Home » Tourist Attractions
Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park ∣ What To See In Mgahinga National Park
There are a variety of things to see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park including;
- Mountain gorillas
- Golden monkeys
- Batwa pygmies (hunter-gatherers) and
- Ngarama Cave
- Three conical, extinct volcanoes
Below is a detailed description of all attractions to see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park on your Uganda gorilla safari.
Mountain gorillas in Mgahinga National Park
For travelers on Uganda gorilla tours, Mgahinga is best known as an alternative destination to Bwindi for gorilla trekking tours. The park shares its mountain gorillas population with the adjoining Parc National des Volcanoess in Rwanda and the Parc National des Virungas in Congo which is all found in the Virunga massif.
The most recent mountain gorilla census conducted in 2018 revealed a world population of 1063 mountain gorillas with 604 gorillas living in the Virunga mountains. The other habitat for mountain gorillas is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda with a population of 459 gorillas.
Mgahinga National Park’s abundant green vegetation provides suitable habitats for these endangered apes. Gorillas in Mgahinga live in families (groups) that comprise several individuals. There is one habituated gorilla family in Mgahinga called the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family, described below.
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family In Mgahinga National Park
Nyakagezi is a place in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where there is a lot of sumptuous food attractive to the gorillas. Nyakagezi gorilla group has in the past decade restricted its range to the Mgahinga National Park rather than in the past when it used to cross over the neighboring country of Rwanda.
The family currently is consists of 9 members with 5 silverbacks, 2 adult females, and 3 youngsters. The gorillas can be easily identified by their names, and these are;
- Five silverback gorilla−Mark, Mafia, Rukundo, Ndugutse, and Bugingo.
- Two female adults−Nshuti and Nyiramwiza
- Three youngsters−Mutagamba, Nshuti, Baby, and Fred
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family is headed by Silverback Mark and assisted by Mafia. Mark took over power from his father Bujinjo. Bujingo is not like other Silverback gorillas who stay as loners after losing power. He still happily leaves with the family and takes on the role of ‘Mzee’ which literally refers to an elder.
This is the easiest gorilla family to trek by visitors interested in gorilla trekking in Uganda. This is because they prefer a small range to forage for food which makes it to see them compared to the Mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park that are known to travel long distances
Golden Monkeys In Mgahinga National Park
Amidst the fascinating experience of Uganda gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park, the visitors on a Uganda tour to Mgahinga will also have a chance of encountering the golden monkeys. The golden monkey is a very rare monkey species found only in the Bamboo Forests of the Virunga Volcanoes – nowhere else in the world and holds a conservation status of endangered.
These beautiful creatures live in large groups of up to 62 individuals and are quite playful and fascinating to watch. The group is led by a dominant male and ultimately the commander in chief. Female golden monkeys look more golden and absolutely gorgeous with faces scribbled with natural innocence.
Masters of foraging in the bamboo and the unspoiled highland vegetation, golden monkeys are skilled climbers and can swing from branch to branch with ultimate ease.
They swing their long tails of about 72 centimeters, balance in space as they land on branches with the aid of both their feet and arms that have gripping abilities. Through natural adaptation, they swiftly navigate through thick bamboo in an indescribable manner.
They are predominantly vegetarian but they have to eat insects and reportedly moles to supplement their diet.
Elements of their menu are wild coffee, bamboo shoots, bamboo leaves, bamboo fungi, and red-hot poker flower, shoots among other plant species. They dwell on soft branches usually proximate to their feeding territories.
Golden monkeys have natural predators such as African Golden Cats, Serval Cats, and African Crowned Eagles. Eagles target golden monkey babies; this aerial predator strikes terror among them and the descent to the lower branches ensues.
In a bid to protect little ones, adult golden monkeys hug and hold on to their babies to repel the imminent danger. This is an amazing display of survival instincts.
The golden monkey population is estimated at around 3000-4000 individuals in the Virunga area which 42-60 are habituated in Uganda’s Mgahinga park.
Other Animals In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Besides gorillas and golden monkeys, there are about 76 animal species in Mgahinga National Park, although they are not easy to see in the wild forest vegetation and they include;
- Forest elephants
- Forest buffaloes
- Giant Forest Hogs
- Golden Cats
- Side-striped Jackals
- Black-fronted duikers
- South African porcupines
Birds In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park is blessed with unique bird fauna. A checklist of over 184 bird species can be spotted during a Uganda birding safari in Mgahinga. These include several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region. Notable bird species include;
- African olive pigeon
- Alpine swift
- Archer’s robin-chat
- Blue-headed coucal
- Dusky Crimsonwing
- Kivu ground thrush
- Moorland chat
- Olive Woodpecker
- Ruwenzori batis
- Ruwenzori nightjar
- Ruwenzori turaco
- Scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird
Vegetation Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
While on your Uganda safaris in Mgahinga National Park, you will experience six different types of vegetation. At the lower slopes, grows wild herbs and shrubs.
Given that in the 1980s, there was an encroachment on the park by the locals who live adjacent to the park, the tilled gardens have now grown into shrubs and grasslands.
It is the favored habitat of many small mammals that hide from their predators and search for food in the undergrowth.
The main montane forest tree species grow up to the altitude of 3,200m (10,500ft). Ground cover is composed of grasses, mosses, lichen, and liverwort.
Above the Montane forest belt lies the bamboo zone that stretches from the western boundary of Mount Sabinyo and below it on Gahinga Mountain.
Bamboo is mostly found between 1,800m and 3,300m (5,900–10,800ft) and grows to 3–4m (10–13ft) on average. This zone is known to support the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Generally, Mgahinga experiences a climate that supports the subalpine zone. This zone is divided into two; the moorland zone and the Afro-montane belt. The Afro-Alpine belt is characterized by giant Senecio and Lobelia species.
At these levels, mammals are rare though small rodents may be seen scurrying in search of insects, while butterflies hover over rare flowers and raptors soar.
Virunga Volcanoes In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Virunga volcanoes are a chain of eight volcanoes that dot the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These three conical extinct mountains are the most spectacular features that can be seen by travelers on a Uganda safari tour in Mgahinga, and these include;
Mount Muhavura (4,127m)
This is the highest of the peaks in the park. The name Muhavura means to guide, and the Batwa used to look for its high peak to help orient themselves in the forest. Muhavura has a crystal clear crater lake about 36m wide at its summit.
The top commands panoramic views far into Uganda, Rwanda, and along the length of the Virunga chain.
Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m)
Sabyinyo means old man’s teeth, a reference to its jagged summit that is dissected by deep gorges and ravines. The countries that share the Virungas (Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo) meet on the highest of Sabyinyo’s stumpy peaks. The mountain is located northeast of Lake Kivu in Rwanda and west of Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda.
Mount Gahinga (3,474m)
the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes. The word Gahinga comes from the local Rufumbira dialect meaning “a small pile of stones”.
Mount Gahinga has a swampy caldera on its peak believed to be as wide as180 meters. The vegetation across the mountain can be described as afro-montane with bamboo composing the main vegetation.
Like Muhabura and Sabyinyo, the bamboo forests on Mount Gahinga are a habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas that live within the park.
There are several other species of animals and birds that form part of the Mount Gahinga ecosystem. The golden monkeys are notable to these.
Batwa Pygmy People At Mgahinga National Park
Visitors could be attracted to Mgahinga to see the gorillas of Uganda, but there’s another reason to travel to Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park; the Batwa Pygmy people.
These last remaining members of the endangered Batwa pygmy tribe that once flourished in the forest today live on the edges of Mgahinga.
Who are the Batwa People
The Batwa pygmies are hunter-gatherer people who lived in Mgahinga and the neighboring rain forests for thousands of years.
They lived a typical hunter-gatherer culture; the men used simple spears or bows and arrows to catch birds, monkeys, small antelopes, and bush pigs, while the women foraged for wild honey, fruits, and berries.
They relied entirely on the rainforest for their existence, living in grass huts and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed.
What Is The Social And Economic Life Of The Batwa Today
In 1991, Mgahinga has gazetted a National Park and the Batwa were forced out of the area. They were relocated to camps, settlements, and neighboring communities. After the eviction, the Batwa people faced and still face challenges of living among the other people in the neighboring communities as they continue to be discriminated against and stigmatized due to their different ways of life and their physical appearance.
Today, there are poorest Uganda and many of them earn their living from carrying heavy loads of merchandise for traders in markets and working on farms of other people.
Their population and culture had also started to diminish and in fact today, there are less than 3,000 Batwa People.
However, things have begun to change, the Uganda Wildlife in conjunction with USAID (United States Agency for International Development plus the Embassy of Netherlands in Kampala started the Batwa Cultural Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
This trail is led by local Twa (Batwa) who explain how they used to live in the forest before being forcibly removed. Part of the Batwa cultural trial fee goes directly to the and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books and improve their livelihoods.
Garama Cave In Mgahinga National Park
The Garama cave is one of the key Uganda tourist attractions that should not be missed while on your tours in Uganda’s Mgahinga National park.
These caves used to be a home for the Batwa who had lived there for many years until they were recently resettled. The 342m long Garama Cave lies beneath a plateau northern edge of the park, 3km from Ntebeko gate. It is set in the former farmland zone but in earlier times, the cave lied in the forest when it was occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their neighbors. Today the cave provides an atmospheric performance of Batwa music at the end of the Batwa Trail.