Officially classified as ‘critically endangered’, mountain gorillas live in only three countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, in two distinctly separate populations. The first of these is in the Virunga Massif mountain region straddling the borders of the three countries, and the other is in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
Uganda has long been recognized as one of the easiest places to view these fantastic animals. Bwindi is estimated to have a population of around 350 mountain gorillas, or nearly half of the world’s population.
Uganda’s gorillas are found in Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park. Bwindi is home to more gorilla families and is generally considered a better area to gorilla track. The number of gorillas in Gahinga is limited to just one family, and they often cross the border into Rwanda which makes tracking them impossible.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi has 17 habituated gorilla families across 4 distinct areas, Nkuringo, Buhoma, Ruhija and Rushaga. There are crurrently a further two families being habituated in Rushaga. The gorillas here live in thick tropical forest and tracking can be challenging as the hillsides can be steep – it can take around 2-8 hours to reach the gorillas. Generally, the better accommodation in located in the Nkuringo and Buhoma regions so trekking is focused here.
The parks altitude ranges from 1200-2600 meters and five rivers and a high annual rainfall make it rather humid. The rainforest here is said to be 25,000 years old, and in this time biodiversity has flourished. Although best known for its mountain gorillas, the National Park is also home to an amazing 120 species of mammal (other primates include chimpanzees and l’Hoest monkeys), 51 species of reptiles and over 200 tree species. In addition, the birdlife is spectacular – 350 species are to be found here, including 23 of the 24 Albertine rift endemic bird species, including the African green broadbill and bar-tailed trogon.
Buhoma Sector – Northern Bwindi
There are 4 gorilla families in Buhoma, northern Bwindi, with a maximum of eight visitors allowed to each group per day. The permits are sold in advance, but only to members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators. 30% of the permits are sold two years in advance, 50% one year in advance and 20% six months in advance.
Nkuringo Sector – Southern Bwindi
There are 3 gorilla families in Nkuringo, southern Bwindi, with a maximum of eight visitors allowed per day to each family. Visitors are based at the top-class Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge or the exceptional value Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge. The point at which clients begin tracking is right next to the lodges and can pass through interesting local villages and tea plantations on the way into the deeper forest. The ‘Nkuringo’ family is said to be one of the most relaxed and interesting in Bwindi.