Rwanda Gorilla Groups / Families – Volcanoes National Park
In Rwanda, gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the thick forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent some good time living close to the forest with the gorillas. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. While in the country you may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of birds. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, and raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.
Besides, there are seven gorilla families available in Rwanda.
Susa Gorilla Group
The name Susa was derived from the Susa River in their home range. The group is well known for having twins. This group sometimes migrates to higher altitudes making them harder to track. When you reach this group the first thing you notice is that there are gorillas everywhere, however, this group split in 2008, the name of the group which split from Susa is called Karisimbi with 15 members including 3 silverbacks. This is the largest family with 41 gorillas. Like I told you the group is the hardest to trek as it tends to range high into the mountains but trackers will know well in advance where the group is located. The group is also well-known for having rare 5 year old twins named Byishimo and Impano.
Sabyinyo Gorilla Group
It was named after the Sabyinyo volcano which means “old man’s teeth”. Sabyinyo is one of the groups closest to the park’s edge with 8 individuals. These groups reside in the gentle slopes between Mount Sabyinyo and Gahinga and thus are easily accessible. You might take anything from ten minutes to an hour to reach the gorillas. Generally, the slopes aren’t too daunting though can be slippery after rain. This group contains, Guhonda, the largest silverback of all the groups. Sabyinyo group is so easily accessible led by the powerful silverback Guhonda. There are fewer members within this family than in the other groups however they are equally impressive as a family.
Amahoro Gorilla Group
Amahoro in Kinyarwanda language means “peace”. Like its name, Amahoro, is the most peaceful of all the gorilla groups Led by the calm and easy going Ubumwe, Amahoro is made up of 17 members.
When first habituated this group had only 13 members hence its name. Now the group has approximately 25 members.
This was the first habituated group and has grown from an initial 13 members! It was named simply for its original size of 13 individuals when it was discovered. Since then it maintained the name. The group can be found in the same area as the Sabyinyo group, although it sometimes moves deeper into the mountain.
Sometime back, this group was commanded by Nyakarima who was challenged by Agashya meaning “the news”. Agashya indeed made news by first watching and estimating Nyakarima’s strengths and eventually challenging him to a fierce fight by taking off with his whole group. This was a shock to Nyakarima and an unprecedented event in observed gorilla history. Agashya then moved up the volcano to secure his group and make sure Nyakarima did not track them. Agashya has since increased his group’s numbers by snatching from other groups and assimilating other lone gorillas, rapidly increasing the group from 12 to 21 individuals.
Agashya is known for its first sign of trouble, to take his whole group up to the top of the volcano. While we were taking a group of tourists to see Group 13 this exact scenario unfolded. Agashya felt that there was another silverback who was about to challenge him. In response, he took the group up the volcano. Every time we thought we were close to see them, Agashya would move the group further uphill. We did not reach them until the very top. Meanwhile we got a chance to see them. By the time we got back to the car we have walked for 12 hours. While it was an exhausting day, it was magical to see gorillas at the top the world.
Umubano Gorilla Family
This 18-member group is led by Kwitonda which means “humble one” and has two silverbacks and one black back. The group inhabits the lower slopes of Mt Muhabura and is also one of the more difficult families to track. The group was formerly a part of the Amahoro group until Charles matured into a silverback of the same rank as Ubumwe, he could not stand being given orders and decided to stage a fight and challenge Ubumwe. This fight went on for weeks and then months and eventually Charles managed to snatch from Ubumwe a few females and formed his own group. Since then, he has commanded respect and recognition from Ubumwe. We have observed, on various occasions, interactions between the two silverbacks, but no fighting has been seen since the great battle ended.
Kwitonda Gorilla Group / Family
This family is named after the dominant Silverback of the group and means ‘humble one’. The group inhabits the lower slopes of Mt Muhabura like Susa group this one also is so difficult to track.
Hirwa Gorilla Group / family
This group emerged recently and was formed from different existing families, namely from Group 13 and Sabyinyo.
This is still a relatively new group which was formed from two different families, Group 13 and Sabyinyo. Eventually more gorillas joined. Come witness this family continue to grow. The group had two twins born at the beginning of 2011.
Hirwa has 9 individuals: 1 Silverback; 3 Adult females; 2 Sub adult females and 3 Babies. The name Hirwa means “lucky one”.
It came into the lime light on the 17th of June 2006 when trackers witnessed its formation. Two gorilla transfers from group 13 and Sabyinyo joined the then very small Hirwa group. As luck would have it other gorillas joined them as well and created the group. Despite being the newest group on the block, Hirwa exhibits strength and holds its own amongst all the other established groups.