Ruhondeza, one of the oldest silverbacks in Bwindi national park has died. It was also the leader of the first group that kick-started habituated gorilla tourism in Uganda.
Believed to have been over 50 years old, Ruhonza was until recently the leader of the reknown Mubare gorilla family whose successful habituation in 1991 kick-started gorilla tourism in Uganda.
Over 50 community members converged to attend Ruhondeza’s burial in Buhoma. He died on Friday last week and preliminary findings from a postmortem done by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) suggest that he died of old age.
Lillian Nsubuga, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) spokesperson, said a comprehensive postmortem report would be released later.
“His body had no injuries but the teeth were completely worn out up to the gums which meant he could not feed properly. He was also very thin and his muscles had greatly weakened,” Nsubuga explained.
UWA staff in Bwindi for several weeks were monitoring the health and movements of Ruhondeza together with community members and veterinary doctors.
Nsubuga said UWA would construct a monument at Ruhondeza’s burial site and provide wide literature about his life and times in recognition of his contribution to the country’s tourism industry.
“His life will always be celebrated for having contributed to the birth of gorilla tourism in Uganda,” Nsubuga stated.
“Although we are saddened by Ruhondeza’s death, we are at the same time happy that he was able to live to a ripe old age in the face of the numerous challenges facing gorilla conservation today.”
Ruhondeza’s Mubare group has enabled gorilla eco-tourism to grow and flourish in Uganda. Currently Uganda has eight habituated mountain gorilla families, receiving between 55 and 64 tourists daily and yielding over $11m (about sh26.7b) annually.
UWA charges $500 (about sh1.2m) per foreign non-resident tourist and sh250,000 from east Africans for gorilla tracking.
Early this year, Ruhondeza’s family (Mubare) had a fight with a wild unhabituated group, which caused the Mubare family members to scatter. Ruhondeza remained alone while his son Kanyonyi escaped with three family members.
The number of children Ruhondeza fathered in his lifetime is not known but at the time of his family’s habituation in 1991, it consisted of 17 family members.
The Mubare family is now headed by Kanyonyi and has seven members including one juvenile, three sub-adults and two adult females.