Mountain gorillas are a star attraction for Rwanda tourism and the question, Where are the mountain gorillas in Rwanda? is one of the mostly asked questions for travelers. Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla found in the tropical forests of East and Central Africa. Mountain gorillas can only be seen in the Virunga massif and Bwindi forest. The only way of seeing these gentle giants is by undertaking a Rwanda gorilla safari, Uganda gorilla tracking safaris, or Congo gorilla trekking safari. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is where you can find mountain gorillas and trek them.
Volcanoes National Park well known as Parc National des Volcans is located on the north-western province of Rwanda in a small town known as Musanze. The park harbors the endangered Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda that are always available for tourists who would love to carry out gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda.
Volcanoes National Park has several habituated mountain gorillas and are known to be easier to be trekked than the Bwindi gorilla population. Mountain gorillas of Rwanda are known to move for shorter distances and therefore this makes them easier to trek than those of Bwindi that move for longer distances and make trekking difficult.
Volcanoes National Park is the closest park from its country’s capital. Unlike Uganda and Congo where you have a long drive of about 8 hour from the country’s Airport to the park, in Rwanda the moment you arrive at Kigali International Airport, you are just 2 hours away from the Volcanoes National Park. In Rwanda it is possible to drive to the park on the day of the trek or return to Kigali after the trek. This makes it easy for travelers on short day tours to visit the country especially for tours ranging from 1 day to 3 days Rwanda gorilla trek.
There are 10 habituated gorilla families in the park. Here are details of the different gorilla families in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park;
The Susa gorilla families are named after River Susa that runs through the park because this is the area that the group is usually found. The Susa gorilla family is the group that Dian Fossey (the first primatologist to study mountain gorillas in the world) studied during her time at the Karisoke Research Centre. Before splitting into Susa A and B gorilla groups, this group formerly had the highest number of mountain gorillas with 42 individuals in the groups.
With the natural way of gorilla family formation, there were fights for power where the group divided into two.
Susa A gorilla group has 28 individuals with 3 silverbacks including the twins who are Impano and Byishimo.
Susa B or also Karisimbi gorilla family after it split in 2009. The group split away with 13 members led by silverback Nyagakangaga and moved to the upper slopes of Mount Karisimbi with the Virunga volcanoes. The lead silverback in the group is very protective, ambitious and cares a lot for the family. The group is comprised of 11 members including 1 adult female, 4 silverbacks, 1 black back and 2 infants.
The gorilla family lives in high altitudes which makes it one of the hardest groups to track. Therefore tourists, should be physically fit to track the Susa gorilla families. The park rangers ensure that they find the gorilla family before trekkers are taken to see the gorilla families.
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 caldera in mount Karisimbi and at times go to the higher altitudes of the mountain.
The Sabyinyo gorilla family is named after Mount Sabyinyo, one of the volcanoes that form the virunga massif. The family comprises of 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 family 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 of Volcanoes National Park derives its name from a local Kinyarwanda word that means peace. The family is peaceful and led by 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.
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.
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 the 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 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.
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 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 on the fact that the group has a set of twins which is a rare occurrence in gorillas.
Ugenda 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 preious night in a place so far away from the trek start point.
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 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.