Volcanoes national park is the only park in Rwanda where Mountain gorilla trekking takes place. The park is located in northern Rwanda in Musanze district at high altitudes ranging between 2,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level where 3 dormant volcanoes covered by montane rain and bamboo forests form part of the 8 Virunga chain of volcanoes. There are over 250 mountain gorillas estimated to inhabit the dense rain forests covering Volcanoes National park, the remaining gorillas living in Uganda and the democratic of Congo of which all combined make up an estimated 880 mountain gorillas left in the whole world.
Rwanda has 10 gorilla families that have been habituated mainly for tourism which can be trekked and seen after booking your gorilla permit through the Rwandan development board or trusted local tour operator. Gorilla Trekking is only limited to 8 people per day per gorilla family and tourists can spend only one hour with gorillas because gorillas need less human interaction. The other three gorilla families are meant for research and study purposes only. There is no possibility of booking for a specific family of gorillas in Rwanda; however each group/ family has unique features different from each other which are usually described for tourists by experienced Rwandan development board guides during early morning briefing of visitors in preparation for trekking.
Below is a description of 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda for tourism only:-
Susa group A
Currently the group is composed of 28 gorillas led by a giant male silverback and other 2 silverbacks under control of one silverback. Visitors to this group are always mesmerized by the young twin gorillas of Bwishimo and impano which like to tease visitors a lot. The group is believed to be one of the oldest habituated gorilla groups by the popular primatologist Dian Fossey and visitors can see some of the members that still live. The habitat range of this group is intersected by river Susa from which the group was named and normally it can be located within the lower slopes of mount karisimbi one of the dormant volcanoes in volcanoes national park. Formerly, before the group split into another group called susa B, the group was known to be the largest with 42 members but was left with only 28 members after the split.
Susa group B(Karisimbi)
This group was once part of susa group A but later split and managed to take 15 individuals. There are two silverbacks in this group which migrated and formed their home range at the upper ridges of mount karisimbi Rwanda’s highest peak making it one of the difficult groups to trek if you are not physically fit to hike above 3, 500 meters above sea level hence getting another name as karisimbi group (susa B) which originate from their new home range. Although difficult to trek, expert guides are ever present to assist tired visitors plus hired porters who help to carry heavy backpacks for tourists.
This group of gorillas is one of the peaceful groups of gorillas hence easy for most visitors to trek and associate with especially for photography. Amahoro is Kinyarwanda word which means peaceful and guides can describe the best of this group as having lost some of its members partly because it’s peaceful and does not like to fight other gorillas that come against it. The group is composed of 17 members including one silverback, 2 black backs, 2 juveniles, 5 females, 5 babies and 2 sub adult males. Trackers usually regard it as moderate to trek because it inhabits the slopes of mount Bisoke a dormant volcanic mountain in volcanoes national park.
As the name suggest the group inhabits the slopes of mount sabinyo which straddles the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. The group is near to the trekking point kinigi a visitors centre making it easy to reach. The amazing thing about the group is the huge silver back called Guhonda, larger than any other silverback in Rwanda leading a group of 8 individuals. Guhonda silverback is famous for challenging other silverbacks that attempt to come in its group and once it fought and chased a silverback called Ryango from its group. The group has 1 baby gorilla, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 1 silverback.
The group was once part of the Amahoro group but later the current silverback called Charles broke away after being challenged by the Amahoro dominant silverback. First the two silverbacks had to fight for several months until Charles could no longer stand to be beaten every day and decided to steal members from Amahoro to form its Umubano group. The silverback Charles broke away with 11 members that are composed of 1 sub adult male, 3 adult females and 6 babies. The word umubano means neighborliness and the name represents how the group has managed to survive on its own after having broken away from Amahoro group.
Kwitonda is Kinyarwanda word of which translated means humbleness. The dominant silverback of this group is known for its humbleness hence the name of the group which is currently composed of 18 individuals with 2 silverbacks living in harmony. Previously the group migrated from Democratic Republic of Congo but has stabilized on the slopes of karisimbi volcano in Rwanda. Karisimbi is the highest peak standing at 4,507 meters above sea level making it difficult to trek for those visitors not experienced to high altitude mountains.
Group 13 / Agasha group
This historic group was named during the time of its habituation when it had only 13 members with two silverbacks that eventually got into a fight to determine who would rule the group. These were Nyakarima and Agasha. Agasha silverback ruthlessly fought Nyakarima and chased him out and aggressively continued to attract other gorillas into his group to make up 25 individuals that compose the group. Guides usually narrate the historic fight of the silverbacks forming a back up story line of the group which visitors like to hear such news and wish such could happen by the time they visit the group. The Agasha having secured its group, it migrated to the top of mount sabinyo where the enemy Nyakarima could hardly trace. The group is now composed of 25 members including 1 silverback, 12 females, 2 sun adult females, 3 juveniles and 7babies. Group is one of the difficult to trek since it usually stays on top of sabinyo volcano hence best for fit visitors.
This group has only 9 members which came together mysteriously from other groups, hirwa means luck hence the justification of the name as given to it by trackers in 2006 when they observed that some of the gorillas migrating from group 13 and sabinyo were joining to form the current hirwa group with 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies. The group is quite easy to trek between the slopes of sabinyo and gahinga volcanoes which mark the borders of Rwanda and Uganda.
The group came into existence in 2007 when Bwenge the current leading silverback decided to leave his former group that was dominated by several young gorillas and females. Now with 11 members, the group was lucky enough to survive death when 6 infants strangely died. Bwenge means clever hence the group is regarded as the cleverest because it narrowly survived death and since then it has increased giving birth to young ones that have grown to compose the number of 11 members which happened to feature in the popular movie gorillas in the mist that was produced to show the life and death of the dedicated conservation efforts of the legendary American primatologist Dian Fossey. The group currently lives in a big home range between the steep slopes of the volcanoes of karisimbi and Bisoke hence best for experienced hikers.
The word ugenda means moving and the group was named so because of its un predictable movements to form a wide home range moving from one area to another but later come to settle on the slopes of karisimbi volcano though still unreliable and difficult to locate and trek. The group has two silverbacks which live together in peace. The group is made of 11 members including 2 silverbacks.