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GORILLA FAMILIES IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Gorilla families in Volcanoes Park, Volcanoes National Park is the only gorilla trekking destination in Rwanda and is situated within the north-western side of the country. This 160-square kilometer National Park is part of the massive Virunga Conservation Area that also includes Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as well as Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo and was established in 1925 to protect the mountain gorillas.           The Virunga Conservation Area that the Volcanoes National Park is a home to more than 60% of the total 1060 mountain gorillas in the wild.

Volcanoes National Park is a haven to more than 20 gorilla families but only 10 families have been fully habituated for tourism while others were reserved for research purposes. Given the fact that only 8 persons can visit a habituated gorilla family each day, 80 gorilla permits are available every day. These families are Agashya (Group 13), Hirwa, Sabyinyo, Susa A, Susa B (Karisimbi), Umubano, Kwitonda, Ugenda, Bwenge and Amahoro.

Agashya (Group 13)

Agashya family is one of the 10 habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and during time of habituation had only 13 members thus the name “Group 13”. This family is now made up of 25 members that include 1 silverback, 12 adult females, 2 sub-adult females, 3 juveniles and 7 infants. Agashya is a local name meaning news and was derived from the fact that Agashya, a small silverback challenged the then leader of the family (Nyakarima) who appeared huge to become the leader of the family.

It is said that after taking over leadership of the family, Agashya escaped to the Volcano for the safety of the family members from Nyakarima. Agashya is known for forcefully grabbing members from other gorilla families and also embracing lonely gorillas thus making it one of the largest families in Volcanoes National Park with 25 members.

Additionally, Agashya the silverback is also known for his suspicious behavior and habit of going to higher places together with his family members. It is for this reason that only young, energetic and physically fit tourists can trek the Agashya gorilla family.

Amahoro

Amahoro is a “Kinyarwanda” word that means “Peace” originating from the fact that the members of the family are believed to be peaceful. Ubumwe the leader of the family is also said to be peace loving which unfortunately his calmness cost him his family members that were taken by Charles of Umubano family. This 17-member family with 1 silverback, 2 sub adult males, 5 adult females, 2 blackbucks, 2 juveniles and 5 infants is said to be difficult to trek hence requiring participants to be physically demanding.

Hirwa

Hirwa is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “lucky”. This extraordinary family was open for tracking on the 17th of June 2006 after two years of habituation. It is said to have been formed from members of 2 popular families that are Sabyinyo and Group 13. With only 9 members, it is one of the smallest families with members including 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 sub adult females and 3 infants.

Sabyinyo

Occupying the lower slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, the Sabyinyo gorilla family is one of the easiest-to-track gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. It is led by Guhonda, the popular silverback that is said to be the largest and strongest in the Park but with few members (totaling to 8) compared to most gorilla groups in the Park.

It was therefore named after Mount Sabyinyo-“old man’s teeth” because of its shape and is presently made up of 8 members that include 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles, 1 sub adult female and 1 infant.

Susa A

Susa A was named after River Susa that drains through their home range and is popular for being one of the families studied by Dian Fossey. This family usually occupies areas of high elevation making it a difficult-to-trek gorilla family and is known for once having the highest number of members totaling to 42 individuals. However, group separations and fights led to reduction in its number totaling to 28 members including 3 silverbacks.

 

Susa B (Karisimbi)

Karisimbi family broke off from the Susa A hence the reason it is usually referred as Susa B and it derived the Karisimbi name from the fact that its home range is within the slopes of the Karisimbi Volcano. At 4507 meters above sea level, this Mountain is the highest point of the country, making trekking the family for only physically able persons. Karisimbi is made-up of 15 members.

Umubano

Most of Umubano gorillas are former members of Amahoro family who were taken after Charles challenged the leader of Amahoro. When Charles reached adulthood, he couldn’t take any orders from Ubumwe the leader of the group thus challenging him and taking some of the female gorillas to start his own family. Umubano means “Neighborliness” to show how since establishment have been good neighbors from their original family.

Kwitonda

Kwitonda is another interesting gorilla family to track within Volcanoes National Park and was formed in 2003 when Kwitonda, the dominant silverback at the time it was formed crossed over from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The family since formation occupied the area between Mount Gahinga and Sabyinyo. Kwitonda however died on 10th September 2012 at the age of 40, leaving one of the silverbacks-Akarevuro as the leader. Today the Kwitonda family has over 28 members making it one of the largest in the Park, second to Pablo family with over 33 family members.

Ugenda

Ugenda means “on the move” because this gorilla family was known for always roaming around that made it abit difficult to trek. It is made up of 11 members that include 2 silverbacks.

Bwenge

Bwenge Gorilla family was created in 2007 and currently ranges between the slopes of Karisimbi and Bisoke Volcanoes making it challenging to trek. It would be a great idea to trek a family that once featured in the “Gorillas in the Mist” film. Bwenge family has been one of the most unfortunate families having lost 6 infants and is currently made up of 11 members including 1 silverback.

Besides the 10 habituated gorilla families to trekking in Volcanoes National Park, the Park is also a home to other families that are reserved for research purposes or being habituated for tracking. These are Gushimira, Kurira, Isimbi, Isabukuru, Titus, Igisha, Musilikale, Muhoza, Pablo and Mafunzo among others.

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