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Habinyanja Gorilla Family
Family size: 18 members including 2 silverbacks
Location: Buhoma


The original Habinyanja group was habituated in 1997.  It was later first visited by tourists in 1999. The name comes from “Nyanja” which is the local word for ‘body of water’. It refers to the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the group was first sighted.

The Habinyanja family features about 18 individuals. This family was habituated around 1997 and by 1999, trekkers had begun to track through it. This was during Mugurusi silverback that was later succeeded by Rwansigazi and then Makara. This group was named after Nyanja a local word that denotes a pool of water as the family was first sighted around the swamp. This area is undeniably one of the endowed tracking sites that you consider visiting while on your mountain gorilla safari in Uganda.

The Habinyanja is a fascinating family with a lot of drama and commotion. This is caused by the power struggles between the dominant silverbacks and fights for the family leadership. The adult females are led by the shrewd alpha female called Kisho.

This word is derived its name from the local word “Nyanja” meaning “body of water.” It was habituated for tourism and visited by trekkers in 1999. Habinyanja denotes to the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the family was first sighted.

It is composed of 18 individuals including the two silverbacks. It is an interesting group with a lot of drama and commotion. This is due to the power struggles between the dominant silverback gorillas and fights for the group leadership.

It is not news for such big groups to break, the split makes a new gorilla group and some times can be joined by other individuals rejected by other groups or other solitary gorillas and even when they do, these primates maintain the brotherhood and don’t fight against former group individuals if they meet each other. Tourists trekking this group may take about three to eight hours and it is better if they spent a night at a lodge around Buhoma sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The adult females are headed by the shred alpha female known Kisho.

Habinyanja Gorilla Family

History of the Group

In the past one decade of interaction with this group it has provided enough intrigue, drama, power struggles, secret trysts and back-stabbings to rival the best (or worst) Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood family dramas.

The saga begins during habituation in the reign of the dominant but aging silverback patriarch, Mukurusi. He was the undisputed leader of a peaceful family of about 30 individuals – a large number even by gorilla family standards. Mukurusi means ‘old man’ in Rukiga, whose days were numbered and sure enough, he soon passed away, leaving several sons. In most families – on and off-screen – the death of the patriarch unleashes smouldering sibling rivalries. Mukurusi’s brood was no exception. The first cause of friction was family leadership. This thorny issue was brought about by the fact that there were four silverbacks in the group. These being: Rwansigazi – A silverback at father’s death he was next-in-line to lead the family, but his dominance was not guaranteed because of his half-brothers. Mwirima – Also a silverback at father’s death and a contender for supremacy; initially, both brothers shared power but it was only a matter of time before the situation came to a head.

Further fueling the struggles for dominance were Mukurusi’s other sons; The young and restless, Makara; The black-sheep (or is it gorilla) of the family, Binyindo and Maraya, he of elastic morals and equally elastic loyalties. The unfolding family chronicle is further embellished by the adult females of the group, led by the shrewd, self-styled, alpha female, one-eyed Kisho.

After the death of Mukurusi the original Habinyanja group remained as a family unit under the leadership of the two eldest silverbacks, Rwansigazi and Mwirima for a number of years. The two brothers would have continued living as one family unit except for one irreconcilable difference. Rwansigazi favoured a large home-range and would lead the family in difficult marches far away from the much smaller home range which Mukurusi had favoured. Perhaps Rwansigazi was satisfying a need to explore the world that he felt was denied him by his father who, at his advanced age, didn’t have the ability to travel long distances. Whatever the reason, his brother and co-leader, Mwirima preferred to keep the family within a narrower area.

On Valentine’s Day 2002, what could have potentially been a cause of conflict that may have ended in the death of one of the leading silverbacks, resolved itself peacefully. Rwansigazi may have communicated to the group that they were in for a long trek that day. To which Mwirima may have replied: “Well, I don’t fancy a long walk in the woods today bro, how about you just mozzey along without me and (turning to the group) whichever of you gals wants to hang around with me just feel free to do so.” That settled matters in an easy, friendly manner and the family divided with a cheerful “Cheerio” from both sides. The group that stayed with Rwansigazi maintained the name Habinyanja. This is it.