How Many Gorilla Families are in Rwanda?
The popular activity to the park is the Rwanda gorilla trekking tour where tourists trek the habituated gorilla families. Each of the gorilla families is comprised of adults, juveniles, and babies each group led by a silverback gorilla who is the eldest male gorilla with a silver lining on their back.
All of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda are fully habituated and available for gorilla trekking, there are 10 families in the park. These families are named as Susa family, Sabyinyo family, Amahoro family, Agashya family, Umubano family, Kwitonda family, Hirwa family, Karisimbi family, Ugenda family, Bwenge family, and Titus family. To trek a specific gorilla family, it is allocated during the actual day of the trek in accordance with your hiking ability.
Here are details of each of the gorilla families in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park;
- Susa A Gorilla Family
Named after River Susa that runs through the park an area the group is usually found. Susa gorilla family is one of the popular groups in the park, the group that Dian Fossey studied during her time at the Karisoke Research Centre.
The Susa gorilla family is found in the high altitudes and one that is the hardest to trek. This group formerly had the highest number of mountain gorillas with 42 individuals in the groups, however, after fights and group separations, the group now has 28 members with 3 silverbacks including the twins who are Impano and Byishimo.
- Karisimbi gorilla family
The Karisimbi gorilla group is named after Mountain Karisimbi where it resides. The group is led by a silverback known as Nyagakangaga.
This group also broke off from the Susa A gorilla family in 2009 as silverback Nyagakangaga moved with 13 other members and decided to live far away. Initially, the group was named Susa B group.
It is known to always wander around the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and currently has 11 family members comprising of 1 adult female, 4 silverbacks, 1 black back, and 2 infants. It’s known to be one of the hardest families to trek since it finds shelter in one of the calderas in mount Karisimbi and at times go to the higher altitudes of the mountain.
- Sabyinyo Gorilla Family
The Sabyinyo gorilla family is named after Mount Sabyinyo, one of the volcanoes that form the Virunga massif. The family comprises 9 gorilla individuals and usually found on the foothills of Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. Gahinga. Found at the edge of the park, this is one of the easiest gorilla families to trek. Formerly, the group was referred to as “Amavubi” which in the local “Kinyarwanda” dialect refers to wasps.
The habituation of this group is said to have been a mystery and the individuals in this family were those that remained from the group that was referred to as group 13 after the death of the group leader and leaving of some family members. The group is known for its giant silverback known as Guhonda who is known as the largest silverback weighing about 220kg.
- Amahoro gorilla family
Amahoro gorilla family of Volcanoes National Park derives its name from a local Kinyarwanda word that means peace. The family is peaceful and led by a silverback known as Ubumwe a word that refers to as togetherness. Amahoro group is usually found at the slopes of Mount Bisoke though can move up the mountain at some times. The family has 17 mountain gorillas and hard to track since the hike to meet them is long. They are safe to track since the long hike offers an amazing experience and the peacefulness of the family makes it amazing to see these gentle giants.
- Umubano Gorilla Family
The name Umubano refers to neighborliness or togetherness in the Kinyarwanda language and the family has 13 individuals, comprising of one silverback, a sub-adult, six infants, and three adult females. This group split from the Amahoro gorilla group due to instabilities between Charles and Ubumwe the silverbacks. Charles broke off with other members and formed the Umubano gorilla family that he added into the group within a short time.
- Agashya gorilla family
At the time of habituation, this family had an initial number of thirteen (13) individuals who started the group. The group is led by silverback Agashya who took over from Nyakairima. After Agashya took over the group the group name was also named after him but group thirteen is also an alternative name of the group, the name Agashya literally means news in the Kinyarwanda dialect. Silverback Nyakairima increased the number of gorillas in the family from 12 to 25 during his leadership.
The group inhabits the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo and one of the very much security-conscious groups to the extent that if they feel threatened Agashya will move the group further into the mountains.
- Kwitonda Gorilla family
Kwitonda Gorilla family crossed over to Rwanda from Congo in the year 2003 following pressure from other gorilla leaders in Congo. He decided to start his own family in Rwanda led by silverback Kwitonda. After the death of Kwitonda in 2012 due to old age, Akarevuro took over the leadership of the group.
The group also has two other silverbacks known as Kigoma and Magumu. Kwitonda was such a unique silverback that he allowed other male gorillas in the group to mate with the females, something that is not common in any other groups because in many cases the male silverback is the only one with the right to mate with the females.
- Hirwa Gorilla family
The name Hirwa is derived from the word Hirwa that refers to the lucky one. Its luck manifests in the fact that it takes a short time to locate them during trekking. This group broke off from the Susa family after silverback Munyinga always got into trouble with the Susa group silverback after mating with the females in the group.
Silverback Munyinga left the group along with two females and inhabited Mount Sabyinyo. The luck of the group is also added to the fact that the group has a set of twins which is a rare occurrence in gorillas.
- Ugenda gorilla family
Uganda gorilla group is comprised of 11 individuals including 2 silverbacks their name refers to “mobile” in the Kinyarwanda dialect.
They were named so due to the groups’ continuous movement which makes it unreliable and uneasy to trek at times. The group moves just too much more than the usual gorilla families do move.
It usually roams on the slopes of Mount Bisoke and offers an amazing challenge in case you find that they spent their previous night in a place so far away from the trek start point.
- Bwenge gorilla group
Bwenge gorilla group is one of the habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park named after silverback Bwenge who heads the group.
The group was formed in 2007 when Bwenge left his initial gorilla family and joined by another female gorilla family and they formed the Bwenge gorilla family. The group usually roams on the foothills of Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi. This is the group that was filmed in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” by Dian Fossey. The group has 11 members and one of the groups that faced the most challenging times when it lost 6 of its infants.