Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Mountain Gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park

Mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park

Mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park : Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla and are also known as the gorilla beringei. The mountain gorillas are listed on the IUCN list of endangered species as there are only about 1,090 individuals estimated to be living in the world. The mountain gorillas can be visited in only three countries in the entire world and that is Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo. The mountain gorilla can only survive in its natural habitat so visiting them in a zoo or captivity is not an option.

Rwanda offers mountain gorilla trekking experience and you can get yourself a mountain gorilla trekking permit at 1,500 USD per person. The mountain gorillas of Rwanda can be visited in the Volcanoes national park located in the northwestern part of the country. Volcanoes national park is a 2 hour road transfer from Kigali the capital city of Rwanda and the base of the Kigali International airport.

In Uganda, there are two national parks that offer this experience that is Mgahinga forest national park and Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park while in the Democratic republic of Congo, you can visit them in the Virunga national park.

The Volcanoes national park has 12 habituated mountain gorilla groups. The mountain gorillas stay in families but are not known to associate with other family members out of their family unlike the lowland gorillas that are social. Each gorilla family can be visited by a maximum of 8 people which puts the number of available permits per day in Volcanoes national park Rwanda at 96 permits.

You are still advised to book your permits in advance especially in the high seasons to avoid disappointment when the date you would like is fully booked out. The high season months are July, August, September, October, November, December, January and February and there is high demand for hotels in these months as well.

Volcanoes national park has two sectors as the gorillas of the park are divided into 2 groups with one group being for research and study purposes and is only accessed by the researchers and the scientists and another sector where the visitors to the park are accepted to trek and spend some time with the mountain gorillas. The sector reserved for research purposes has two gorilla families that is the Beetsme and the Pablo’s Shidas which have the biggest number of gorillas in their family. The gorilla families you may visit while in the Volcanoes national park Rwanda are discussed below.

Susa Group (Susa A) family. This gorilla family is famous for its being the gorilla family that Dian Fossey, the primatologist who enforced conservation of the mountain gorillas, did research on. This family tends to stay along the Susa River from which it derived its Susa name. If you are to trek this group, you should be ready for a challenge as it is usually found in the upper ranges and that is why it is not commonly tracked. This Susa A gorilla group has 28 individuals with three silverback gorillas.

Mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park

This group has one of the first mountain gorillas to be habituated in 1976 by Dian Fossey and has a pair of playful twins that catch visitors’ eye when you visit this group. This group was originally a very large group with up to 42 gorillas but later split to remain 28 in Susa A giving birth to Susa B gorilla group.

Karisimbi family (Susa B). This group broke off from the main Susa group and that is why it is called the Susa B group. This group has 15 mountain gorillas and this group is usually trekked and found at the slopes of the Mount Karisimbi which has the highest peak of the Virunga Mountains so you will have to be energetic to trek this gorilla family.

Sabyinyo gorilla group. This group derived its name from the Mount Sabyinyo where this group is often found. This group is easily accessed and is led by a dominant silverback called Guhonda which is the biggest silverback you will see in all the gorilla families of Volcanoes national park Rwanda. This group has only 8 individuals which is the smallest number and they are one of the closest families as they stay at the border of the park.

Amahoro gorilla family. Amahoro in Kinyarwanda, the local language of Rwanda, means peace and this group is noted as the calmest and trouble less group with seventeen gorillas. Trekking the Amahoro gorilla group is also a demanding one as you will have to hike steep slopes but the reward is definitely worth it. This group has been attacked before by the Umubano gorilla family led by Charles a member of the group and some group members lost lives.

Umubano gorilla group. This Umubano gorilla group came from the Amahoro gorilla group where the leader Charles a strong silverback led a few members from the group to follow him and Ubumwe who was the ruling silverback by then. Charles eventually got of age and became an adult silverback who nolonger felt he could be ordered around and decided to take on Ubumwe which lasted for almost months until Charles managed to convince some females to join him and start Umbano family which Ubumwe respects him for as they have been seen interacting on several occasions without fights.

The Agasha group. This Agasha group started small with 13 individuals but numbers have doubled over the years to up to 25 members. This group was originally led by Nyakarima and Agashya overpowered him which came as a surprise to Nyakarima. Agashya led his group members into hiding far up in the volcano where Nyakarima would not find them and eventually the numbers grew.

He also recruited the solo gorillas and stole some individuals from other gorillas families increasing the number up to 25 gorillas. This is a tricky group to visit as their leader Agashya tends to lead the members far up in the volcano where you cannot get in case of an attack or an uncomfortable situation.

Kwitonda family. This is a gorilla family group with about 18 members and the leading silverback is known as Kwintonda which refers to a humble one. This group relocated from the Virunga national park of DR Congo and usually stays far from the trail head making trekking it difficult.

Hirwa Group. This group started with 9 individuals and was recognized on the 17th of June 2006 after its creation being witnessed. This group is a combination of members from Group 13/ Agashya group and Sabyinyo group and other gorillas from other groups that joined the movement later. Hirwa means the lucky one in Kinyarwanda and is considered a lucky family.

Bwenge family. This is said to have the most intelligent silverback of the mountain gorilla families of Rwanda. This family has one silverback with 11 members and is usually found at the slopes of Karisoke research center. The silverback is called Bwengye and this group was formed after Bwengye left his group to start one from scratch. Females from other groups joined him and eventually saw the expansion of this group and this is considered a strong group. The trekking of the Bwengye family is usually a 3 hours hike up hill and it can be muddy steep so be sure to be dressed appropriately. This is the gorilla family that featured in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”.

Ugenda family. This family is known for always being on the move thus its name Ugenda meaning moving. This group is usually found around the Karisimbi ranges and it had 11 gorillas on the last census carried out. Trekking this mountain gorilla family is destined to take more time as the group is ever on the move.

The mountain gorilla conservation efforts have been positive and numbers of the gorillas in the several gorilla groups have been receiving births at a high rate which means the numbers of the gorilla family members has increased. Volcanoes national park usually holds a baby gorilla naming ceremony for the newest babies and the last one was held virtually in 2021.

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