Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
For a park to be ranked among the UNESCO world heritage sites, it must be extraordinary in more than one way! And that’s what makes for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a National Park with a large variation of altitude and habitat types is. It is a tropical rainforest attraction estimated to be over 25,000 years. It is found in Southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Albertine rift. Bwindi credits its popularity to protecting over 320 mountain gorillas—half of the world’s population.
The park deserves a special place in every birder’s bucket list as it boasts of over 400 bird species. Oh, and these include 23 that are endemic to the Albertine rift like the African Green Broadbill. March and September are the best as one stands higher chances of seeing them with ease. If you are keener on migrant birds like cinnamon-chested bee-eater, the months from April to November don’t disappointment.
For easy management, the Park which spreads across 321Km2 is split into three wings, and from which tourists can track gorillas. They are; Buhoma. Nkuringo. Ruhijja. Each of these has different gorilla families:
Ruhija: Why Ruhija stands out among the five wings of tracking gorillas
Buhoma used to be ranked as the most visited arena for tracking gorillas as it was the first to be developed for tourism purposes. However, things are taking a new twist. More tourists are developing a preference for Ruhija over Buhoma especially for four broad reasons. For starters, it offers unobstructed views of Virunga, Africa’s oldest park and its active volcanoes. Standing atop its highly elevated hills, you can also catch sight of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Lake Albert, a bird watching paradise in the Albertine Rift Valley.
Secondly, Ruhija is much closer to Kabale, the main access point of the park by road. While it takes roughly an hour to get to it, it takes roughly three hours to reach Buhoma. This is partly because the earth road that leads to it (Buhoma) is usually in an impassable state due to the heavy traffic of cars it receives. Secondly, one stands high chances of encountering forest elephants in Ruhija than any other wing of the park.
Lastly, the gorillas in Buhoma are quite tamed as they are used to seeing endless numbers of tourists all year. On the other hand, the ones in Ruhija exhibit an utterly wild behaviour as their locality is still virgin.
Below are some examples of gorilla families in Ruhija;
It is so unusual for a gorilla family to have more than two silverbacks, and that’s one of the reasons why this group stands out. It is one of the two families in Uganda that has three silverbacks. Needless to say, it is also one of the latest groups to be habituated. That aside, it comprises of members in different age brackets with the youngest at five months and the oldest at 32 years. This makes it possible for tourists to compare how gorillas of different age brackets behave. In total, it has 11 members; two infants, two juveniles, two black backs, two adult females and three silverbacks.
Many tourists especially those who love trekking love this group immensely as it is found deep in the forest. As such, one is assured of encountering so many sights and sounds of the forest as they journey to meet Oruzogo.
They spend much of their time on ground, at a secondary forest in the park. This makes it easy to observe their behaviour and features in detail. It also enables one take excellent pictures without trying so hard. If you have a thing for selfies, they will rock your experience. It comprises of 12 members.
Unlike most gorilla species in Bwindi, their favourite delicacy is Oruzogoto, a soft plant whose sheath has a strong taste. That’s how they came to be called Oruzogo.
Mubare Group: Better known as the M-group, this was the very first group to be tracked by tourists in 1993 after two years of habituation. Habituation refers to the process of making a particular species accommodative of another. The cluster was named after the gorgeous Mubare Hills where they were discovered. Initially, the group comprised of 18 members. Overtime, this number has reduced to five after other members (especially) fast growing males defected to other groups. Despite its small number though, a visit to this group is totally worth it. Its fellows know how to spoil guests thanks to their vast experience.
Habinyanja Group: This family’s first encounter with tourists was in 1999 after two years of habituation. In the start it was a huge group with close to 20 members. However several of its members split forming the Rushegura Group. Despite this break up though, the two co-exist peacefully. The only times the two clash is when a member of one attempts to invade the other’s territory.
Rushegura Group: If you asked most tourists who have been to Buhoma about which group to visit, chances are high the answer will be Rushegura. Why? It is probably the easiest group to find. They usually graze with easy reach from the starting point of the trekk. It was habituated in 2000. Its team leader is blackbuck Kabukojo and has 19 members. The group has 6 adult females, 3blackbuck and 5 juvenile and 5 infants. No other group mates as much as Rushegura….excuse my French.
Mishaya Group: The Mishaya group is a reunion of members who broke off from the Nshongi family following a heated dispute which ended in a spirited fight. Though this twist of events lessened the number of Nshongi group by 10 members, it didn’t change its ranking as one of the groups with the biggest population. It currently comprises of 25 members.
This wing of the park is a favourite among hardcore tourists who love Mountaineering. Due to its steep gradient, it offers a tough climbing challenge that usually gives gorilla tracking an extra thrill. The group was named after the part of the park in which it stays. It is made of 19 members
They say you can take a wild animal out of the jungle but you can’t take the wild side out of them. That might be hard to believe for now, but it won’t anymore after you visit the Batwa community in the villages around Bwindi National Park where they live now like Ruhija. While it is over a decade now since this tribe of pigmies was evicted from Bwindi, they still hold a very strong attachment to it. Day in day out, they exhibit the ways of life they used to live while still residents in the forest. Such include how they used to hunt wildlife, harvest wild fruits, and conduct marriages among others. The experience is enriched and authentic, a good reason most tourists cannot imagine leaving Bwindi before experiencing it.
Though there are no standard rates or fee for this activity, visitors are urged to render what they can afford. The Batwa don’t have any other reliable source of livelihood. They survive on handouts.
Where to stay
Agandi eco-lodge is a few minutes’ walk away from the starting point of gorilla trekking and the villages of the Batwa People. Among the many things that attract tourists to it are picturesque views of Virunga it offers. Seated not so far from the border of Uganda and Congo, Virunga is Africa’s oldest National Park (established in 1925). The cherry on the cake is that the lodge whose architecture is themed along African heritage is more of a homestay than it is a hotel. As such, you get feel at home through your stay. It also organizes visits to the Batwa Communities where you can get see how they live.
How to get Bwindi
Agandi Uganda Safaris organizes daily trips to Bwindi. These include both tailored made safaris and structured safaris bunched in packages.