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.