Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, which makes the life-changing experience of visiting them in their natural habitat even more extraordinary and precious. There are said to be less than 900 African mountain gorillas left in the wild, although exact estimates vary – 700 (National Geographic) and 880 (World Wildlife Fund). The rare opportunity to see a family of gorillas in pristine rain forests is not only one of the ultimate wildlife experiences in Africa, it is also a once-in-a-lifetime expedition that sadly may not be possible in the future.
Southern Uganda hosts 13 gorilla groups in Bwindi Forest National Park, one of which is found in the area designated as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The groups inhabiting the southern part of Uganda, in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, are: Rushegura, Mubare and Habyanja – three families in the Buhoma area, Nkuringo family – one group in the Nkuringo area, Butukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro – three families in the Ruhija area, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, Busingye and Bweza – five families in the Rushaga area.
Mgahinga National Park hosts one family group of gorillas, called Nyakagezi. In the past the Nyakagezi group moved between Rwanda and Uganda, but for the last two years these gorillas have been staying put in Uganda. The family group consists of ten gorillas, including four silver back males.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies in south-western Uganda and shelters about half of the wild mountain gorilla population (about 400) remaining in the world today. The national park covers about 331km² of thick montane and lowland rain forest habitat.
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the far south-western part of Uganda, bordering on Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and the DRC (Virunga National Park). This is the Ugandan gorilla territory that falls in the Virunga Volcanoes region, which spans all three central African countries. The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park (about 34 km²) forming part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area, which incorporates some 434 km² of volcanic mountains. This compact park is home to one gorilla family that moves between Uganda and Rwanda, which makes it more difficult to reliably trek to the small gorilla population here.
It takes more than a day to drive southwest to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Park (over 12 hours on rough roads) from Kampala. The drive gives you a good idea of what rural Uganda looks like and passes through some beautiful scenery in parts. Alternatively you can take a short flight from Entebbe (international airport near Kampala) to Kisoro or by charter to Kayonza Airstrip, both near Bwindi. Once at Bwindi, this ancient and bio diverse forest can only be accessed on foot.