UPDATED JULY 2, 2020
Gorilla tourism started in Nkuringo in April 2004 after the habituation of the group that started in 1996. The group ranges to the Kashasha river valley below the Nteko ridge and was often to be found foraging in close proximity to the indigenous populations outside the park. This was regarded as being detrimental to the health and well-being of the animals as they became premonitory crop raiders devastating banana plantations, feeding on eucalyptus and sweet potato.
Rangers from the Human Gorilla Conflict Force were tasked to chase the group back into the park on an all too regular basis. It was decided in the best interests of both the animals and villagers well-being that the International Gorilla Conservation purchase a 12 Kilometre (7.5 miles) long and 350 metre wide strip of public land along the river to create a buffer zone adjacent to the national park, where planned land usage would not be appealing to the gorillas encouraging them to remain within the park.
In 2007, there was no Lodge in Nkuringo, and most clients had to drive 36 kilometres (22.4 miles) from Kisoro to Nkuringo that took over one and half hours drive to visit the New Nkuringo Gorilla group – that derived its name from round forested hill in Bwindi Forest.
“When I visited Nkuringo to see small community Campsite that was run by Family of the now local Leader Asigario Turyegenda, the new Lodge Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge was under construction as partnership with communities surrounding the Nkuringo area supported by USAID, aimed at ensuring the communities benefited from Gorilla Tourism. This was mainly to discourage poaching and encroachment on the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We added our voice on this by starting the Nkuringo Walking Safari to give the youth in the community a job but also an opportunity to tell the world about their remote corner that was so beautiful that we wanted more people to see it.” Says Lydia Nandudu, the Co-founder and CEO of Nkuringo Safaris Ltd and Nkuringo Mountain Gorilla Lodge.
“I tracked the Nkuringo Gorilla Group for the first time in 2007 with a group of other travellers, this was a great experience as I met with these giant gentle Gorillas and fell in Love with the Nkuringo family. The walk down to the gorillas was strenuous and by the time we returned from the trek, I had that satisfaction that I have conquered Bwindi the Impenetrable forest.”
“With our business Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge and Nkuringo Walking Safaris our target was the fit adventurous traveler that was looking for that off-the beaten track experience to immerse themselves in the fabric of rural community with a local guide and Nkuringo Gorilla trekking was always the Icing on the Cake.”
The Nkuringo Group became famous for its photographic nature—the gorillas always moved from the thick misty Bwindi Jungle to the Buffer zone which was mostly their feeding grounds.
“Trackers would walk down the Kashasha Valley and there were the most beautiful family of Gorillas waiting. Each tracker returned with the most amazing photos of this group and the Nkuringo Gorilla Group became famous so did our business get rooted to the company we have become today. We enjoy each day seeing grins on the faces of clients that stay with us at Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge as they are filled with joy as the flip through the images of their gorilla trek.” Narrates Lydia.
The Nkuringo Gorilla Group was led by the gentle Silverback named Nkuringo, he led the group till 2012 when he died at the age of 45 years. Nkuringo left the group with 3 Silverbacks, Safari, Rafiki and Christmas and the brothers kept together as Safari led the group. Safari disappeared after the gorilla group encountered another family; Bushaho Gorilla group and till this day, no one knows what happened to Safari – and that’s when Rafiki took over the family and has gracefully led the group till his demise on June 1, 2020.
Rafiki is a Swahili word that means “friend” and indeed he was a friendly Gorilla and valued family member; even when his brother Christmas left the group to start his own group, at times you would find Christmas return and be part of the Nkuringo group – like that prodigal son, Rafiki always let his brother return home.
On June 12th, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) released a statement on the death of Rafiki, the lead and only silverback of Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Gorilla Doctors’ post-mortem examination on Rafiki revealed that the likely cause of death was the result of injury from a sharp device/object that penetrated his left upper abdomen and passed through his internal organs. According to UWA’s statement, this injury was the result of a spear and UWA has arrested four poachers.
On June 1, 2020, UWA trackers reported not seeing silverback Rafiki during their observation of Nkuringo Gorilla Group. UWA organized a major search on June 2nd and located Rafiki’s body within a few hours; UWA then notified Gorilla Doctors. Dr. Ricky immediately trekked into the forest with a post-mortem kit to perform an examination of the dead silverback.
While conducting a post-mortem examination, Dr. Ricky noted that Rafiki had sustained what appeared to be a sharp-force penetrating wound in the upper left abdomen, piercing part of the stomach wall and large intestine. As UWA announced, the wound was later identified to be caused by a spear and was very likely the cause of death.
“With Covid 19 and ban on Travel Worldwide, we’re saddened to learn that Rafiki has been killed by a poacher that had gone into the park to hunt. With most businesses closed and most people unemployed we are saddened that the effects of COVID 19 are spreading into the wildlife conservation efforts that have taken a lot of time for us to put in place and to protect these endangered Mountain Gorillas and Wildlife in all Parks.” Lydia adds her voice to the global world concern.
The Poacher who was arrested is said to have speared the Gorilla in self-defense when he came into confrontation with the Silverback. His wife upon learning of the death of Rafiki – reported him to the authorities and he confessed to the killing of the gorilla and together with his accomplices have been taken into custody.
UWA Rangers today are keeping a keen eye on the Nkuringo Gorilla Group to ensure the family is protected and doesn’t get attacked by unhabituated gorilla and we hope one of the Silverbacks; either Christmas or Posho will take over the leadership of this group.
Latest reports reaching us from Nkuringo trailhead (July 1, 2020) say that Nkuringo group in the Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has stabilized with 12 individuals and 3 infants under the leadership of Rwamutwe the dominant blackback. Tabu is taking the 2nd in command role. This morning Furaha, was seen adjusting the position of the baby while moving and feeding .
Mountain gorillas have become one of Africa’s greatest conservation success story with current numbers in Virunga and Bwindi regions shooting close to 1063 mountain gorillas in the wild and out of the critically endangered zone. Poaching is one the greatest hindrance to keeping those numbers multiplying. We believe the death of Rafiki will mark the end of poaching in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and together with the community leaders, we are going to focus on sensitizing the communities on the value of conserving wildlife for future generations.
In efforts to promote our conservation efforts in Nkuringo with Nkuringo Cultural Center, we would like to honor a wildlife officer, Kanyamunyu Fidelis, due to the outstanding work that he has played in the conservation of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Earth’s last mountain gorillas.
Fedelis has advocated for the gorilla habituation in the southern sector of Bwindi impenetrable national Park thus increasing tourism and there Conservation. He is the director of Nkuringo Cultural Center, which also advocates for wildlife conservation thus increasing the relationship between communities and wildlife. He also owns a Biodiversity Conservation Lodge in the middle of our town which have increased biodiversity balance in the community.
Nkuringo Safaris Ltd together with him and other stake holders have been on forefront for advocating for the Batwa to promote there cultural activities in Bwindi impenetrable International Park to make them appreciate and stop wild animal poaching.
Help Gorilla Conservation Efforts in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest by donating through Gofundme.
The Covid pandemic has halted all travel to the gorilla nation, yet gorilla conservation and security massively depend on the funds from gorilla tracking activities. This may have long-term effects to the survival of these endangered gentle giants of Africa.
Amy and Lydia have started an initiative towards conserving our cousins and would like to appeal to your better nature to take action by asking you to donate towards the cause. Any dollar can make a huge difference and we thank you ‘big time!’
Nkuringo Sector has 44 Staff to include Rangers and guides that support the Gorilla trekking activity. With no tourism at the moment, all rangers, law enforcement officers and guide are working together in patrols, gorilla monitoring, habituation of Gorillas.
The support we collect from this campaign is going to go towards food for the rangers, guides and staff that work with Mountain Gorillas, and we plan to supply the following items Maize flour, rice, sugar, soap and G.nuts.
So take a tour of your pockets and dig deep, because when the dust dies down, we want the Africa safari that takes us to see those rangers, share a smile and admire them take us through the impenetrable jungles to the gentle giants.
By booking our gorilla tours, you assure the rangers that work will resume soon because it will and we’ll get back to spending those unforgettable moments in the misty jungles of Uganda.
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