A New Gorilla Family in Volcanoes National Park Emerges

A New Gorilla Family in Volcanoes National Park Emerges

Tourism in Rwanda is only complete when one mentions about the rare mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The park is a home to more than 380 mountain gorillas out of 900 that still thrive on earth. Following the news that circulated earlier this year about the disappearance and death of Cantsbee silverback gorilla, it has been sighted that his gorilla family has currently experienced a lot of changes. Cantsbee’s group was initially the most populous gorilla family ever that comprised of more than 65 unique mountain gorillas and it has been monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund since its creation in 1993. This enormous gorilla group was led by Cantsbee silverback gorilla, one of the oldest silverback mountain gorillas at that time in Volcanoes National Park.

Cantsbee was not only a charismatic mountain gorilla silverback but also such a strong, caring, loving and humble leader that one would imagine. He helped to bring up Gicurasi-his son at a time when the mother left the family while he was still at his young stage. Months later it was sad that he died at 38 years almost beyond the life expectancy of mountain gorillas in the wild. The legendary mountain gorilla silverback Cantsbee silverback got missing from the Pablo family on 10th October, 2016 but returned on 4th January. Shortly after his return, Cantsbee started feeling weak and also never ate as he used to do in the previous days and on 12th May, he again went missing. The legendary Cantsbee silverback originated from the native family (Pablo group), the famous gorilla family that was named by the great primatologist “Dian Fossey” and it is still researched by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Later on, his gorilla family broke into 2 groups; one that is currently led by “Kureba” silverback 18 years old, one of the younger silverback gorillas. Kureba’s group is the “new” gorilla family so far in Volcanoes National Park. The second group is led by Gicurasi silverback, 22 years and it is composed of about 23 mountain gorillas. Kureba’s new gorilla group was formed on 14th June 2017. Its formation in Volcanoes National Park is good news for gorilla safari holidays in Volcanoes National Park as it offers more opportunities for more gorilla groups to be habituated. Gorilla tourism in any gorilla destination is best done in habituated gorilla families!!

Silverback Kureba’s newly created gorilla family is comprised of the younger silverback Ishavu, female gorilla Mudakama with her 2 offspring and female Ishyaka gorilla and her infant. Like any new gorilla family, changes are never avoidable. Kureba’s new gorilla family also experienced some hardships at the time of its creation. At first, Mudakama and her 2 offspring aged between 7 and 4 years, also split and moved independently for about 3 week’s time. During this moment, trackers were all astonished to sight at Kureba silverback leave the entire newly formed family and reappear just a few days after with Mudakama and her 2 offspring. As a responsible leader, Kureba must have gone searching for his members and lucky enough he managed to bring them back to his new family.

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund trackers are currently following Kureba’s family each day, in addition to 8 (eight) other gorilla families. However, Kureba’s newly created gorilla family still remains the most debated issue as many trackers are not sure if this is really a permanent break or one day they may reunite with the bigger Pablo family. But the advantage with the 2 gorilla families is that they are far away from one another and it gives them higher chances of staying independently for a longer time. When gorilla families break or form in a similar way, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund experiences a logistical challenge, re-organizing gorilla trackers and other staff such that all the gorilla families and even the divided individuals are followed daily.

In conclusion, newly created gorilla groups in Volcanoes offer more opportunities for gorilla habituation in a destination and in a long run boost mountain gorilla safaris. Rwanda Volcanoes National Park is a home to 10 habituated gorilla families. Gorilla trekking is a life changing adventure and remarkable Rwanda is one of the most distinct and excellent gorilla safari destinations in the world that you shouldn’t miss to visit in life.


How Rwanda Tourism Contribute to the Development

How Rwanda Tourism Contribute to the Development

Over the past few years, Rwanda-the Land of a thousand Hills has progressed and evolved into a popular mountain gorilla trekking destination, offering one of the best gorilla trekking experiences. In the world of mountain gorilla conservation, every single birth is a big success that calls for celebration, regardless of the past misperceptions regarding gorilla tourism and its effects to conservation in Rwanda. However, it is undeniable that conservation and tourism are balanced because they have been harmonious and balanced in a way that the latter contributes to conservation and development of community projects.

Gorilla trekking is a fascinating and heartwarming experience that allows tourists to spend time with the exceptional mountain gorillas in their natural habitats. This experience is totally unmatched and beyond what you have ever experienced with other wildlife encounters. Currently, gorilla tourism is one of the key reasons for tourists visiting Rwanda and the top drivers of the country’s economy. With over 300 mountain gorillas that call Volcanoes National Park home, the Park has the second highest population of Mountain gorillas after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park-a home to over 400 mountain gorillas (about half the world’s population of Mountain gorillas).

Volcanoes National Park is a haven to 10 habituated gorilla families open for tracking by tourists; meaning only 80 gorilla permits are available per day, and a gorilla permit in Uganda costs only $1500 per person. The revenue from gorilla tourism goes towards research and conservation of the Mountain gorillas and part of it is disbursed to the local communities living around the Park for their development projects. It is no doubt that tourism has supported gorilla conservation in addition to empowering local community members.

The gorilla doctors, who are a devoted team of professionals assigned to taking care of the critically endangered mountain gorillas within Rwanda and other countries. The work of the gorilla doctors is to provide treatment to ill and injured mountain gorillas in their natural habitats, to monitor the heath of each mountain gorilla, supporting to diagnose any diseases or injuries and to save lives and providing veterinary help to injured and orphaned mountain gorillas by poachers, the gorilla doctors also provide preventive healthcare to the committed Park rangers who protect the Mountain gorillas in the National Park, the local community members living around the Park and their livestock as a way of reducing the risk of spreading diseases from humans to the Mountain gorillas. The Veterinary doctors also conduct autopsy reports of the dead mountain gorillas to ascertain the cause of their death and find a way of preventing further deaths. Not only that, the gorilla doctors work closely with the Rwanda Development Board and other International Conservation/Wildlife Organizations like the Dian Fossey Fund International and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).

The Kwita Izina Ceremony that is an annual Rwanda Gorilla Ceremony that includes giving names to the newly born mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The main aim of the event is to help in monitoring each individual Mountain gorilla in all the gorilla families. This Ceremony draws guests from within the country and far, and has helped in the sensitization of the local community members and the globe at large on the significance of gorilla tourism. This year (2017), 19 mountain gorillas will be named and is a big step in supporting the protection of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. It is therefore clear and undeniable that the Kwita Izina event promotes the conservation of the Mountain gorillas through sensitization and awareness.

Most crucially, stringent guidelines exist to guide gorilla tourism in Volcanoes National Park due to a number of threats such as poaching, encroachment, diseases and loss of habitat that affect the mountain gorillas. Currently, tourists are advised to encounter the Mountain gorillas at a distance (7 meters away), thus reducing any possible transmission of diseases to the critically endangered Primates of Volcanoes National Park. All these measures are important towards the conservation the Mountain gorillas.

What cannot be ign0red is the fact that gorilla tourism has contributed to the creation of employment opportunities for the local community members around Volcanoes National Park which has created a big impact in their lives and standards of living. For example, most of the ex-poachers have been employed as porters. It is even not surprising that most of the Park Rangers, wardens and guides are locals of the areas. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that most of the Safari Lodges around the Volcanoes National Park acquire the local agricultural products like bananas, pigs, goats, vegetables and milk from the local communities. Employment opportunities improve the standard of living of the local community members.

The introduction of the Revenue sharing scheme by the Rwanda Development Board-where revenues are disbursed to the local communities has been important in balancing the needs of the locals while at the same time contributing to the Conservation of the Mountain gorillas for the future. Also, health centers, schools, water tanks and other development projects have been put in place to support the Local community members

The Iby’iwacu Cultural Village, one of the model projects aimed at bettering the lives of the ex-poachers and other community members living around Volcanoes National Park. There are a number of interesting activities offered to tourists which in the end contributes to revenue generation by the local community members. The Rwandan Development Board provides conservation incentives, supports livelihood based projects and helps in community enterprise development, thus contributing to the development of local communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park.

Therefore, gorilla tourism has tremendously contributed to the conservation of the Mountain gorillas and community development around Volcanoes National Park. The contributions include the deployment of gorilla doctors who treat ill and injured mountain gorillas and monitor individual gorillas, the revenue sharing scheme that has improved the standard of living of the locals surrounding Volcanoes National Park, the Kwita Izina Ceremony that creates sensitization and awareness on mountain gorilla conservation and gorilla tourism which contributes to increase in employment opportunities since some of the ex-poachers are employed as porters.

What Makes Rwanda the Safest Destination for Gorilla Trek

Anyone traveling to a destination he or she is not conversant with would be concerned about the safety and security within the destination. The first question asked by intending gorilla trekkers is “is Rwanda really safe for a gorilla trekking safari? The answer is definitely yes. Mountain Gorillas are exceptional creatures (with only 880 individuals left in the wild) and are found in only three countries-Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Volcanoes National Park, the only place where Mountain gorillas can be tracked within Rwanda is a home to over 10 habituated Mountain gorilla families that tourists can visit.

Much as tourists yearn to see the gorillas, they are also scared/worried of guerillas. One thing you need to understand is that your safety and security within Rwanda is everyone’s (Government of Rwanda and Tour operators) center of attention. Just like we all sometimes have dark and painful past, Rwanda also has a painful past due to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide with wounds and heartaches still healing. Nevertheless, the good news is that the Land of a thousand hills is now very safe and secure for Gorilla trekking. This means that this adventure and meeting face to face with the gorillas in the mist is not a threat to tourists.

Not only that, gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is done in the company of well trained and experienced ranger guides along with military escorts, and no visitor is allowed to venture into the Jungles of Volcanoes National Park alone but has to be escorted by an armed ranger guide. Putting the security within Volcanoes National Park apart, you would be asking yourself whether the activity (gorilla trekking) itself is safe. The answer is also yes. This is mainly because Mountain gorillas have to first undergo 2-3 years habituation to make them used to the presence of humans before they can be tracked by tourists. The Mountain gorillas are not dangerous and aggressive as portrayed but rather comfortable and relaxed when visited in the Jungle, yet the portrayal of the uber Giant Ape “King Kong” fighting off planes on the top of the Empire State Building contributes to the human understanding that Gorillas are menacing animals which is not true.

However, it should not be ignored that these Mountain gorillas are wild animals that can get irritated when provoked regardless of how friendly and gentle they are. These human-like mammals are very gentle and only become aggressive if exasperated. It is for this reason that tourists are first briefed/oriented prior to tracking and several tracking guidelines exist to ensure safety of both tourists and the mountain gorillas. It is just your duty to follow instructions given by the Ranger guides and your trip will be memorable. Providing tourists with the guidelines also helps to reduce anxiety and fear, and prepare to meet face to face with the Mountain gorillas fearlessly.

The following are the tracking guidelines that exist to ensure safety of tourists during Rwanda gorilla trekking; Avoid direct eye contact with the Mountain gorillas to avoid provoking them, do not make noise when tracking or when with the Mountain gorillas because it scares them, avoid using flash cameras because the flash can startle them, do not touch the mountain gorillas, avoid sudden and unnecessary movements when with the Mountain gorillas because they can interpret is as provocation. Also, when the Mountain gorillas charge by beating their chest, stand still and not run away but simply avoid eye contact until it cools down. When you avoid eye contact, the Mountain gorillas will interpret it as submission, tourists are allowed to spend only one hour with the Mountain gorillas and maintain a distance of 7 meters away from the Mountain Gorillas. There are stringent guidelines that must be followed by all gorilla trekkers in Rwanda, with no exceptions/special cases.

In conclusion, Rwanda is safe for Mountain gorilla tracking because gorilla trekkers are accompanied by knowledgeable and qualified ranger guides who move with armed rangers to ensure safety of tourists within the jungles of Volcanoes National Park. Not only that, tourists are also safe in the presence of the mountain gorillas who undergo 2-3 years habituation to make them used to human presence, but tourists also have a duty to follow tracking guidelines such as keeping silent during tracking or when with the Mountain gorillas, avoiding flash cameras, maintaining distance of 7 meters and avoiding direct eye contact. These guidelines are put to ensure your safety in the presence of these gentle Giant Apes that can become aggressive if provoked hence achieving a memorable tracking experience.

Which Sectors in Bwindi to Visit for Gorilla Trekking

Which Sectors in Bwindi to Visit for Gorilla Trekking

Situated to the South-western part of Uganda is the spectacular Bwindi National Park, a home of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. This Park was gazetted in 1991 and covers an area of 33,100 hectares. Bwindi Impenetrable forest is a jungle that has always lived up to its name. The beauty of the natural forest, the mountainous landscape and the interesting wildlife species have made the forest valuable as silver and gold. This mountainous forest offers a favorable habitat for half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla’s population.

There are 14 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi National Park whereby eleven (11) of them are open for gorilla trekking, one (1) for research purposes and two (2) for the Gorilla Habituation Experience. The Gorilla groups are found in the four sectors of Bwindi and they include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.

Tracking mountain gorillas is unique in each of these sectors because of their varying terrains. Some of the sectors are very hilly compared to others that are not very steep. Some of the sectors have more accommodation facilities while others have few. The choice on where to track gorillas varies from individual to individual.

Buhoma sector
This sector is located on the northern-western side of Bwindi and it was the pioneer sector to be developed for gorilla tourism, whereby the first group of tourists visited the sector in 1993 making it the most popular of all the sectors. Meaning the first habituated gorilla group (Mubare) was in this sector but currently there are three gorilla groups in this area. The subsequent gorilla groups of Habinyanja (habituated in 1997) and Rushegura (habituated in 2000) made Buhoma a stronger sector for gorilla safaris. Up to date this sector ranks number one in the minds of tour operators when they think of gorilla tourism in Bwindi National Park. The Park headquarters are located in this area.

Much as there are only three groups in this sector, it is the most popular and the most visited sector. The question of why Buhoma is preferred by tourists and tour operators lies in different parameters. There are numerous lodging facilities (most accommodation facilities) that offer the dazzling views of the forest and are occasionally visited by gorilla groups. They range from Budget to Luxury such as Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp (luxury), Buhoma Community Rest Camp (low budget), Buhoma Lodge (Luxury), Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp (Mid-range), Silverback Lodge (Luxury), CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp (low budget), Engagi Lodge (luxury), Mahogany Springs Camp (luxury), Gorilla Resort (luxury), Bwindi View Bandas (low budget) and Gorilla Resort (luxury) among others that make Buhoma the top priority for gorilla trekking.

Interestingly most of these facilities are not far away from the Park Headquarters. Tour operators prefer booking tourists in accommodation facilities that are not far away from the Park headquarters so that tourists can easily be transferred for gorilla trekking..

Also besides gorilla trekking, other activities that tourists can engage in exist and they include Cultural/village walks of the Bakiga and the Batwa, best opportunities for Birding to watch the Albertine Rift endemics such as Handsome francolin and Short-tailed Warbler among others, village bike rides and mountain biking organized by Buhoma Community Rest Camp under the “Ride for a woman” initiative, nature walks and hiking (with 6 well maintained hiking trails to the waterfalls (3), for primate encounters, birding and forest walks).

It is less challenging to connect to Buhoma than the other areas. Several routes can be used to access this sector. The easiest route being from Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Buhoma. Other routes include Kampala-Kabale-Kanungu-Buhoma, Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma. Tourists from Queen Elizabeth National Park can easily connect to Buhoma through Ishasha sector (of Queen Elizabeth) via Kihihi to Buhoma. It is also easy to connect with other sectors (2 hours to connect from Ruhija to Buhoma). Even when you fail to get accommodation in Ruhija, you can still stay in Buhoma.

This sector has the lowest elevation (of 1,350m above sea level) compared to the others. This makes it the less arduous to track gorillas. Buhoma sector is also near to other National Parks especially Queen Elizabeth, Kibale and Rwenzori National Parks. Tourists can track gorillas and still engage in game drives by connecting to Queen Elizabeth through the Ishasha sector.

Several community, conservation and volunteer projects exist in Buhoma, reason being it was the first sector to be opened for tourism. They include Bwindi Hospital (for volunteers), Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) and Human-Gorilla Conflict Organization (HUGO) for conservationists and volunteers.

Ruhija sector
On the Eastern side of Bwindi is Ruhija, the home to Bitukura, Kyaguriro (gorilla group for research purposes) and Oruzogo group. A total of 16 gorilla permits are sold for this sector per day. This sector stands at an elevation of 2,350m above sea level (1000m higher than Buhoma).Ruhija has Uganda’s highest hiking trail with Rwamunyonyi Peak (highest peak in the Park) being at 2,607m above sea level. Other than Rushaga sector, Ruhija is another sector in Bwindi National Park where Elephants reside. This sector can be accessed from the Southern and the Northern routes.

This area is also ideal for birding because it is the only place where you will find the African Green Broadbill in the whole of Bwindi (can be seen during a 3 hour trail to Mubwindi Swamp). The Bamboo trail is a remarkable 6 hour trail that leads to Rwamunyoni Peak (at 2,607m).Other activities involve local community walks and walking trails to the waterfalls. This amazing sector is also popular for interesting primate species especially the Black and White Colobus monkeys and it is easier to connect to Rwanda through Katuna and Chanika border compared to Buhoma.

Because of only two groups available for gorilla trekking, Ruhija is always less congested (offering a more authentic ecotourism experience) but also not well developed compared to Buhoma. There are less lodging facilities in this area, so most tour operators book tourists in Buhoma but if you want to have more sleep you will have to stay in Ruhija. This is because Ruhija is two (2) hours away from Buhoma but can be problematic during rainy seasons where you might take more time due to the muddy roads. The Lodging facilities in this sector are just sprouting and also range from Low budget to Up-market facilities such as Cuckooland Tented lodge (mid-range), Ruhija Gorilla Mist Camp (mid-range), Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge (Up-market), Ruhija Gorilla Resort (mid-range) and Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort and Campsite (budget).

Several routes can be used to access this sector and they include Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija, Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Butogota-Ruhija.you will need 4WDs because the roads can be dusty during dry seasons and muddy during rainy seasons. For tourists who prefer to fly, there are no scheduled flights to Ruhija but instead to Kihihi on Buhoma side then drive for two hours to Ruhija.

Rushaga sector
Rushaga sector is located in the Southern part of Bwindi and is considered the “World’s capital city of mountain gorillas” because it is rich with mountain gorilla groups. This sector is a home to six (6) gorilla groups where by 5 of them (Bweza, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye and Busingye) are available for gorilla trekking while one (1) i.e. Bikingi can be visited for the Gorilla Habituation experience. This makes Rushaga one of the two famous sectors for the remarkable Gorilla Habituation Experience (GHE).There are also other unhabituated gorilla groups in this sector. However, Rushaga is the least developed sector for tourism and few lodging facilities exist (ranging from unsophisticated budget options to luxury options.

Interestingly, the “Friend a Gorilla” campaign with attendances from various celebrities is also a famous initiative in the Nshongi group.

Rushaga is considered one of the most strenuous areas for gorilla trekking but that is the reason for this place being more adventurous for gorilla trekking safaris. Besides the many gorilla groups, there are several hiking trails through the forest, to the waterfalls and tourists can participate in village walks (to Bakiga and the Batwa tribes)

Though they are few, pleasant lodging facilities are available in Rushaga sector and they include Gorilla Safari Lodge (Luxury), Nshongi Camp (budget), and Gorilla Valley Lodge. The advantage is that these facilities are near the Southern Park headquarters and the briefing Camp.

Nkuringo sector
Located on the Southern part of Bwindi is Nkuringo sector, where the Headquarters of the Southern sector of Bwindi is situated and is the home of two (2) gorilla groups that is Nkuringo group (for gorilla trekking ) and Bishaho group (for the Gorilla Habituation Experience)

Nkuringo was established in 2004 making it Bwindi’s second gorilla tacking trailhead.
Tracking Nkuringo group is so strenuous and needs someone to be physically fit with enough stamina and energy. It is considered the toughest to track of all the gorilla groups in Bwindi and even Uganda generally but very adventurous. The home to this group lies at 600m below the trailhead on Nteko ridge. Being at the ridge top provides a spectacular view of Bwindi Impenetrable forest to the north and the amazing views of Virunga Volcanoes in the South.

Besides gorilla trekking in Bwindi, don’t miss to explore the village walks to the Bakiga community and get entertained with their energetic cultural dance performances and get the chance to taste their locally brewed sorghum beer, cultural encounters such as Nkuringo Cultural Center) and the unforgettable chance to participate in the Gorilla Habituation Experience.

Several eminent and charming accommodation facilities exist and they include Nkuringo Gorilla Camp (mid-range), Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge (luxury), Chameleon Hill Lodge (luxury), and Nkuringo Safari Lodge

In conclusion, with several sectors that exist in Bwindi National Park tourists can choose from what sector to track gorilla from. These sectors have different conditions whereby some are steeper and more challenging for gorilla tracking than others, some have more gorilla groups than others while others have more lodging facilities to choose from. You can make your choice depending on your individual desires but in the end will attain a memorable experience.