The Uganda Gorilla Baby Boom in Bwindi and the celebration of the wildlife conservation efforts by all parties.
9 baby gorillas have been born in 2020 so far, compared to just 3 in the whole of 2019 leading to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to declare a “baby boom” in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.
“This is quite exciting because we lost one of the precious silverbacks patriarch to poachers in June during covid lockdown. Having 7 baby gorillas being born in just six weeks is just what we needed to boost conservation efforts”, says Lydia Nandudu, Managing Director at Nkuringo Safaris ltd.
The latest gorilla baby boom news comes in from Mucunguzi gorilla family in Rushaga Sector that welcomed a new baby born by Adult female named Ndinkahe (translates ‘Where am I?’). The mother aged 16 years joined this habituated group from an unhabituated wild family. The group takes its name from the head Silverback Mucunguzi . The family’s membership now is made up of 12 individuals.
From Mgahinga National Park in Nyakagezi Group, the latest baby that has joined the gorilla baby boom was born on September 2, 2020 by adult female Nshuti (translates ‘My Friend’) increasing members of this habituated group to 9 individuals. Mgahinga shares habitat with Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP and Virunga NP in DR Congo and sometimes the gorillas are seen to cross boarders and then back with disregard to human political boundaries.
The other latest gorilla baby boomer comes from the Buhoma sector (Sept 2020) within the Rushegura gorilla family by Adult Female Ruterana increasing the family membership to 18 gorillas. Born in 2002, this is Ruterana’s third offspring. Sadly she lost her first infant to Pneumonia on September 13, 2012.
In the same family on August 27, 2020, an adult female called Kibande also welcomed her fifth birth. Kibande is commonly referred to as the kingmaker because her offspring usually become dominant silverbacks.
In the southern sector, Rushaga trailhead, earlier, also registered on the gorilla baby boom project with 2 new baby gorillas in April, 2020. Muyambi and Nshongi gorilla groups on April 25 and May 1, 2020 both welcomed gorilla babies by mothers Kabagyenyi and an unnamed adult female in Nsongi group that joined the group from the wild. Muyambi, however, is the newest habituated gorilla group in Bwindi that was opened to tourism in 2019 and has only six family members.
The Executive Director UWA Sam Mwandha Observed that “the birth of new mountain gorillas is testimony to Uganda’s successful conservation efforts. With enhanced integrity of protected areas, there has been a general increase in wildlife populations in Uganda,” he said.
In December 2019, the Bwindi-Sarambwe census estimated the total number of mountain gorillas in the region to be 459, bringing the global total number of mountain gorillas to 1,063, the highest number ever recorded. The latest addition of 12 babies in 2019 & 2020 so far brings the estimated total number of gorillas in Bwindi to 471 individuals.
Uganda now protects more than half of the global total number of mountain gorillas within her two gorilla sanctuaries, Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. But these efforts may be undermined if the ban on international travel is not lifted soon. The money collected from gorilla tourism is much needed to take care of and protect these precious jungle jewels and since the pandemic, funds into the conservation of parks around Africa hit an all time low.
It is not readily clear why a sudden gorilla baby boom but when you prai deeper, a combination conservation efforts from Gorilla Doctors, patrol teams of rangers and UWA staff and the money that comes from gorilla trekking tourism to finances all the activities in the gorilla jungles greatly explains the recent spike in gorilla numbers. Slowly but surely a solid future for mountain gorillas is emerging, proving that long-term, collaborative conservation efforts can pull species back from the brink of extinction. This was demonstrated in 2019 with the IUCN reclassification of mountain gorillas from Critically Endangered to Endangered.
“It’s remarkable to see that the positive trend for mountain gorillas continues since it was once thought the species might be extinct by the end of the twentieth century,” said Bas Huijbregts, African Species Director, World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “The future for mountain gorillas looks hopeful, but the threats they have endured for years, like civil unrest, poaching, habitat destruction, disease and improper management of tourism, remain. Effective long-term conservation efforts have helped both the Virunga and Bwindi populations increase, and sustaining this incredible result will be contingent on sustaining those efforts.”
The world lockdown due to the covid pandemic had devastating effects on the tourism industry. With no tourism in these jungles, funds that keep the responsible teams active in maintaining, treating and protecting these sanctuaries are practically non-existent and this leads to poachers roaming the forest floors and killing animals like the loss of Rafiki in June 2020 that left the Nkuringo gorilla family leaderless for some time. Fortunately the poacher who killed the gorilla was sentenced to 11 years in prison, thanks to new stringent wildlife laws by the Government of Uganda.
Seeing the mountain gorillas
Mountain gorilla tours have seen a spiking interest in Africa safari travelers in the recent decade. And the gorilla baby boom during the covid lockdown of tourism increases the number of gorillas to been seen on your gorilla trip. Visitors that have had this experience have testified that no other wildlife encounter in Africa matches the astounding experience of spending time face-to-face with Africa’s wild mountain gorillas.
Gorilla trekking takes place in a handful of far-flung East Africa jungle locations, adding a layer of fascinating adventure to African safaris that is hard to match on any other itinerary. The fact that gorillas, as a species, are on the brink of extinction and treks are a highly restricted activity, encountering wild gorillas is considered a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. To watch a family of mountain gorillas relaxing in their lush forest home is an awe-inspiring privilege and a memory you would take away and remember forever.
Mountain gorillas are found in high altitude montane and bamboo forest jungles only in East Africa. They live in two isolated groups: one group occupies the Virunga volcanoes shared between three national parks (Virunga National Park of DR Congo, Volcanoes NP of Rwanda and Mgahinga NP of Uganda), the other group flourishes in the jungles of one of the world’s oldest montane forest, Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The best mountain gorilla habitats to see mountain gorillas, an activity famously dubbed gorilla trekking, are either in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks or Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP. This is because they have the best bush lodging options, security, access and easy logistics for gorilla tours. DR Congo is mostly avoided by most travelers.
Due to the recent pandemic, the gorilla parks were closed off from tourism but since August 1, 2020, Rwanda opened its borders and allows tourists to go see these precious primates. Uganda is domestically allowing visitors and international travel may be opened on September 1, 2020, according to a statement by the COVID Taskforce.
How much is gorilla trekking?
To see mountain gorillas you must first obtain a tracking permit from the UWA in Kampala or RDB in Kigali. If you prefer avoiding the bureaucracy, contact a trusted local tour operator like Nkuringo Safaris to purchase permits on your behalf for up to 2 years from the month of tracking.
Each Gorilla Permit in Uganda costs USD $700 (July 2020) and the operator’s processing fee is US $30 per permit. A Gorilla Permit in Rwanda permit costs USD $1,500 per person. You’ll need transportation from the airport to the gorilla park and where to stay. Fortunately the outskirts of the gorilla parks are dotted with some of the world class bush facilities that are built to make you forget where you came from. A luxury stay for a night with meals would cost a minimum of US$350 per person and a budget camp may charge you from US$20.