Nkuringo Group

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The given name Nkuringo derives from the hill where this gorilla group was found prior to habituation.

Nkuringo was habituated for a period of two years between 1997 and 1999 however tourist visits to the group did not begin until 2004. The delay was due to a change in the groupís home range after the habituation. It is believed that about 70 years ago, this particular gorilla group used to range what is at present outside the park while the forest still stretched to these areas. However, with growing human population, settlement and additional activity like hunting, the group was strained to reside much within the protected forest. Following habituation, along with getting used to mankind, the group immediately ranged across its supposed former range inside the community area where it almost spent more that 85% of its time.

The habituation of the group consequently created problems of gorillas crop raiding and other destructive activities to the community. This to a big extent contributed to the delay of the opening of the group for tourism. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had to be done, and the focus turned to how society could benefit from the upcoming tourism and create advantage of the habituation of Nkuringo gorilla group, and in any case to minimize effects of gorilla crop pillaging and other negative costs.

To reduce gorilla unhelpful activities to the community and the risk of disease transmission at the interface of gorillas, humans and livestock, a buffer zone wrapping the range of Nkuringo gorilla group was created in a collaboration involving UWA, AWF/IGCP and the community in 2003.

Subsequent to extensive consultation, negotiation, sensitization and education with different stakeholders and local community, the locals residing next to the protected forest sold off their land to pave way for the creation of the buffer zone. The buffer zone covers a width of 350m stretching over a distance of 12km along the park boundary. The inner of the buffer zone of width 200m right away bordering with the national park belongs to the UWA within which it can achieve different ways of adaptive management while the outer 150m is co-owned with the community under the umbrella organization Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation (NCDF) and in this division the community carries out activities that cam improve community livelihoods but still commensurate with conservation of the gorilla.

During the habituation experience, about 13 night nests used to be counted and accordingly the group was thought to comprise of about 20 individuals. However, during habituation, some individuals left the group while others joined. But at the time of opening the group to tourism in 2004, Nkuringo gorilla group was made up of 16 gorillas namely; Nkuringo (the lead and only SB in the group at the time), Safari (BB), Kirungi (SA), Christmas (INF), Africa (SA), Kisoro (BB), Kwitonda (ADF), Mama Christmas (INF), Kasotora (ADF), Bikingi (SA), Samehe (ADF), Posho (INF), Karibu (JUV), Rafiki (BB) and Bahati (SA).

Of the very founders of Nkuringo gorilla group, three individuals have been lost. Bikingi full-grown to a Blackback left the group in 2005. Through March 2008, Nkuringo the lead Silverback had started to emaciate and losing his upper teeth. He died on 26th May 2008 possibly due to old age. And in January 2009, Kisoro starting to silver also vanished from the group.

All the same, Nkuringo gorilla group has sustained to grow to 19 individuals today. New entrants include Kwesiima (JUV), Samehe baby, Kasotora baby, and baby twins to Kwitonda. Two of the naissance blackbacks Safari and Rafiki have fully-fledged to offer Nkuringo gorilla group two gigantic silverbacks. Safari on the other hand succeeded old Nkuringo to become the lead silverback of the group. Kisoro too is starting to silver.

The groupís health has remained relatively good except in 2001 when there was an outbreak of scabies within the group. In the beginning, only the infected individuals were immobilized and treated with a dose of Ivermectin but for a while, even those that appeared clinically healthy soon or later showed the disease. This led to the resolution of all individuals within the group being dosed. The group recovered to full health excepting one unfortunate infant that succumbed.

The outbreak of scabies in the gorillas plainly exemplified the effects of close up contact between gorillas and man and his livestock especially in the course of disease spread. At the time of scabies outbreak, medical records of nearby health centres indicated that the scabies outbreak had happened much earlier in the local people. A great resemblance was observed between the scabies in local people and the scabies that was emerging in gorillas. Epidemiologically, it was believed that as people tendered to their gardens especially in harvesting season, which is usually the dry season and the paucity of water causes low hygiene standards, people left over their filthy clothes in the fields contaminated with scabies. Because of their high curiosity, gorillas would play with as well as roll in these tainted clothes within which they were infected.

Out of the understanding of the connection between community health and gorilla health emerged a new epoch of gorilla conservation that integrated public health and gorilla health in the ordinary conservation diagram. This approach was accepted both within UWA and the broader conservation world. As of this very experience, the first UWA veterinarian with others founded an NGO Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) www.ctph.org to address the threat of disease transmission at the wildlife, human and livestock interface.

To the moment, Nkuringo gorilla group still spends a large amount of time outside the protected milieu. It manages through crop raiding to supplement its wild diet with locally grown human foods like sorghum, pawpaw, shoots of sweet potatoes, the pith of banana stems, the back of eucalyptus and seemingly maize.

These days, the area around Nkuringo gorilla group is losing its original local names for the progressively popularizing Nkuringo. The area is indeed on the rise into one of those imaginable tourism destinations because of this large and fancy Nkuringo gorilla group. Although Nkuringo the founding dominant silverback at habituation passed away, his heritage remains. He was known to be of good character and behavior. Disparate to his legatee Safari, Nkuringo agreed to other males in the group mating with females. This almost certainly is why he stuck with in the group until his end.

Last of all, we recognize the following team of rangers for their front line task of habituating Nkuringo gorilla group: Tusiime Caleb Kahiima, Mbonigaba Silver, Kanyamaza Guston, Bagamuhunda Mathew, Bakundakabo Elneho (RIP) and Twinamatsiko David (RIP).

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