Mountain Gorilla Families in Rwanda – Gorilla Groups in Volcanoes National Park
Mountain Gorillas are very fascinating to see or even learn about. Rwanda is one of the only 3 countries where Mountain Gorillas can/still survive. The other 2 countries are Uganda and Congo. Mountain Gorilla trekking can therefore not take place anywhere else in the world, when not in these 3 countries. Rwanda has 10 Mountain Gorilla families some of which were named through the recently introduced but famous annual Kwita Izina or Gorilla Naming Ceremony. Rwanda stepped up its Gorilla conservation game by keeping track of all the families and their members after giving them names let alone the trekking regulations in place. During Mountain Gorilla trekking tours, each family is visited once a day by a maximum of 8 visitors. Regulating the number of visits/visitors is one of the measures in place to ensure less or no pressure on these endangered animals (Mountain Gorillas) and their habitat.
Mountain Gorillas are social animals that live in groups called families. Mountain Gorilla families comprise of the lead Silverback, other silverbacks, females, black backs (young males) and the young ones. The families are obviously formed after the natural reproductive process where the females give birth after mating with the males/silverbacks. For some reasons however, the composition of most Gorilla families can hardly remain static for quite a long time. Other factors constant, a particular family can expand or reduce due to the strength of the lead silverback. When the lead Silverback is too weak to keep the family together, overpower intruding silverbacks or even satisfy the females sexually, the family can split and vice versa.
Much as they form themselves into groups or families, Mountain Gorillas which have not gone through the habituation process can not be visited. Unhabituated Gorilla families are very wild, aggressive and can’t tolerate human presence before them. Rwanda has 10 habituated Mountain Gorilla families that are currently available for tracking by the visitors and by laying out the details of each family, we are narrowing down your search for the manageable trek or a family of your interest. They are;
SUSA A – ORIGINAL SUSA FAMILY
Susa used to be the largest group of Mountain Gorillas in the world with 42 members before its split in 2008. It is nevertheless the most popular and the largest in Rwanda with 33 members and 2 silverbacks currently. Susa is the family that was studied by Dian Fossey, the late American Primatologist who extensively and diligently studied Mountain Gorillas behaviours before meeting her death in 1985 through murder by unsuspected assailants. Susa was named after River Susa that flows through its home range which are the forests at the lower slopes of Mount Karisimbi. Every visitor would wish to visit a group with such large number of individuals but the steepness of Mount Karisimbi slopes is a huge turn off to especially the non-seasoned trekkers. Aside the large numbers, Susa group has twins who have drawn many visitors to this hard to reach family. Any physically fit visitor should give priority to this exciting family – Susa A.
Susa B is the breakaway family from Susa A after a bitter split in 2008. Susa B is the hardest to reach of all the Gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park. It resides at the uppermost forested slopes of the Mount Karisimbi which keeps itself out of reach by other Gorillas and (sadly)visitors who cannot endure hikes to such high elevations. It’s by its location at the upper slopes of Mount Karisimbi that it was named Karisimbi Group. It can be called Susa B or Karisimbi family. Since it’s a breakaway family, the silverback for this family suspected more fights and so had to move the family further up to keep away from trouble. It has a tendency of going further than the usual location and so any visitor who can not do serious hiking should dare not.
According to records left by Dian Fossey, Titus was born at the time when there was intense poaching of Mountain Gorillas during which it lost all its family members remaining as the only survivor. Titus the Gorilla was raised by 2 male Gorillas that were not related at all. As an infant with no parental care, Titus juggled growing up with a lot of hardships including health issues like breathing difficulty and others which retarded his growth at some time. Despite all the hardships in Titus’s growth, it emerged out strong and was one of the strongest silverbacks to have inhabited Volcanoes National Park. Titus roams the lower slopes of Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke. Titus was the family that Dian Fossey was studying by the time Titus was born and she carried on with it until 1985 when she met her death.
Amahoro is a local Kinyarwanda word translated to mean peace or serenity. As per its name, Amahoro is a very peaceful family led by a Silverback called Ubumwe. Ubumwe’s peacefulness has on the other hand caused the family/group to lose members to other families particularly to Umubano. Remember the aggressiveness of the lead silverback determines the expansion or shrinking of the family size. Amahoro group comprises of 18 members with 2 silverbacks and resides at the slopes of Mount Bisoke/Visoke. Its location at the slopes of Bisoke suggests a strenuous trek and whoever is interested in meeting this peaceful family has to be prepared for the challenges that come with such a terrain. However, the location of Amahoro family should not be a turn off for any one who long desired to visit a peaceful family, the trek is quite doable.
UMUBANO GORILLA FAMILY
Umubano is translated to mean ‘Living together’. Umubano Gorilla broke away from Amahoro family after the constant fights with Ubumwe Silverback. It is led by a silverback called Charles. Charles took advantage of Umubano’s peacefulness to always provoke him and it in the end succeeded by moving away with some members of the Amahoro family. Umubano and Amahoro’s home range do overlap as they both keep closer to each other at the slopes of Mount Bisoke. It has 13 members with 2 silverbacks.
SABINYO GORILLA FAMILY
Sabinyo family inhabits the lower and gentle forested slopes of Mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga. Its leader Guhonda, the largest silverback in Volcanoes National Park, makes Sabinyo family very popular. It is the easiest family to track with 13 members and one silverback, Guhonda. There used to be 2 silverbacks in the family before Guhonda chased Ruyonda and forced it to live a solitary life until it fought and grabbed females from other families. Sabinyo is the nearest Gorilla family which should be requested by any visitor who find challenging treks not something close to his/her interests.
Agashya was initially called Group 13, named after the 13 individuals it had at the time. Later on and until now, the family came to be known as Agashya. Agashya is translated to mean news. The silverback Agashya made news after overthrowing the lead silverback by then who was called Nyakarima when the group was still called Group 13. Until now, Agashya is the leader and the only silverback in this family of 27 individuals. Agashya’s home range overlaps with that of Sabinyo although for Agashya is known to take the family at higher elevations of Mount Sabinyo when it anticipates possible danger.
Kwitonda is one of the Mountain Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park which was once led by Kwitonda the silverback. This group broke away from one of the Gorilla families in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Rwanda in 2003. Kwitonda the silverback is no more but the group still and will always hold on to that name in memory of the founder. Currently Kwitonda family is led by a silverback called Akarevuro who took over leadership after the demise of Kwitonda in 2012. The group has 24 members with 2 silverbacks residing at the slopes of Mount Muhabura. Read about the Mountain Gorilla facts here and you will find that mating with all females in the Gorilla families is strictly by the lead silverback but Kitonda exhibited a rare and humble habit when it let the other 2 silverbacks (Kigoma and Magumu) in his family to mate with the females. The word Kwitonda translates to ‘the humble one’ from the local Kinyarwanda language. Perhaps the name was after Kwitonda’s humble character.
Having learnt those interesting facts about the Mountain Gorilla families in Rwanda, we hope you have in mind a family or two that interests you and would wish to meet it some day on your tour to Africa. Let our reservations team know about it to suggest and organise for you a very memorable Gorilla Trekking Safari. Choose a family or a trek of your interest or physical capability.