MOUNTAIN GORILLA SAFARI UGANDA AND RWANDA
No African safari tour is complete without seeing the Mountain Gorillas. Go on gorilla safari in Uganda or Rwanda! Experience an unforgettable meeting with these gentle apes yourself! A gorilla safari is easy to book and we would be happy to provide you with a suitable itinerary. Please check our sample itineraries to obtain ideas for your safari or contact www.safariatours.co.ug to create a tailor-made tour.
Sample itineraries that include a visit to the mountain gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda:
For this once in a lifetime gorilla trekking experience, Safaria will need to buy your gorilla trekking permit in advance. Only 8 people per group are allowed to trek each day. It is therefore necessary to book permits as early as possible. We strongly advise you book at least 3 months in advance to ensure that you can track on the requested date, especially if you plan to trek during the peak season (school holidays) or if you are in a large group.
Gorilla trekking permits in Uganda
Uganda gorilla trekking permits cost USD $700 per person in high season and USD $700 per person in low season (April, May and November). Prices increased in 2020. Uganda gorilla trekking permits are issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and always must be paid for full in advance.
Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda
The costs of Rwanda gorilla trekking permits is currently USD $1500. They include park entry fees and must be paid for full in advance. Rwanda gorilla trekking permits are issued by the Rwanda Development Board and will be purchased on your behalf by Safaria tours.
Sale conditions of the gorilla permit
Any visitor who shows signs of a communicable illness (such as a cold or flu) will not be allowed to join the gorilla tour. If a visitor is declared unfit to trek due to illness, 50% of the gorilla tracking fee might be refunded though not guaranteed by the authority, subject to the discretion of the UWA warden-in-charge. The cancellation policy will apply to visitors who fall sick prior to their travel to the parks.
Permits are non-refundable. However, visitors who track the Mountains Gorillas for the whole day and are (in the highly unlucky 2% of visitors who don’t see them), for whatever reason, will be refunded 50% of the gorilla trekking fee.
Purchasing a gorilla permit is not a guarantee that Mountains Gorillas will be (clearly) seen.
The minimum age limit for visiting the gorillas is 15 years old.
By following these rules and through the purchase of the gorilla trekking permit, YOU too are contributing to the conservation of the mountain gorilla. The wildlife authorities use the funds generated from the sale of your gorilla trekking permit to manage the national parks. Twenty per cent of park entrance fees are invested in local community projects for people living adjacent to the parks – across Uganda. Contributing to these communities’ development helps improve natural resource management and gives local people a direct and positive link to conservation and tourism.
Are you planning to be part of a visit to a mountain gorilla family? For information on gorillas, their habitats and conservation, check out the following web sites:
Friend-a-Gorilla get to know Uganda’s gorillas
The Gorilla Organization pioneers in community-led conservation, at the forefront of the campaign to save the world’s last remaining gorillas.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Helping People. Saving Gorillas.
Conservation Through Public Health gorilla conservation through improving primary health care to communities in and around protected areas
Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe (Mountain Gorilla & Rain Forest Direct Help) dedicated to the conservation of gorillas, especially the mountain gorillas, and their habitats since 1982.
Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the mist (2000) ISBN: 061808360X
George Schaller, The year of the gorilla (1997) ISBN: 0226736482
Thor Hanson, The impenetrable forest (2000) ISBN: 0595130186
Don Cousins, The magnificent gorilla (1990) ISBN: 086332424X
Georgianne Nienaber, Gorilla dreams (2006) ISBN: 059537669X
Gorilla Safari Information
Although Uganda is rich in nature and culture, the country is particular known for the mountain gorilla safaris. It is the largest living primate, world’s most endangered ape and without a doubt the most fascinating creature that speaks to your imagination!
Find out more about these gentle giants and our mountain gorilla safaris!
Mountain Gorilla Information
The gorilla is the largest of the great apes family and the most endangered species. Compared to the chimpanzees, they resemble us in even more aspects.
No African safari tour is complete without seeing the Mountain Gorillas. Gorilla permits are available in Uganda and Rwanda.
Gorilla Families in Uganda
With approximately 400 mountain gorillas living in the impenetrable forests, Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s total population of mountain gorillas.
Habituated gorilla families in Uganda
With approximately 400 mountain gorillas living in the impenetrable forests, Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s total population of mountain gorillas. The majority is found in different areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourism destinations in Africa. A small number of lives on the lower slopes of the volcanoes in Mgahinga National Park.
Uganda currently hosts eleven habituated gorilla families and one group that is only available for research. These are;
Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Nkuringo, Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, Nyakagezi and the research group Kyaguriro.
Before embarking on your Gorilla Safari, we invite you to learn more about these incredible creatures and read interesting facts about the various gorilla families. However, keep in mind that the mountain gorillas are wild animals and details such as the group size, location in the forest and leading silverback might change without notice.
Mubare Gorilla Family
Group size: 8 individuals including 1 silverback
The Mubare gorilla group is the oldest habituated gorilla family in Uganda and was opened for tourism in 1993. The name derives from the Mubare Hill, deep in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where the gorillas were first sighted by trackers. Initially, the group consisted of 18 individuals, led by the dominant Silverback Ruhondeza. Unfortunately, over the years the family lost many members until there were only 5 left in 2012. This was due to moving to other groups, life losses during fights and the death of a baby gorilla.
In March 2012, the family was attacked by a wild gorilla group who broke Ruhondeza’s leadership and took away some of the females. Old Ruhondeza took refuge in a nearby community forest but continued to be monitored by researchers, until he died in his sleep on 27 June 2012. He was believed to have been well over 50 years of age. When visiting Buhoma feel free to ask your guide for the location of this great silverback’s grave!
In the meantime, Ruhondeza successor Kanyonyi managed to expand the family again and increased it to eight members including a baby named Kashundwe.
Habinyanja Gorilla Family
Location: Buhoma (ranging from Kahororo to Rubona)
Group size: 17 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The Habinyanja gorilla family was habituated in 1997 and first visited by tourists in 1999. The name “Habinyanja” comes from the Rukiga word “Nyanja” meaning “a place with water”. The reason for this name is because the group was first seen near a swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
At the time of habituation the group was led by the dominant Silverback Mugurisi, which means “Old man”. After passing away because of old age, the two brothers Rwansigazi and Mwirima shared power but they were so different that it couldn’t continue. Rwansigazi was an adventurous gorilla and liked travelling, while Mwirima preferred to stay at a small range. It was therefore inevitable that in 2002 the two silverbacks decided to separate, without any fights. The group that followed Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja and the members who stayed with Mwirima came to be known as the Rushegura family. Later, Rwansigazi had to give up leadership to Makara who is now the dominant silverback of the Habinyanja family. Sometimes, both groups still come across each other but co-exist rather peacefully.
Sadly, a tragedy happened in June 2011 when the friendly black back Mizano was found dead with evidence of spear wounds about the shoulders and neck. It is believed that a group of poacher with their dogs ran into the group. Mizano, who naturally defended his family, was speared and died instantly. It was the first poaching incident whereby a gorilla has been killed by poachers since 1995.
Rushegura Gorilla Family
Group size: 19 individuals including 1 silverback
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 breakaway was led by Mwirima who took with him seven members/started with 12 individuals including 5 femails. His devotatoin to create a stable family wierp vruchten af as the number of individuals increased to 19 by April 2010.
At an estimated 25 years of age, Mwirima is without question the most dominant silverback in his group and does not back away from showing his strength during fights with wild gorilla groups. They used to cross to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo but came back and now enjoy the peacefully environments of Bwindi National Park. The group is known to be one of the calmest families and usually stay in the vicinity of Buhoma Village. Do not be surprised to even see them wandering around the lodge gardens or visit the souvenir shop of Gorilla Forest Camp as they are very curious as well. Especially the youngsters do not shy away from visitors and often like to ‘get a better look’.
Bitukura Gorilla Family
Group size: 14 individuals including 4 silverbacks
The Bitukura family is located in the Ruhija side of Bwindi Forest National Park. This mountain gorilla family was named after a river that bears the same name, where it was first sighted. Habituation started in July 2007 and the group was opened for tourism in October 2008. Taking only 15 months is remarkable, since the habituation process normally lasts at least 2 years. But thanks to the close bond that they share with the Kyaguriro family, with whom they have regularly have ‘get-togethers’, they had frequent encounters with the UWA rangers and thus made the habituation easier.
The Bitukura group with originally 24 members has been reduced to only 14 individuals during the last years. It is a peaceable family with four silverbacks, where the second youngest silverback Ndahura is the leader. He took the role from former Silverback Karamuzi who stayed over 40 years and is now retired.
Despite of the loss of several members, who defected to other gorilla families, Bitukura now looks happily and closer to one another. Especially since a new member joined the family in April 2013. Adult female Ruhara gave birth to a baby gorilla, who is closely guarded by the proud father Ndahura.
Oruzogo Gorilla Family
Group size: 25 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The Oruzogo group is the second habituated gorilla family living in the Ruhija area. The group consists of 23 individuals and is led by Silverback Tibirikwata. The family opened for tourism mid-2011 and since then has experienced a growth thanks to a number of births. Female adult Ntamurungi gave birth to a baby gorilla in June 2011 and Musi gave birth in October 2011. More joy came when a set of twins was born in March 2012. The twin mother is Kakoba. Other individuals in the group include Busungu (meaning “short tempered”), Kaganga (“the giant one”) and Bwoba (“the coward”).
Nkuringo Gorilla Family
Group size: 19 individuals including 2 silverbacks
The habituation process of the Nkuringo gorilla group was completed in 2004. Nkuringo means “round hill” in Rukiga, referring to the hill where the group was first spotted. They were often found in the vicinity of the villages outside park, which eventually became the main reason for the habituation. Because of their behavior to feed on bananas, sweet potatoes and other crops, they created a problem for the local communities. It was then decided to open the group for tourists, so the villagers would directly benefit from tourism and the gorillas would be protected at the same time.
Initially, the group was led by the elderly Silverback Nkuringo. He died in April 2008, leaving behind two silverbacks, Safari and Rafiki. It was his son Safari who took over the leadership. Seven months later, the Nkuringo family welcomed a set of twin gorillas from mother Kwitonda, named Katungi and Muhozi. Unfortunately, Katungi died at the age of 1.5 years due to illness.
Nshongi Gorilla Family
Group size: 26 individuals including 4 silverbacks
The Nshongi gorilla group was named after the river close where the family was first seen. The word Nshongi derives from “Omushongi Gwoboki, meaning ‘honey’ and referred to the deep color of the river. Being opened for tourism in September 2009, the family was unique due to its large size. With 36 individuals it was the largest gorilla group ever habituated. Even more remarkable was that the three silverbacks and seven blackbacks lived in harmony with each other and did not make an attempt for leadership. Especially since the dominant silverback Nshongi was not even the oldest silverback in the family. However, in July 2010, the group split into two: the Nshongi group with 26 individuals, including 4 silverbacks and a newly formed family led by the silverback Mishaya with 10 members.
Mishaya Gorilla Family
Group size: 12 individuals including 1 silverback
Silverback Mishaya was part of the Nshongi group but decided in July 2010 to establish its own family. Being known as a fighter who often starts interactions with other gorilla families, he was able to gather females from other groups in the area and could expand his group. In April 2011 he clashed again with a non-habituated gorilla family, resulting in serious injuries for himself and a 2-year old infant. The wounds were treated by veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Kahungye Gorilla Family
Group size: 13 individuals including 3 silverbacks
The Kahungye group is one of the most recent habituated gorilla families in Bwindi National Park. The family was opened for tourism in October 2011 but in less than a year the group split, creating a new family that is called Busingye. Before the separation, the family consisted of 27 individuals including 3 silverbacks. The group is active and led by the dominant silverback Gwigi, which means “door” in the local language.
Bweza Gorilla Family
Group size: 9 individuals including 1 silverback
Originally, the Nshongi family was the largest gorilla group ever habituated. However, in July 2010 Silverback Mishaya decided to start his own family. Two years later also Bweza, another silverback preferred to separate himself from the rest of the group. Initially, the UWA rangers suspected that they would get back together again, but when it appeared that the split was infinitive, this ‘new’ group opened for tourism in December 2012.
Busingye Gorilla Family
Group size: 9 individuals including 1 silverback
In the same period, in the same sector, but another gorilla family experienced a breakaway as well. It was Silverback Busingye who decided to split from the Kahungye group in June 2012 and create his own family. Busingye means ‘peace’ which is quite surprising since this ambitious silverback is known for his legendary fights with other gorilla groups. He likes showing his power and whenever encountering a wild family he mercilessly grabs a female to add to his own family.
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family
Location: Mgahinga National Park
Group size: 10 individuals including 3 silverbacks
Mgahinga National Park only hosts one gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi Group. The group is led by Mark, the dominant silverback, who likes travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Lately it seems they are trying to regain their Ugandan citizenship again as they have been back in Mgahinga National Park since November 2012 and may are likely to stay for a while. Even more good news came in May 2013 when a new baby was born, increasing the group to 10 members.
Due to quite unpredictable behavior, permits for this group can only be booked at the park headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Kyaguriro Gorilla Family
Group size: 15 individuals including 2 silverbacks
Although the Kyaguriro family is habituated, it has not been visited by tourists until now but is put aside for research only. By closely keeping contact with this group, conservationists have been able to learn a lot about the mountain gorillas of Bwindi, including some remarkable differences with the mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga Volcanoes. Initially the family was led by an aging silverback Zeus. Unfortunately he died in exile after being usurped and banished into the forest by his rival Rukina.
Gorilla Families in Rwanda
Habituated mountain gorilla families in Rwanda.
Habituated gorilla families in Rwanda
There are seven gorilla families available for tourists to visit in Rwanda, with 8 tourists allowed per group. Let us introduce you to Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas!
This group of 41 gorillas is Rwanda’s largest. This family is the hardest to trek as they tend to range high into the mountains.
Led by the powerful silverback Guhonda, this group is easily accessible.
meaning ‘peaceful is a family of 17 members. There is a fairly steep climb to reach Amahoro.
- Group 13
When first habituated this group had only 13 members; they are now approximately 25.
This 18-member group migrated from DRC and tend to range far, making it a moderately difficult trek.
Umubano (a family of 11) broke off from the Amahoro group after the dominant silverback was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano.
- This recent group was formed from different families, namely from Group 13 and Sabyinyo.
1 - Bwindi National Park – Buhoma Area | Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura gorilla groups.
2 - Bwindi National Park – Ruhija Area | Including Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro gorilla groups.
3 - Bwindi National Park – Nkuringo Area | Nkuringo gorilla group.
4 - Bwindi National Park – Rushaga Area | Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza and Busingye gorilla groups.
5 - Mgahinga National Park | Nyakagezi gorilla group.
Gorilla Trekking Rules
How to trek the Mountain Gorillas For those planning to do a mountain gorilla safari, the following briefing information applies, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority‘s ‘Gorilla Rules’: Before departing on your gorilla trekking or gorilla tracking tour A maximum number of 8 visitors may trek to visit a group of habituated mountain gorillas per […]
Gorilla Trekking Rules
How to trek the Mountain Gorillas
For those planning to do a mountain gorilla safari, the following briefing information applies, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority‘s ‘Gorilla Rules’:
Before departing on your gorilla trekking or gorilla tracking tour
- A maximum number of 8 visitors may trek to visit a group of habituated mountain gorillas per day. This minimizes behavioral disturbance to the gorillas and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases.
- Always wash your hands before you go gorilla trekking.
En route to trekking the gorillas
- Please always keep your voices low. You will also be able to observe the great bird life and other wildlife in the forest.
- DO NOT leave rubbish in the park. Whatever you bring into the forest on your gorilla safari should be carried back out with you.
- You will be taken to where the guides have observed the Mountain Gorillas the day before. From there you will follow the gorilla’s trail. Look out for the gorillas’ nesting sites along the way!
- As you approach the mountain gorillas, the guides will alert you.
When you are with the gorillas
- A 7 meter (21 feet) distance from the gorillas should be observed at all times. The further back you are, the more relaxed the group will be.
- You must stay in a tight group when you are near the gorillas.
- Keep your voices down at all times but feel free to ask your ranger guide questions.
- Do not smoke, drink or eat when you are near the gorillas. Eating or drinking will inevitably increase the risk of morsels of food or droplets of drink being left behind. Even the tiniest leftovers could increase the risk of transmission of disease to the gorillas.
- Move slowly and carefully. Do not point or wave your arms.
- Do not touch the gorillas. They are wild animals.
- Occasionally the gorillas charge. Don’t panic. Follow your ranger guide’s example: crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes; wait for the animals to pass. Do not attempt to run away.
- Your subjects are black animals in dim light so use the right camera settings. Flash photography is not permitted under any circumstances.
- The maximum time you can spend with these wonderful animals is one hour. However, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide may decide to finish the visit early. This is for your safety and for the safety of the gorillas.
- After the visit, you are bound to be excited! But please keep your voices down until you are 200 metres away from the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking safaris and General Health Rules
Remember that mountain gorillas are very susceptible to human diseases. The following rules are ways to minimize the risk your visit might pose to them:
- Respect the limits imposed on the daily number of visitors allowed with the mountain gorillas. These limits minimize the risk of disease transmission and stress to the group.
- If you are feeling ill, or you are carrying a contagious disease, volunteer to stay behind. An alternate gorilla trekking opportunity will be arranged for you, or you will be refunded the cost of your gorilla permit.
- If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or viruses.
- Always stay 7 meters (21 feet) away from the gorillas. This is to protect them from catching human diseases.
- Do not leave any rubbish (such as food wrappers or drink bottles) in the park; foreign items can harbor diseases or other contaminants.
- If you need to go to the toilet while in the forest, please ask the ranger guide to dig you a hole. Make sure the hole is 30 cm deep. Please ensure the hole is filled after you are finished.
What to bring on your gorilla trekking safari
- Wear comfortable hiking shoes with good traction, suitable for climbing steep muddy slopes.
- Carry a packed lunch and plenty of drinking water.
- The weather can be unpredictable so carry rain gear, sunscreen lotion and a hat.
- Wear or pack insect repellent.
- Bring binoculars – or hire a pair from the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in the park.
- Bring spare batteries and an extra memory card for your digital camera. Using your camera flashlight is not permitted. If you are photographing using film, we recommend using 400-800 ASA film.