Gorilla Families in Rwanda
Gorilla Families in Rwanda are the groups of habituated gorillas that are ready for travelers to go and enjoy the gorilla trekking experience amongst them. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda of the most popular tourist activity in the country. And for this precise reason, tourists who wish to trek mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda, need to book a gorilla trekking permit 6 months in advance.
There are 11 habituated mountain gorilla families/ groups in Rwanda and tourists can track the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park; located in Ruhengeri city, Musanze district, in the northern province of Rwanda. There are 10 habituated gorilla families available for tourists to track, while the other one, is meant for research purposes only. The names of gorilla families in Rwanda include;
The Susa Gorilla Family/Group.
The Susa mountain gorilla group is the most famous and highly sought after habituated gorilla family in Rwanda. It is also known as Susa A group and is famous because, it was the gorilla group studied by the famous American primatologist, Dian Fossey, during her stay in Rwanda. Dian, along with her team of researchers, studied the behavioral and social aspects of the mountain gorillas in this group until the time of her murder in 1985.
The Susa gorilla family was the largest habituated mountain gorilla group in Volcanoes National Park, with 42 members. The group became even more popular following the birth of twins in the group, Byishimo, and Impano. This habituated gorilla group later split into two, forming the birth of Susa B/ Karisimbi group. Currently, the Susa A group has 33 members after the group split, with two silverbacks.
The Susa A group is one of the hardest mountain gorilla families/ groups for trekkers to track, simply because they live in high altitudes of the mountain.
Susa B/ Karisimbi Gorilla Family/ Group.
This habituated gorilla family split from the original Susa A gorilla group in 2009. Originally, the group comprised 15 members but some left the group and joined other gorilla families. It currently comprises 11 members, with 4 silverbacks, 1 adult female, a black back and two infants. This gorilla family can be found on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. This gorilla group is also among the hardest gorilla families for gorilla trekkers to track, given the fact that they live in high altitudes of the mountain. The group is led by a silverback named Nyagakangaga.
Sabyinyo Gorilla Family/ Group.
The Sabyinyo gorilla family is one of the easiest gorilla groups that any trekker in Volcanoes national park can track. The group can be found at the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo. The groups derive its name from the Sabyinyo Mountain, which literally means ‘old man’s teeth.’ This gorilla family comprises 13 members and is led by a silverback named ‘Guhondo.’ Guhondo is the strongest and largest of all Silverbacks in Volcanoes national park, weighing about 220kg. This might be the reason as to why he has managed to keep the family together despite constant challenges from Ryango, also a silverback in the group.
Agashya Gorilla Family/ Group.
This group was originally referred to as group 13 because, during its formation, there were only 13 members. The group was previously led by a silverback named ‘Nyakarima,’ who was later ousted by a much stronger silverback called ‘Agashya.’ It is precisely why this group was later named Agashya.
The Agashya gorilla family currently has 27 members, with Agashya as its dominant silverback and can be found at the foothills of Sabyinyo Mountain. It is easy for gorilla trekkers to track this gorilla group on a visit to Volcanoes national park.
Hirwa Gorilla Family/ Group.
The Hirwa gorilla family derived its name from the Kinyarwanda word, ‘Hirwa,’ which in English means ‘the lucky one.’ The group was formed with members from Sabyinyo and Agashya gorilla families. It currently has 20 members led by a silverback called ‘Munyinga.’ This gorilla family is also popular among tourists because of its twins Gakuru and Gato, born to Kabatwa. The Hirwa gorilla group was previously located at the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo and is one of the easiest gorilla families to trek in the national park.
The Hirwa gorilla family is one of the habituated gorilla families in Rwanda. However, recently in October 2019, the group migrated from Volcanoes National Park, in Rwanda, and settled down in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Tourists visiting Mgahinga national park can also track this group, although it’s not quite certain if this gorilla group will stay permanently in Uganda, or migrate back to Rwanda.
Titus Gorilla Family/ Group.
The Titus gorilla family is the only habituated gorilla family in Rwanda, exclusively meant for research purposes. The group is found on the slopes of mountains Bisoke and Karisimbi; and was previously led by Titus, as the group’s dominant male. The group is one of the oldest gorilla families in Volcanoes national park; with its existence dating back to the times of Dian Fossey.
The group was named after its dominant silverback ‘Titus,’ who was born during the days of Dian Fossey’s research at the Karisoke Research Center. Both Titus’ parents and entire family were killed by poachers, leaving the youngster as the only survivor. He was raised by another gorilla family. Later, 5 other female gorillas joined the group which at the time, was led by a silverback named ‘Beetsme.’
Beestme chased all male gorillas from his group, only sparing Titus whom he loved so much. However, in 1991; at the age of 17 years, Titus challenged Beestme in a bloodless duo which he won and became the dominant silverback of the group. In 2007, Titus started experiencing confrontations from one of his, Kuryama; who amidst his challenging father, always lost the fight.
Kuryama left his father’s group to start his own and later returned in 2009. Titus died a natural death in his nest, surround by his family. The death of Titus affected the group so much so, that its members started to exit from the group, and joined other gorilla families in the area.
By the time of Titus’ death at the age of 35 years, he had fathered over 20 gorillas in the group, being the only male gorilla in the national park with the highest number of offspring. Although the group is strictly meant for research purposes, tourists are allowed to track the group during the peak seasons in the national park, when other gorilla groups have been fully booked.
Bwenge Gorilla Family/Group.
The Bwenge gorilla family consists of 11 members, led by a dominant silverback called Bwenge. This habituated gorilla group has faced a lot of challenges, with the worst being the loss of 6 of its infants. This gorilla family was formed in 2007, after its leader ‘Bwenge,’ left his former Natal group. Bwenge means ‘wisdom’ in Kinyarwanda and visitors who wish to track the group will be able to locate this family on the slopes of Mount Karisoke.
Trekkers will find it interesting to know that the Bwenge gorilla group featured in the 1988 American movie called ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’ It is easy for visitors to trek gorillas in this group because of their location, as they live between Karisoke and Bisoke mountains.
Ugenda Gorilla Family/ Group.
This gorilla group can be found on the slopes of mountain Karisimbi, although it’s always on the move. The group derives its name from the Kinyarwanda word ‘Ugenda,’ which means ‘to be on the move’ in English. The fact that the gorillas in this group are always on the move, looking for food, makes it hard for trekkers to locate the group. Currently, the group is led by 11 members, with 2 silverbacks.
Amahoro Gorilla Family/ Group.
The Amahoro gorilla family derives its name from the Kinyarwanda word ‘Amahoro,’ which means peace. The group is led by a silverback called Ubumwe, who is known to be one of the most peaceful silverbacks in Volcanoes national park. It is no wonder that this particular gorilla family is the most peaceful group found in the national park. Visitors who wish to trek this group can find it on the slopes of Bisoke Mountain. The group comprises only 18 members.
Umubano Gorilla Family/Group.
Umubano is a Kinyarwanda word to mean togetherness/ to co-operate. This group originated from the Amahoro family, which split with its leader as Charles. The silverback Charles challenged Ubumwe, the head of the Amahoro gorilla group and lost. Charles, upon his defeat, left the group and created his own; which is now called Umubano. This gorilla group has 13 members, with 2 silverbacks.
Kwitonda Gorilla Family/ Group.
The Kwitonda gorilla family resides on the slopes of Muhabura mountain ranges. This family of 18 members migrated from Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and settled in Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park. It was led by a silverback named ‘Kwitonda,’ which in Kinyarwanda means ‘the humble one’. He is the only silverback in the national park that allows other silver backs to mate with female gorillas in his group. This led to an increase in the number of gorillas in the group, even after the death of Kwitonda. Currently, there are 28 members in this gorilla group, led by a silverback called Akarevuro.
Trekking gorilla families in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park can be done by any tourist, from the age of 15 years, and is visiting the national park. Rwanda gorilla trekking permits cost USD 1500 dollars per person; and trekking takes place in groups of 8 members only, per gorilla family/group.
In conclusion, visitors traveling to Rwanda to trek any of the above-mentioned groups are set to have an experience of life. Gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda are exciting, adventurous and thrilling for any tourist visiting Rwanda.
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