As of 2015, Rwanda had 10 habituated gorilla groups open to tourism activities, and these are the groups that are tracked by tourists. Each day, a maximum of 8 persons are allowed to visit each of the gorilla groups, and spend utmost an hour per visit. The habituated gorilla groups include: the Kwitonda, Susa group, Ugenda, Umubano, Sabinyo, Karinsimbi, Amahoro, Hirwa, Group 13 (Agasha group) and the Bwengye group.
In Rwanda, mountain gorilla can only be track within Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans), which is part of the bigger Virunga mountain complex. In total there are about 480 mountain gorillas living with the Virunga Mountains and these stay at altitudes ranges between 2,300-4,500 meters within DR Congo’s Virunga National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park.
However, Rwanda also has another category of gorillas which are actually for research or study purposes and those can only be accessed by researchers / scientists. These groups include: Pablo’s Shida’s and the Beetsme, which have large numbers of group members.
Below we have briefly written about the different habituated gorila families open for tourism.
- Susa Group (Susa A Family) – the gorilla group studied by Dian Fossey
This group obtained its name from River Susa that flows through their habitat range. This is actually the most challenging group to trek since they live in the high altitudes of the mountain. However the conservation tracker guides will be aware well ahead of time where this group was the previous day upfront for the next trackers to use the following day. In some cases tourists have been prohibited from tracking this group due to its distant location. Nevertheless this family is very remarkable one with a total of 28 members and its worth visiting
- Karisimbi Family (Susa-B)
This family split from the initial Susa family (Susa-A) so today it’s referred to as Susa-B or Karisimbi Group. It has 15 members and lives on the Karisimbi Volcano slopes. Because this group lives on a higher altitude within the Karisimbi caldera, it is best suited for trackers who are good hikers. So it may involve a full day’s tracking. Occasionally, this family may go to even much higher altitudes, however, the conservation park guides always know where to start from while tracking this group. Also worth noting is that at times tracking this Karisimbi family may be prohibited some times because of its distant location at that time.
- Sabyinyo Gorilla Group
The Sabyinyo family can easily be accessible, and it is led by the strong Guhonda Silverback. Actually Silverback Guhonda is the largest of all known silverbacks and is renowned for his very big physical appearance. Over time, Guhonda has mananged to keep silverback Ryango who is his number one challenger from this group. Although the family has fewer members (8 members including a Silverback, 3 Adult females, 1 Non-adult female, 2 Juveniles plus one Baby), it is also a very amazing group worth visiting.
It was named after Volcano Sabyinyo which means “the old man’s teeth”, and it is found close to the park boundaries.
- Amahoro Gorilla Group
Amahoro which means “peaceful group”, is the most observed peaceful gorilla group. It has 17 members including a Silverback, 2 Black-backs, 5 Adult-females, 2 Sub-adult males, 2 Juveniles as well as 5 Babies. It is led by silverback Ubumwe who is very peaceful, calm and laid back; he lost some of his group members to Silverback Charles of the Umubano group.
The group is normally seen at a higher altitude so this will involve trekking over the somewhat steep terrain to see this family.
- Umubano Group
The Umubano family, whose name means “neighborliness”, has 11 members including a Silverback, 3 Adult females, a Sub-adult male; as well as 6 Babies. Initially these members belonged to the Amahoro family however, they separated from it after the then dominant silverback Ubumwe was challenged by silverback Charles who currently leads this Umubano family.
It is said that as Charles grew into a silverback equal in rank with Ubumwe, he couldn’t stand the orders of Ubumwe so he decided to challenge him. That fight went on for months. Charles was able to snatch a couple of females from Ubumwe a few females to form his own group. From that time Charles has commanded great respect and acknowledgment from Ubumwe. The two silverbacks have been observed to interact however on different occasions, however, no fights have been recorded again.
- Group 13 (Agasha Group)
During the initial habituation, the Agasha / Group 13 comprised of only 13 individuals and it was from that its name was derived. Today it comprises of about 25 members including a Silverback, 12 fully-grown females; 2 Sub-adult female, 3 early-stages plus 7 Babies. Previously, Silverback Nyakarima led this group however; he was challenge by silverback Agashya whose name means “news”. Silverback Agashya took time and first observed, then estimated the strength of Nyakarima before finally engaging him in a fierce fight after which he took over this group. Agashya with his new gorilla family moved up the slopes of the volcano not only to protect his group but also ensure that silverback Nyakarima doesn’t track them down. Since that time Agashya has increased the number of his family through snatching gorillas from other families and gathering some lone gorillas.
Silverback Agashya is actually known to move his entire group to the peak of the volcano once he detects any insecurity or trouble. Actually some trackers once observed thisvery scenario when they had taken a team of trekkers to see this family. Agashya detected that there was another unknown silverback who wanted to challenge him so what he did was to take his entire family up the volcano. Each time the trekkers though they were getting closer, Agashya would instead move his family further uphill. The trekking team only managed to see the gorillas when they eventually made it to the top of the volcano. They later got to realize that they had tracked for almost 12 hours.
- Kwitonda Family
This gorilla family has 18 members, and its led by silverback Kwitonda whos name means “the humble one”. The group has 2 silverbacks plus one blackback male gorilla. It is believed to have migrated from neighboring DR. Congo and because of that it keeps on crossing borders which makes it rather challenging to track and see.
- Hirwa Group (meaning “lucky one”)
In 2006 on 17th June, the Hirwa group became popular when trackers observed its formation when a couple of members from 2 different gorilla families, that is: the Sabyinyo family and the Group 13 joined and formed a small group at the time. Luckily, this group was joined by other gorillas, and today the Hirwa group has 9 members that include a Silverback; 3 mature females; 2 Sub-adult females plus 3 Babies.
Although it is the most recently formed group, the Hirwa show great strength and greatly protects its own members compared to other already existing groups.
- Bwenge Family
This family is made up of 11 individuals and led by a Silverback. It is commonly seen on the Karisoke Volcano slopes. This gorilla group was formed back in 2007 and is the Silverback that leads this family is called Bwenge. When Bwenge left his birth gorilla group in 2007, he was slowly joined by some females coming from other groups. Unfortunately this family has had a couple if challenging times that included the death of six gorilla infants. Fortunately the family is steadily increasing in numbers again with at least two successful gorilla births recently, and good protection thanks to the efforts of Silverback Bwenge. They are normally seen on the higher slopes at an average altitude of 600 meters, so this tiring hike up the usually slippery muddy slopes may take approximately 3 hours. The Bwenge family is the group that featured in the legendary movie – “Gorillas in the Mist”.
- Ugenda Family
This Group lives in the Karisimbi area and comprises of 11 members and 2 silverbacks. The name of this family means “being on the move”; It was named so because the family was at all times moving from place to place. Because the family is very mobile, it is generally challenging to track it.