Gorilla Groups in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park in the north-west of the country is the most famous of Rwanda’s parks and is the place that most people come to on holiday because of its renowned residents, the mountain gorillas. Rwanda’s gorilla trekking is its biggest attraction.
Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda is the ultimate wildlife experience and the reason why most people come on holiday: sitting within a small family group of gorillas is a ‘must’ for serious wildlife enthusiasts. This is where Dian Fossey first brought the world’s attention to the plight of these majestic primates in the late 1960s, when only around 250 survived.
The 2011 census recorded some 880 individuals and, encouragingly, the 2017 count numbers over 1,000 mountain gorillas, split between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; about half of them live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The survival of mountain gorillas is one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories, and tourism has played its role in this. Rwanda is regarded as probably the best destination for a gorilla tracking safari.
Although gorilla tracking permits aren’t cheap, your permitted hour with these great apes promises to be a priceless encounter that will remain with you long after your holiday is over.
Gorilla families are divided into two; research and tourism purposes and the ones that only accessible by scientists and researcher. Rwanda has more than 15 gorilla families but only 10 gorilla families are fully available.
Kurira Gorilla Family – Susa A:
Also referred to as Susa A, the group is found in Volcanoes national park headed by Kurira alpha male silverback gorilla. This group is the oldest since the time of Dian Fossey. It was created in 1974 with 7 mountain gorillas.
The family with time expanded to over 42 mountain gorillas thus forced the group to split into two to make the Igisha family (Susa B).
In 2004, the group suffered a horrible poaching attack where it lost 2 adult gorillas who were protecting their 2 babies from poachers in Volcanoes national park. One of the most interesting aspects of mountain gorillas is the way they protect their young ones just like human beings even to death.
The Igisha Group – Susa B:
The group is formerly known as Susa B family which was later named after the head silverback Igisha.
Today the group comprises of 26 members and is one of the largest groups in Volcanoes national park.
This group is graded as a tough trek.
The name Susa comes from a nearby river running through the area where the gorilla group resides.
Amahoro gorilla group:
Amahoro denotes “peaceful” gorilla family. It comes with 17 individuals, 1 silverback mountain gorilla, 2 blackback, 5 adult females, two sub adult males, 2 juveniles and five babies.
However, the peace in this gorilla family also comes at a cost.
Ubumwe silverback gorilla in this group is most gentle silverback but unfortunately he lost his family members to Charles in the Umubano gorilla group.
Hiking to this group is a bit strenuous but the hike comes with encounters of these impressive wild creatures in their natural habitat.
Umubano gorilla group
Umubano means neighborliness. It comprises of 11 individuals; one silverback, 1 sub adult male gorilla, 3 adult females and 6 baby gorillas.
Umubano was once within the Amahoro family but broke off after Ubumwe silverback was challenged by Umubano.
By the time Charles became a silverback gorilla, he would not contain the orders and at the end, was prompted to fight and challenge Ubumwe.
They fought for weeks and months till Charles took some of Ubumwe’s female gorillas and established his group, hence Umubano gorilla group. From then, Charles has been heading the family and normal interactions between him and Ubumwe are not tense.
The Karisimbi gorilla family broke off from the original Susa “A” because of continuous fights.
It comprises of 15 members and it is found on the Karisimbi volcano slopes that stands at 4507 meters.
The Susa “B” is ideal for trekkers who are physically well.
They are believed to have found their home on top of the Karisimbi caldera slopes and this means that you can spend an entire day tracking for these unique creatures.
They in most cases roam on top making the trek a bit challenging but it is one of the rewarding groups in Volcanoes National Park
Sabyinyo gorilla group
The Sabyinyo Gorilla family is one of the most accessible gorilla groups found at the lower slopes of mount Sabyinyo.
It is led by “Guhonda,” the famous largest and most powerful silverback gorilla in all the gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. He has kept his challenger Ryango away from his group as a lone silverback. Fewer mountain gorillas exist in this gorilla group compared to the rest of the families but it is equally attractive. It was named after Sabyinyo Mountain which means “old man’s teeth.”
Tourists can track this group around Mount Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
Kwitonda gorilla group
This consists of 18 members and led by Kwitonda silverback gorilla. This gorilla group also moved from Virunga National Park DR Congo and tracking them takes time because it is one of the exhilarating groups in the Volcanoes National Park just like the Susa “B” group.
Hirwa gorilla group
This group means ‘lucky family. It was introduced on 17th June 2006 at a time when trackers saw its creation from 2 various gorilla families; it has 13 individuals making it the smallest group in Volcanoes National Park. More members joined the group and today it is comprised of 9 individuals, 1 silverback, three adult female gorillas, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies.
Agasha Family – 13 group
This is also popular as aka Agasha family. At the time of habituation, the group had only 13 members and hence its name. Currently, it comprises of over 25 members. Agashya really made news by simply viewing and imagining the size and energy of Nyakarima but was later defeated by Agashya. This was amazing news to Nyakarima. Agashya migrated to the volcano to seek protection of his family and ensure that Nyakarima never gets them again. Historically, this silverback is known for his forceful grabbing of members from the rest of gorilla families and lone ones into his making it one of the largest groups with 25 members. This silverback is also famous for its behavior of migrating to higher altitude with his members. What is fascinating is that whenever tourists visit this group, Agashya becomes suspicious of other silverbacks and the only thing he does is to continue moving on top of the volcano. For those who wish to track this group, you must be physically fit to hike on top to view Agashya and his group mates. It is a breathtaking adventure to reach this group but it offers unforgettable encounters.
Bwenge gorilla group
This comprises of 11 individuals and 1 silverback. It can be tracked within the Karisoke volcano slopes. It is led by Bwenge silverback. Bwenge group was established in 2007 at a time when Bwenge split off from his original family and other females joined him. Unfortunately, the group has experienced most difficult moments in life due to deaths of six infants. The group is currently increasing based on the fact that two births have been experienced in the previous years and the ability of their leader. Tracking this gorilla group is challenging and you must be ready to climb for about three hours. The trekking paths are at times wet making it muddy and slippery hence a big challenge for one to hike through the steep slopes at the same time. The fascinating thing about this group is that, it also appeared in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist!”
Isimbi Gorilla Group
Led by Muturengere the alpha male silver back gorilla, Isimbi Group is located in Volcanoes national park inhabiting the slopes of mount Karisimbi. Formerly headed by Getty who passed on because of pneumonia. The group was created after it split from the Karisimbi gorilla family in April 2013 as it was too large. This group is graded as a medium trek and is quite rewarding watching the group.
The Muhoza gorilla family is named after the 460 pound alpha male silverback comprising of over 12 mountain gorillas of varying ages. This is the newest gorilla group in volcanoes national park, led by the youngest leading silverback named Muhoza. Generally the Muhoza group is ranked as an easy family to trek to in Volcanoes national park as it is located lower the mountain slopes.
Titus Gorilla Family
This group is one of the oldest springing from the time of Dian Fossey when she was still carrying out her study on mountain gorillas at the Karisoke Research Center. At the time, Dian was fighting massive poaching targeting mountain gorillas. Titus was the only survivor from his group creating the Titus family and is the oldest gorilla family in Volcanoes national park. The silver back Titus died on 14th September 2009 at 35 years which is considered quite old for a male gorilla. Titus group ranges as a medium hike located between the slopes of mount Karisimbi and Bisoke Volcano.
Pablo Gorilla Family
This group is named after the dominant silverback mountain gorilla Pablo who headed the group for one year and was later succeeded by Cantsbee. The family is monitored and observed by the Dian Fossey fund and open to tourists. trekking with gorillas in Volcanoes national park. The group is located along the slopes of Mount Karisimbi, an inactive volcano at 4,507 meters making it the highest of the Virunga volcanoes. Pablo gorilla family is observed directly by the Fossey Fund since 1976 originating from Group 5, which was studied by Dian Fossey. With time, the group became larger and split into 2 in 1993 to make the Pablo group. Today the group is one of the largest comprising of 26 mountain gorillas, although the group has been noticed to have hit the highest number of gorillas at 64 who later migrated to nearby Susa gorilla family.
In addition to the above Rwanda gorilla groups, there are families monitored by the Dian Fossey fund. On normal setting these groups are under study by researchers and students.
They are Isabukuru, Musilikale, Mafunzo, Gushimira