Gorilla trekking is undoubtedly the most exceptional and the most sought after adventure in the world which is why thousands of travelers flock into Rwanda. For lifetime experiences, visitors can only trek mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda which makes part of the Great Virunga Massifs.
Over 62 percent of all the rare mountain gorillas that live in the thick jungles of the Virunga Volcanoes are found in Volcanoes and they mostly live between altitude 2300 and 4500 meters. The Virunga Mountains cover the Southern Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. For interested visitors on safari to Rwanda, gorilla families are divided into two; research and tourism purposes and the ones that only accessible by scientists and researchers, they include the Pablo’s Shida’s and Beetsme gorilla family. Rwanda has more than 15 gorilla families but only 10 (ten) have been set for tourism where only 8 (eight) visitors are assigned to track one family each day
The Susa gorilla group
This is considered to be one of the exhilarating groups in Volcanoes National Park. It is popular as Susa “A” group and it is where Dian Fossey the famous American primatologist conducted her research for over 18 years. The Susa group derived its name from the Susa River that flows through the gorilla family’s home range. It is considered as the most challenging and breathtaking groups, requiring tourists to be physically well to hike through it and in most cases it takes tourists about the whole day trekking. However, trackers are always sent to the forest to ascertain the location of the gorilla group for next trekkers and this has eased the work of tour guide as well as tourists. In most cases, tourists have been restricted from trekking this group because of its distant location. The Susa group is stunning and it comes with over 28 gorillas and 3 silverback gorillas. It was once the largest gorilla group before it broke into 2 (two) groups. It comprised of 42 mountain gorillas and when tourists visited it, all they would view was mountain gorillas. It is also credited for its young twin gorillas known as Byishimo and Impano who are renowned for their playful characters. It is from this group that tourists can find the old habituated gorillas especially poppy. Poppy was born in 1976 and it is said to be from one of Dian Fossey’s gorilla groups. Unfortunately the mother gorilla left one of the new born twins due to hardship in taking care of two of them in the forest.
Amahoro gorilla group
Amahoro denotes “peaceful” gorilla family. It comes with 17 individuals, 1 silverback, 2 black back, 5 adult females, two sub adult males, 2 juveniles and five babies. However, the peace in this gorilla family also comes at a cost. Ubumwe silverback gorilla in this group is most gentle silverback but unfortunately he lost his family members to Charles in the Umubano gorilla group. Hiking through this group is a bit strenuous but the hike comes with encounters of these impressive wild creatures in their natural habitat.
Umubano gorilla group
Umubano means neighborliness. It comprises of 11 individuals; one silverback, 1 sub adult male gorilla, 3 adult females and 6 baby gorillas. Umubano was once within the Amahoro family but broke off after Ubumwe silverback was challenged by Umubano. By the time Charles became a silverback gorilla like Ubumwe, he would not contain the orders and at the end, prompted to fight and challenge Ubumwe. They fought for weeks and months till Charles took some of Ubumwe’s female gorillas and established his group and hence Umubano gorilla group. From then, Charles has been controlling the family and normal interactions between him and Ubumwe has not showed any fights.
Also known as the Susa B group, the Karisimbi gorilla family broke off from the original Susa “A” because of continuous fights. It comprises of 15 members and it is found on the Karisimbi volcano slopes that stands at 4507 meters and features as the highest mountain peak of Rwanda. The Susa “B” is ideal for trekkers who are physically well. They are believed to have found their home on top of the Karisimbi caldera slopes and this means that you can spend an entire day tracking for these unique creatures. They in most cases roam on top making the trek a bit challenging but it is one of the rewarding groups in Volcanoes National Park
Sabyinyo gorilla group
This features as one of the most accessible gorilla groups. It is led by “Guhonda,” the famous largest and most powerful silverback gorilla in all the gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. He has kept his challenger Ryango away from his group as a lonely silverback. Fewer mountain gorillas exist in this gorilla group compared to the rest of the families but it is equally attractive. It was named after Sabyinyo Mountain which means “old man’s teeth.” This gorilla group is closely located around the Volcanoes national park and it comprises of 8 (eight) individuals, 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 1 non adult female, 2 juveniles and one baby. Tourists can track this group around Mount Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
Kwitonda gorilla group
This consists of 18 members and led by Kwitonda silverback gorilla. This gorilla group also moved from Virunga National Park DR Congo and tracking them takes time because it is one of exhilarating groups in the Volcanoes National Park just like the Susa “B” group.
Hirwa gorilla group
This group means the lucky family. It was introduced on 17th June 2006 at a time when trackers saw its creation from other rising gorillas from 2 various gorilla families; group 13 and Sabyinyo making it the smallest group in Volcanoes National Park. More members joined the group and today it is comprised of 9 individuals, 1 silverback, three adult female gorillas, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies.
This is also popular as aka Agasha family. At the time of habituation, the group had only 13 members and hence its name. Currently, it comprises of over 25 members with one silverback gorilla, twelve adult females, two sub adult female, three juveniles and seven baby gorillas. Before, it was headed by Nyakarima whom Agasha which denotes news, challenged. Agashya really made news by simply viewing and imagining the size and energy of Nyakarima but later being defeated by Agashya. This was amazing news to Nyakarima. Agashya migrated to the volcano to seek protection of his family and ensure that Nyakarima never gets them again. Historically, this silverback is known for his forceful grabbing of members from the rest of gorilla families and succeeding the lonely ones into his making it one of the largest groups with 25 members. This silverback is also famous for its behavior of migrating to higher altitude with his members. What is fascinating is that whenever tourists visit this group, Agashya becomes suspicious of other silverbacks and the only thing he does is to continue moving on top of the volcano. For those who wish to track this group, you must be physically fit to hike on top to view Agashya and his group mates. It is a breathtaking adventure to reach this group but it offers unforgettable encounters.
Bwenge gorilla group
This comprises of 11 individuals and 1 silverback. It can be tracked within the Karisoke volcano slopes. It is led by Bwenge silverback. Bwenge group was established in 2007 at a time when Bwenge split off from his original family and other females joined him. Unfortunately, the group has experienced most difficult moments in life due to deaths of six infants. The group is currently increasing based on the fact that two births have been experienced in the previous years and the ability of their leader. Tracking this gorilla group is challenging and you must be ready to climb for about three hours. The trekking paths are at times wet making it muddy and slippery hence a big challenge for one to hike through the steep slopes at the same time. The fascinating thing about this group is that, it also appeared in the movie “Gorillas in the Mist!”
Ugenda gorilla group
If you are planning your gorilla trekking safari, then this is a group you must visit in Volcanoes National Park. It found around Karisimbi side of Rwanda and comprises of 11 members; two silverbacks. The word Ugenda means “ever on move” which describes the general behavior of this group.
In conclusion, gorilla trekking is best done in habituated gorilla families. Each group offers a rare experience and in order to explore more, it is better to at least to visit two groups to compare the experiences thereafter as each comes with different stories.