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Rwanda is among the three countries in the world with mountain gorillas. These greatly endangered species live in the jungles of volcanoes national park that is located in northwestern Rwanda. Volcanoes national park is located in the Virunga area and has three major Virunga volcanoes – Karisimbi, Mikeno and Bisoke.

Of the estimated 400 mountain gorillas in the Virunga area, about 300 in habit the forested gentle slopes of volcanic mountains in volcanoes national park. The park has a total of 10 habituated mountain gorilla families that are open to tourist visitation while two mountain gorilla families were left for research.

The habituated mountain gorilla families are trekked by a group of 8 tourists every day and are expected to spend strictly an hour with them. Below are the habituated mountain gorilla families in volcanoes national park.

Agashya Mountain Gorilla Family

This family initially had 13 mountain gorilla members and it was then called 13 group however the mountain gorilla numbers increased and today the family has 25 individual members including a dominant silverback, 12 females, 3 youth gorillas and 7 young ones.

The dominant silverback Agashya won the leadership crown after over powering the then group leader Nyakairima in a deadly fight. After winning, Agashya decided to move the gorilla family uphill for protection against any intruders.

Agashya is very ambitious and with his efforts, he managed to increase the mountain gorilla numbers in his family from 12 to 25. Agashya is very protective of his gorilla family and once he senses any danger and intrusion, he moves with the whole mountain gorilla family uphill. This some times makes it harder for tourists to trek this gorilla family.

Amahoro Mountain Gorilla Family

With 17 individual mountain gorillas, Amahoro is the most peaceful mountain gorilla family that also lives on a gentle slope. The word Amahoro means peaceful and the dominant silverback (Ubumwe) is indeed very peaceful. Of the 17 mountain gorillas in the Amahoro family, there is one silverback – Ubumwe, 2 black backs (sexually mature male mountain gorillas), 5 young ones, 5 female gorillas, and 4 youth mountain gorillas.

Getting to this gorilla group is a little hectic because it also involves hiking however all the tourists who have visited the group always take about their unique experiences and encounters.

Bwenge Mountain Gorilla Family

It mainly comprises of 11 mountain gorilla individuals. The family faced difficult times after the death of 6 young mountain gorillas. This gorilla family lives along the Karisoke volcanic area and it was named Bwenge after the dominant silverback.

Getting to this gorilla family is also a little challenging because it involves a hike of about 2 to 3 hours through the trails and steep slopes.

Hirwa Mountain Gorilla Family

This mountain gorilla family miraculously formed after mountain gorillas from the Sabyinyo family and group 13 (Agashya family) came together to form a joint gorilla family (Hirwa), which means the lucky one.

Lucky indeed it is! The Hirwa gorilla family now has a total of 9 mountain gorilla members including a dominant silverback, 3 female mountain gorillas, 2 juveniles and 3 young ones. The dominant silverback is very strong and determined to protect all the individual mountain gorilla members in the family.

Kwitonda Mountain Gorilla Family

This gorilla family shifted from democratic republic of Congo and it’s made up of 18 mountain gorilla members including Kwitonda the dominant silverback.

Its among the difficult gorilla families to trek because it most times it keeps far a way in thick forested areas that can not be easily accessed by tourists. Kwitonda is a Kinyarwanda word that means the humble one that clearly describes the character of the group and the silverback.

Sabyinyo Mountain Gorilla Family

This is made up of 8 mountain gorilla individuals and it inhabits the gentle slopes of the Sabyinyo volcano that Rwanda shares with Uganda.
This is among the easily accessed mountain gorilla families in volcanoes national park and it has the biggest silverback (Guhonda) in the whole of the volcanoes national park area.

Being the biggest and obviously stronger, Guhonda is the dominant silverback of the Sabyinyo group and has for a long time managed to keep its major rival silverback Ryango in isolation from the major group. The Sabyinyo gorilla family mainly has 3 female mountain gorillas, 2 youthful gorillas and a young mountain gorilla.

Susa A Mountain Gorilla Family

This mountain gorilla family lives at a relatively higher altitude and most challenging mountain gorilla group to trek. The family was researched on and made famous by Dian Fossey an American zoologist who had taken long studying the mountain gorillas in Rwanda with her research base at Karisoke.

Initially with the highest mountain gorilla population – 42 mountain gorilla individuals, the Susa family was reduced to 28 individuals including 3 silverbacks 3 male mountain gorillas).

This mountain gorilla family was named Susa after river Susa that flows in the proximity of this mountain gorilla family. The Susa gorilla family has some of the oldest habituated mountain gorillas and its very famous for her twin mountain gorillas (Impano and Byishimo). Since the Susa family is hard to get to, it can be best trekked by the physically fit and adventurous tourists capable of hiking for a long time. For easy trekking of the mountain gorillas in the Susa family, trackers first go ahead of the tourists to trace where the family is and then directs the tourists accordingly.

Trekking the Susa family is offers exciting moments especially as tourists watch the twin mountain gorillas jump and play around. Other gorilla individuals in the family are seen either feeding or relaxing around the thickets.

Susa B Mountain Gorilla Family

This is also known as the Karisimbi mountain gorilla family with a total of 15 individual mountain gorillas. This was previously part of the Susa mountain gorilla family but later broke off forming the Susa B or Karisimbi gorilla family.

This gorilla family resides along the slopes of mount Karisimbi and also among the difficult mountain gorilla groups to get to. This gorilla family can also be trekked by the physical ale bodied tourists because sometimes the gorillas move uphill making it hard to get to them by tourists. Trekking this family takes several hours and sometimes a full day.

To make the trekking a little easy, trackers first go to the jungles tracing where the gorillas are and are always able to tell where they (mountain gorillas) would be the next day. If they expect the family to be extremely far, it’s trekking is stopped.

Ugenda Mountain Gorilla Family
With a total of 11 mountain gorilla members, Ugenda family inhabits the Karisimbi volcanic area and has 2 silverbacks. This mountain gorilla family is also difficult to trek because it always move from one area to another thus the name Ugenda that explains the family’s characteristic.

Umubano Mountain Gorilla Family

This gorilla family consists of 11 individual mountain gorillas’ lead by a dominant silverback, 1 black back (sexually mature male), 3 females and 6 young mountain gorillas. This group separated from the Amahoro group after a fight that saw Charles the dominant silverback of Umubano winning Ubumwe (the dominant silverback of the Amahoro group) and leaving the Amahoro group with a number of females.

Gorilla Trekking Families in Uganda

Uganda has 11 gorilla groups or families habituated for trekking while one is for research. These include, Rushegura, Habinyanja, Mubare, Nkuringo, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye, and recently the new groups called Busingye and Bweza. Kyaguriro gorilla group located in Ruhija is for research. Mountain gorilla habituation take about 2-3 years and below are some of the gorilla families in Bwindi

Mubare Gorilla Family

Family size: 9 members including and one silverback

Location: Buhoma

Mubare is the oldest habituated gorilla group in Uganda. It was found in the Mubare hills, deep in Bwindi forest, and was fully habituated in 1993. The group started with 12 family members, led by the dominant silverback Ruhondeza. In a few years the group grew to 18 individuals. Unfortunately, due to fights with wild gorilla groups and loss of members

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Habinyanja Gorilla Family

Family size: 15 members including 2 silverbacks

Location: Buhoma

The Habinyanja group was first visited by tourists in 1999. The name comes from “Nyanja” which is the local word for ‘body of water’. It refers to the swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the group was first sighted. Habinyanja is a fascinating family with a lot of drama and commotion. This is caused by the power struggles between the dominant silverbacks and fights for the family leadership. The adult females are led by the shrewd alpha female called Kisho

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Rushegura Gorilla Family

Family size: 18 members including and no silverback

Location: Buhoma

The Rushegura gorilla family was brought together in 2002, after one of the silverbacks from the Habinyanja group decided to break away. They started with 12 individuals including 5 females. This “Habinyanya 2 group” quickly received a new name, that derives from “Ebishegura” – a tree specie that was abundant in the home area of the new family. The Rushegura group is a calm family. In the past they used to cross the border to neighboring DRC every now and than but always returned to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. They are usually not far from Buhoma Village and sometimes even wander through the gardens of the lodges

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Bitukura Gorilla Family

Family size: 12 members including 4 silverbacks

Location: Ruhija

The Bitukura group was named after a river where the family members were first sighted. The habituation that started in July 2007 was a relatively easy process as the gorillas were already frequently encountered by the UWA rangers. Although the habituation process normally takes a minimum of two years, this group could already be visited by tourists within 15 months after the start. Bitukura is a peaceful family including 4 silverbacks and some playful juveniles. They share a close bond and often have ‘group meetings’ or get-togethers<

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Nkuringo Gorilla Family

Family size: 19 members including 2 silverbacks

Location: Nkuringo

The Nkuringo group was named after the Rukiga word for “round hill” and was launched in 2004. One of the most important reasons for their habituation were the problems they created for the local communities by destroying crops and other products. By opening up the gorilla family for visitors, the community could directly benefit from tourism and it formed a protection for the gorillas as well. The family was led by the silverback Nkuringo who died in 2008, leaving behind 2 silverbacks in the group. In November 2008, the Nkuringo family expanded thanks to the special birth of a twin – Katungi and Muhozi – though Katungi unfortunately died at the age of 1.5 years.

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Nshongi Gorilla Family

Family size: 36 members including 5 silverbacks

Location: Rushaga

Nshongi is the largest group ever habituated and was officially launched in September 2009. It was named after the river Nshongi, close to the place where the gorilla family was first seen. Although most gorilla families usually consist of 25 members with one or two silverbacks, this family is a rare excemption. Another remarkable fact is that the group is led by Nshongi, who is not even the oldest silverback in the family.

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Busingye Gorilla Group

Family size: 7 members including 1 silverbacks

Location: Rushaga

Busingye gorilla group is the newest family to break away from Kahungye which was opened for trekking in 2011. It was suspected that at one time Kahungye would split as it had three silver backs and a bigger group.

 

Gorilla Groups

Kabirizi group: Kabirizi group was previously called Ndungutse group, named after the lead Silverback Ndungutse. Ndungutse, a very humble and giant Silverback was assassinated in 1997 after being caught in crossfire between the DR Congo army and rebel groups in the Bukima patrol post. The group later got its name Kabirizi, a name derived from the ICCN Director who died in a traffic accident in the late 1990s. The group is currently led by a powerful yet humble Silverback Kabirizi, who was previously a wild unhabituated gorilla (until 1998). The dominant Silverback is currently facing a stiff competition from a young Silverback Masibo. Kabirizi group is currently composed of 19 group members. Tracking of the group starts from the Bukima patrol post.

 


Humba group: The group is located in the Bukima sector of the Park. The group is currently the calmest habituated Gorilla group in DRC. Many tourists prefer tracking this group. The group is named after the lead Silverback called Humba. Silverback Humba is a brother to Senkwekwe Silverback who was executed on 22nd July 2007 by unidentified gunmen. Humba split from Rugendo (His father) in 1998.  The group is currently composed of 9 members. There is no current challenge in the group leadership.


 

 Rugendo group: Rugendo group is one of the oldest known gorilla groups, habituated in 1989. The group was formerly led by Silverback Rugendo, who is the father of Silverback Humba. The group is currently led by Silverback Bukima. There have been serious group changes since the beginning of habituation. By 1997, the Rugendo group had 18 individuals with two Silverbacks, Rugendo and his son Humba). Humba fought his father in 1998, forming a new group with 10 individuals. Rugendo was left with only 8 individuals. There were several group dynamics after, increasing and decreasing the group members from time to time. The group is currently composed of 9 members after grabbing a sub adult member of a Mapuwa group in June this year (2016).

 


Mapuwa group: The group is found in Jomba near Bunagana (Congo­Uganda border). The group was formerly led by a Silverback named Mapuwa. Silverback Mapuwa has acquired and protected his family by all means through violent struggles. He was a son of Rugendo, the current leader, of Rugendo group. He left his father’s group in 1998 and started his own family. When he left, he took along 2 adult females named Jicho and Mafaze. In a continuous fight, Silverback Mapuwa has acquired more members from other groups. Pilipili, one of the strongest and well-known Silverback in Virunga was stripped of all his members in 2002, leaving him alone Silverback.   In addition to grabbing of members, there has been several births leading to the increase in numbers. Currently, Silverback Mvuyekure is the dominant Silverback in the group. There are 22 me gorillas in Mapuwa group.


Gorilla Groups in Congo, Mvuyekure is the dominant Silverback of Mapuwa group. Lulengo group: The group range in the Jomba area of Virunga National Park (near Bunagana, the Congo­Uganda border). This group was formerly called Musekura group. The name was, however changed to Lulengo, the name of the dominant Silverback and in memory of the Technical Director of Virunga National Park who was killed by a land mine. Silverback Lulengo is a born and was a member of Rugabo group, the first habituated mountain gorilla group the Mikeno Sector. By then, Silverback Rugabo was the leader of Rugabo group. Rugabo was the father of Silverback Lulengo. In 1994, Rugabo was shot by poachers in the times of the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis.  After his death, the family was left in the hands of by then the black back Lulengo, who is now a Silverback and leader of the group. There are 9 members in Lulengo group.


Munyaga group: Munyaga group can be located and tracked in the Bukima sector of Virunga National Park. The habituation of the group started in 2008. The group name came from its leader by then, Munyaga. Munyaga group is well known for an adult female Bilali who gave birth to twins after joining from Rugendo group. The twins, however, died in infancy. The leadership of the group shifted from Silverback Munyaga to Silverback Mawazo. As per now, Gasore is the current leader of the group. The group is well-known for a bold headed Silverback, Kadogo.  The current leader of the group is Gasore.


Nyakamwe group: Nyakamwe group is one of the newly habituated gorilla groups in Virunga National Park. They were habituated at the same time as Bageni, the largest gorilla group in Virunga National Park.  There are 11 members in Nyakamwe group and the group is led by Silverback Nyakamwe. The group is named after the lead Silverback called Nyakamwe. There is no current challenge in the group leadership.

 


Silverback Nyakamwe, the current leader of Nyakamwe group

Silverback Nyakamwe, the current leader of Nyakamwe group

 

Bageni group: Bageni group is currently the largest gorilla family in Virunga National Park. Currently, there are 26 members in Bageni group, led by Silverback Bageni. There is although a struggle for leadership in the group and it is expected that the group may split into two or three groups. There are 2 other Silverbacks, who are fighting for the lead (Silverback Kanamaharagi and Kitagenda).

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