas.
Gorilla families in Bwindi.
The Gorilla families at Bwindi are distributed into four various sectors like the Buhoma, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Rushaga sector.
The Buhoma Sector; has three Gorilla family groups i.e Mubare, Habimanya and Rushegura.
Mubare Gorilla group; this was the first group to be habituated for tracking in 1991.It is also referred to as the M-Group. The visitors/ tourists that tracked it first came in 1993 and the group was named after the Mubare Hills since these primates were first spotted around the hills. The group has eight members with a leading silverback called Ruhondeza though before, the group consisted of 18 members. Unfortunately, the number started reducing hence leaving only five members in 2012 due to constant relocation of the members to other groups, loss of lives in battles etc. The group was confronted by an untamed gorilla group who over threw Rohondeza and captures some of his females in March 2012. Ruhondeza who was aged at the time decided to take a retreat in the nearby forest and later lost his life in sleep on 27th June 2012. Fortunately, with time Ruhondeza was succeded by Kanyonyi who enlarged the family hence reaching the number of eight individuals with an infant gorilla called Kashundwe.
Habinyanja Group; this was habituated for tracking in 1997 and was visited in 1999. It was initially a very big group with 17 members including two silver backs that is Rwansigazi and Mwirima who had different tastes and preferences decided to separate peacefully. Rwansigazi remained the dominant ruling silver back of the Habinyanja group where as Silver back Mwirima left and formed the Rushegura Gorilla group. In the mean time silver back Rwansigazi gave up power to Makara who is the ruling silverback of the group to date. The word “Habinyanja” means a place of water hence reason enough for the group to be called so since these Gorillas were first spotted around a swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Despite what happened, both can co-exist and work with each other in good terms.
Rushegura Group; after separating from Habinyanja group in 2000, the group was habituated for gorilla tracking and was visited in 2002. The group consists of 19 members with a lead silverback called Rushegura a name that means break away since silver back Mwirima broke away from the Habinyanja group with 12 members including 5 females. The members increased to 19 by April 2010. Mwirima has been the only dominant silverback in the group who is never challenged fro he is ever demonstrating his strength in fights with wild gorilla family groups. It is a calm family usually in the vicinity of Buhoma Village since they are always roaming around the lodges and gardens due to curiosity with the infants always staring at visitors boldly.
The Ruhija sector; this has three family groups which include Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyaguliro.
The Bitukura Group; this gorilla family was named after River Bitukura. This is a very calm and peaceful group which took only fifteen months to be habituated and was opened for tracking in October 2008. The family had 24 members who reduced to 14 individuals including four silverbacks in which the second youngest silverback “Ndahura” is the leading silverback who took over power from an elderly dominant silverback called Karamuzi who had ruled for over forty years, adult females like Ruhara who produced an infant gorilla, Young gorillas, juveniles which are safeguarded by Ndahura and co exist with the Kyaguliro gorilla family hence easier to be tracked since they are usually found by the UWA rangers.
The Oruzogo group; this is also found in the Ruhija sector with 23 members under the rule of Silverback Tibirikwata and was launched for tracking in June 2011. The group kept on increasing in number and adult females namely; Ntamurungi produced in June 2011 and Musi produced in October 2011. The group triumphed when an adult female called Kakoba gave birth to twin infants in March 2012. Other family members include Busungu gorilla whose name means “short temper”, Kaganga “giant” and Bwoba “coward”.
The Kyaguriro group; this was habituated in 1999 as a group dedicated to research. When one stays around this group, they will learn more about Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park especially when specifying the differences they have with those from the Virungas. Take an example like maturity where the black backs (young gorillas) found in the Virungas grow up more quickly into silver backs as compared to those of Bwindi. The group was under the leadership of Silver back Zeus a name that means lord/master as to the Greeks and this was a sign that he was master of all gorilla members in his family. Unfortunately, there was a war/battle between him and another silver back who fought him to victory which later on led to his expulsion into the forest where he died after some time
The Rushaga sector (Kisoro); this has five family groups which Include Nshongi, Mishaya, Busingye, Kahungye and Bweza
Nshongi Group; this group took long to be habituated in 2009. It was named after River Nshongi due to the fact that these were first spotted along the banks of the Nshongi River. The word Nshongi means “honey” and this was due to the dark color at the bottom of the River. It was the largest group with about 36 members including 3 silverbacks and 7 black backs that lived peacefully with each other and didn’t fight over power since these were under the leadership of Silverback Nshongi who was not the oldest in the group. Unfortunately in July 2010, the group separated into two parts which reduced the number to 26 individuals in the Nshongi group with 4 silverbacks. Mishaya left with ten members and formed his group called the Mishaya Gorilla group.
Mishaya Group; this was founded by Mishaya who had broken off from the Nshongi gorilla group in July 2010 with 12 members. The group was referred to as this due to the fact that it was first spotted around the Mishaya Village. Silverback Mishaya is known to be very tough for he usually begins interrelations with other gorilla families in which he grabs many females so as to enlarge his group. For example, he fought with a certain non habituated gorilla group in April 2011 and this did not go well for he got seriously wounded and a juvenile of 2 years old from his group. Fortunately, he was treated and became well.
Kahungye Group; this was habituated in 2009 with 13 members including three silver backs. It was established for tracking in October 2011 and is among the recently habituated Mountain Gorilla families in the park. Unfortunately, the group separated after a serious battle over power amongst the three silverbacks thereby forming an initial gorilla group called Busingye group. Before the split the family comprised of 27 members including 3 silverbacks and today it is under the lead of a dominant silverback called Gwigi meaning a “door” in the local language.
Busingye Group; with 9 members and a silverback the group was founded and habituated in 2011 though separated from Kahungye in June 2012 when Silverback Busingye decided to leave with some members to create his own group. The word Busingye means “peace” though doesnot reflect on Silverback Busingye’s character for he is a very ambitious Gorilla who has started fights with other Gorilla groups for members to add into his group. He takes pleasure in demonstrating the power he has through grabbing a female form the wild Gorilla group he battles with.
Bweza Group; this group consists of 9 individuals including 1 silverback called Bweza who once belonged to the Nshongi Gorilla group. He and Mishaya decided to leave to go on and create their own families despite the fact that Mishaya left before Bweza in July 2010. It was launched for tourism in December 2012 despite being thought of getting back together to the Nshongi Gorilla group which was unfortunate.
The Nkuringo Group; this group has 19 members including 2 silverbacks and this was habituated in 2004. It was referred to as this because the group was first spotted around Nkuringo hill and outside the park roaming around the villages. These fed on people’s crops like bananas, sweet potatoes hence the main reason for their habituation hence opening them for tourism which benefitted the local communities as well as the country. Originally Silverback Nkuringo led the group but died in April 2008 leaving power in the hands of two silverbacks that is Safari and Rafiki. Safari Nkuringo’s son took over power and after seven months, the group received twins from mother Kwitonda and these were named Katungi and Muhozi. Unfortunately, Katungi lost his life at the age of 1.5 years after a long period of sickness.
The Best time to go for Gorilla Trekking.
In order to trek the gorillas, one has to visit Bwindi Impenetrable Forest during the dry season of June, July, August, September and partially October. Though, due to global warming, its hard to predict the state of the weather since sometimes it rains unexpectedly hence making it difficult and challenging since the trails become very slippery and dangerous to trek on. Additionally, the vegetation also usually grows hence reducing visibility and clear photography.
Hiking/Nature walks at Bwindi; Hiking/nature walks take place in Buhoma and these include six main nature trails.
Muyanga Waterfall Walk; On this trail, you will depart from Buhoma along River Ivi-Nkuringo trail where you will proceed from to the climax of sensational sightings at the falls plunging 33 meters.
Muzubijiro Loop; this walk takes approximately 6km and includes transferring from one place to another around the hill where you will meet different species of birds, primates with a patent view of the Virungas.
Rushura Hill Walk; this walk involves spotting the tremendous lakes i.e Edward and George, conical peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes, Rwenzori Mountains and the massive forest divided between two countries.
The Ivi River Walk; this trail involves transferring along Mukempunu which means “a place of pigs”. Here you will spot populations of wild pigs which will enable you know about their attributes..
The Buhoma-Nkuringo Walk; this walk will take 3-4hrs and will involve crossing through the park. You will spot the misty hillsides clearly while going down towards Nkuringo till you will reach the Ivi River Walk.
The Habinyanja Trail; this trail takes 4-6hrs. You will walk and while overlooking the Buhoma River, you will cross the Munyaga River and take a steep ascent of the Riyovi and Habigorogoro Ridge. While on this trail, you will encounter the legendry “African Corner” which was once a rock chunk similar to the map of Africa. With this steep ascent, hikers can enjoy moving along the gentle slope towards Habinyanja swamp. For those interested in bird watching, there are different species you can view like the Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Black Duck and Black Bee Eaters.