Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park located in Musanze district northern province lies up in higher altitudes of the bamboo and tropical forested virunga volcanoes between 2,500 -4000 meters above sea level, which make it an ideal habitat for mountain gorillas.
An estimated population of over 200 gorillas inhabits the park; at least 10 gorilla families have been habituated. These are families are visited by tourists but to further the knowledge about gorillas, 3 gorilla families are meant for research conducted by the Dian Fossey gorilla fund international at Karisoke research center in Volcanoes National Park.
Each family has unique features that are normally described for tourists by the Rwandan development guides during preparation for trekking early morning at kinigi, the main visitor center.
Karisimbi/ Susa –A
Karisimbi gorilla family was formed after the original Susa gorilla family which had more than 40 individuals split into two families back in 2009. The gorilla family which split family is called to as Susa-B. The current silverback of Karisimbi called Nyagakangaga took away 13 gorillas from Susa family to create his own home range on the slopes of Mt. Karisimbi (4,507 meters above sea level) one the volcanic mountains in volcanoes national park from which it was named during the 2010 “Kwita Izina” gorilla naming ceremony.
Regrettably, in 2012 two members of Karirimbi migrated leaving the gorilla family with 11 individuals led by 1 silverback Nyagakangaga along with 3 other silverbacks that are still under his rule. The other members include 2 infants, 1 juvenile, 1 black back, 2 sub-adult females and 1 sub-adult male.
Trekking Karisimbi gorilla family may take visitors a whole day due to the long distances covered when hiking because of its home ranges in the steep slopes of Mt. Karisimbi (4,507 meters above sea level).
Susa-B also known as Igisha Gorilla Family
Igisha gorilla family also known as Susa group B split from the original Susa family when the current silverback Igisha moved away with 23 individuals. Later on Igisha silverback seduced two other gorilla members into his family to make up 26 individuals. They include 3 silverbacks, 7 infants and 7 adult females, 2 black backs, 4 juveniles and 3 sub-adult males.
Sabinyo Gorilla family
Sabinyo is one of the dormant volcanoes in Volcanoes national park and this group rooms its lower slopes hence the name Sabinyo. The group has 8 individuals which are easily trekked because it’s often found foraging on the edge of the park and the volcano. Led by Guhonda, one of the strongest silverbacks in volcanoes national park, there are 3 adult females other plus playful juveniles that tourists find impressive when trekking.
Amahoro Gorilla Family
Amahoro is another gorilla family of 17 individuals including 1 silverback, 2 black backs, 2 juveniles, 5 females, 5 babies and 2 sub adult males. Amahoro is Kinyarwanda name meaning “peaceful” and that true with the gorillas of this family. It is easily trekked by tourists who hike to its home range on the slopes of Mt. Bisoke with less difficulty. Though, one has to deal with steep climbs to reach the family on the day of trekking, use a porter to carry your backpacks.
Umubano gorilla family
Umubano gorilla family was once part of the Amahoro family but later broke away when one of the Silverbacks (Charles) was challenged by the dominant silverback in a fight. Charles the current silverback of Umubano gorilla family was defeated hence it took 11 members which include 1 sub adult male, 3 adult females and 6 juveniles.
Trekking to see Umubano is not difficult since its home range overlaps that of Amahoro family and trekkers often decide to trek both gorilla families because they have different features.
Agashya Family / Group 13
Agashya gorilla family at the time of habituation it had 13 members hence the substitute name. Agashya itself means “news” and the name came after the then silverback leader of the family Nyakairima lost control to Agashya the current leader silverback of the family. The family has lived up to its name when it has managed to increase its members from 13 to 25 individuals. Although this gorilla family rooms the slopes of Mt. Sabinyo the same range area of Sabinyo gorilla family, it often moves far to the slopes of Mt. Gahinga another volcano in Volcanoes National Park. Hence trekkers of this family need to be fairly fit.
Hirwa Gorilla Family
Hirwa is one of the new gorilla families in Volcanoes national park. It was birthed out of the members that left group 13 and Sabinyo family and Hirwa means “lucky one” hence it was lucky that other gorillas joined the family to make up to 9 individuals. They include 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies who have attracted most tourists to trek the family for the baby gorillas are playful.
Bwenge Gorilla Family
This gorilla family was formed in 2007; it has 11 individuals led by Bwenge the Silverback. It’s one of the popular gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park because it featured in “Gorillas in the Mist” a movie that was produced in 1988 to show the conservation efforts of Dian Fossey who pioneered gorilla conservation research in Rwanda.
Sadly, Bwenge family lost its 6 infants that died strangely despite the efforts of veterinary gorilla doctors. Trackers named the family and its silverback Bwenge which means “clever one” because Bwenge endured hardships that could have dismantled its composition.
Kwitonda gorilla family
Kwitonda gorilla family has 18 individuals including 2 silverbacks living in harmony. Kwitonda means “humbleness” and its true with the dominant silverback are loved by many trekkers for being humble during the 1 hour encounter.
This gorilla family was highly nomadic in past migrating to DRC but it has stabilized on the slopes of Mt. Muhabura (4,127 meters above sea level) in volcanoes national park. although trekking to see this gorilla family is quite difficult, it adds on the adventure and excitement.
Ugenda gorill family
Ugenda gorilla family is composed of 11 individuals including 2 silverbacks. The word Ugenda means “mobile” and this family is one of the unreliable and difficult to trek in volcanoes national park as its name suggests. Like all gorilla families move in search of flesh vegetation, for Ugenda gorilla family, it moves a lot from one place to another, though Rwandan development board trackers are skilled and it won’t be difficult to trek it as already highlighted.
Their current home range is on the slopes of mount Bisoke 3,711 meters above sea level. Every gorilla trek is different adventure in its own way given the rules and regulations of trekking are kept so that gorillas are not interfered at the same giving you a calm encounter.