Gorilla Families & Groups in Volcanoes national Park
All Mountain Gorilla safaris conducted in Volcanoes national parks offers opportunity to visit different Gorilla groups with limited number of travelers visiting single gorilla family not exceeding 8 pax, Currently there are 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda tourism, each being visited by 8 visitors per day totaling to 80 visitors that can trek these primates on a single day. These groups include;
Susa Group (Susa A Family)
This gorilla group is the one that was famously studied by Dian Fossey.It derives its name from the Susa River which flows through their home range. This family is the hardest to trek as it tends to range high into the mountains but RDB’s Tourism & Conservation trackers will know well in advance where the group is located the day before in advance for the next trackers. Sometimes tourists have been barred from tracking the group because of its distant location. This group is very impressive with a family size now of 28 gorilla members and it has 3 Silverbacks. It was the largest gorilla group before it split into two. The group had 42 individuals and when one visited it, all you could see were Gorillas all over. The group is well known for the young twins named Byishimo & Impano who are very playful. It also contains one of the oldest known habituated gorillas, Poppy. Born in 1976 Poppy is believed to be from one of Dian Fossey’s original gorilla groups.
Karisimbi Family (Susa-B)
This is the family that split from the Original Susa (Susa-A) family and now it’s called Susa-B or Karisimbi Group. It contains 15 individuals and it always stays in the slopes of Karisimbi Volcano. The Karisimbi Group is better suited to visit for more serious hikers. It appears that they have established their home range high up on the slopes of the Karisimbi caldera. Tracking this gorilla family may sometimes be prohibited because of its distant location.
Sabinyo is an easily accessible group led by the powerful silverback Guhonda. This is the largest silverback of all the groups, who is well known for his massive physical appearance. Guhonda has kept his main challenger, Ryango, out of his group as a lonely silverback. There are fewer members within this family than in the other groups however they are equally impressive as a family. The group was named after the Sabinyo volcano and it comprises of 8 individuals: 1 Silverback (the biggest in the park); 3 Adult females; 1 Non adult female; 2 Juveniles and 1 Baby.
Amahoro Gorilla Group
Amahoro, is the most peaceful of all the gorilla groups. The group has 17 individuals: 1 Silverback; 2 Blackbacks; 5 Adult females; 2 Sub adult males; 2 Juveniles and 5 Babies. However, peace comes at a price. Ubumwe, the group’s silverback is so peaceful, easy going and calm, he has lost group members to Charles in the Umubano group.
To reach Amahoro one must endure a fairly steep climb however the climb is well worth it once in contact with this tranquil group.
Meaning “neighborliness”, Umubano a family of 11 individuals: 1 Silverback; 1 Sub adult male; 3 Adult females and 6 Babies.Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off after the dominant silverback (Ubumwe) was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano.
As 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. The fight went on for weeks and then months. Finally, Charles managed to snatch from Ubumwe a few females and formed his own group; thus Umubano was formed. 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.
13 Group (aka Agasha Group)
When first habituated this group had only 13 members hence its name. Now the group has approximately 25 members: 1 Silverback; 12 Adult females; 2 Sub adult female; 3 Juvenile and 7 Babies. Formerly 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 25 individuals.
Agashya is known, at the first sign of trouble, to take his whole group up to the top of the volcano.
This 18-member group is led by a silverback known as Kwitonda which means “humble one” and has two silverbacks and one black back. Having migrated from DRC, this group tends to range far making it a moderately difficult trek. Together with Susa B this is one of the difficult groups to track
Hirwa Group (meaning “lucky one”)
This group came into the lime light on the 17th of June 2006 when trackers witnessed its formation by the merging of some members from two different existing families, namely from Group 13 and Sabinyo making a very small group then. As luck would have it, other gorillas joined the group and now Hirwa has 9 individuals: 1 Silverback; 3 Adult females; 2 Sub adult females and 3 Babies.
Despite being the newest group on the block, Hirwa exhibits strength and holds its own amongst all the other established groups.
The family size of this group is 11 individuals with Silverback. It is mostly found on the Slopes of the Karisoke Volcano. The group is led by a silverback named Bwenge and was formed in 2007 when he left his natal group and was gradually joined by females from other groups. This group has had some hard times; this is because there were some deaths of 6 infants. However now the group is growing strong with 2 successful births in the last few years and a strong capable silverback leader. The trek to see the group is tough and one has to hike up the hill for like 3 hours. The trails are sometimes muddy and very steep. Apparently it was also the group that was featured in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”.
This Group is found in Karisimbi area of Rwanda. The Family Size consists of 11 gorillas with 2 silverbacks. Its name means “being on the move” and was named because it was always moving from one area to another. Since it’s not in one place, tracking it may be some how difficult and involves also moving from one place to another to locate them.
Gorilla Trekking Regulations and Rules of Conduct
It is important that all gorilla trekking participants familiarize themselves with the following regulations and rules of conduct:
• You MUST, at all times, follow the instructions of your guide. He is in contact with the gorillas every day and understands them well. Always remain in a quiet, compact group behind the guide, who will attempt to position you in such a way that the dominant male of the group can see you at all times.
• If the dominant male gorilla (usually a silverback) approaches very closely or if he charges, it is very important that you do not move backwards. Remain exactly where you are, look downward, and adopt a submissive, crouched posture. NEVER make any sudden moves or loud noises in the presence of the gorillas.
• If a young gorilla approaches, NEVER (under ANY circumstances) make any move to touch it. Your guide, in certain instances, may take steps to discourage a youngster from touching you, as this could create a threatening situation with the dominant male
• If a gorilla stares at you, look away or down as the habituation experience by Dian Fossey.
• NEVER use a flash when photographing the gorillas.
• Only visitors in good health AT THE TIME OF THE EXCURSION will be permitted to track gorillas, as gorillas are susceptible to common colds and other respiratory diseases transmitted by humans. All visitors must be physically fit and capable of enduring a walk of several hours in difficult terrain (as described above).
• Each gorilla family may be visited only once each day, during the morning hours. At this time, all gorilla visits are limited to a maximum of eight persons per gorilla family for a maximum length of one hour. Due to the already-limited number of persons allowed to visit the gorillas each day, it is not possible to do gorilla tracking on a private basis.
• Smoking, eating, and/or drinking is not permitted within 200 meters of a gorilla family.
• It is prohibited to destroy any vegetation unnecessarily or to make open fires in the national parks and reserves. The flora and fauna of national parks and reserves are strictly protected. All visitors must carry their own litter with them out of the park or reserve, leaving NOTHING behind.
• Children under the age of fifteen (15) cannot be accepted on gorilla tracking excursions. As mentioned previously, travelers should be in good physical condition and be physically and mentally prepared to walk long distances over rough terrain if that is where the search for gorillas takes them.