As the eyes of the world continue to vehemently venerate seeing the Mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, it is paramount for them to know the gorilla families they expect to see and their varying characteristics. Rwanda has 10 habituated families for tourism and one for research from which new babies are often named annually during the Kwita Izina ceremony. They include the following;

Titus group
The group Titus was named after the Silver back Titus which was born during the days of Dian Fossey’ research at Karisoke in the gorilla group Dian Fossey was studying. As young gorilla, Titus lost his father, uncle and brother to poachers and he was raised with unrelated male gorillas after his mother and sister joined other groups. Dian Fossey noted that as an infant he seemed “underdeveloped and spindly” and had difficulty breathing, but Titus overcame these difficulties.

Years later, their group was joined by 5 female gorillas and the leader at the time; Beetsme, drove away all the other males except Titus, who was favoured by the dominant female, Papoose. In 1991, at age 17, Titus surprised researchers when he deposed the dominant silver back, Beetsme, in a bloodless coup.

Following the 1991 genocide, most of the researchers left Rwanda and the group was abandoned hence less literature about it.

Titus led the group until 2007 when he started experiencing confrontations from one of his sons; Kuryama who later broke away to form his own group. The period that followed gave Titus a bloody nose as most of the members kept on joining other groups. More anxiety came in with the return of the ‘prodigal son’, Kuryama in 2009.

The ‘gorilla king’ as was commonly known, Titus was found dead in his night nest surrounded by his family members and the doctors declared that he died of a natural causes. At the age of 35 years, Titus was believed to be the most successful gorilla in Rwanda and had more off springs than any other gorilla.

The group as earlier intended, remained entirely dedicated for research but has of recent been allowed for tracking when the permits are overbooked. The group lives in between Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes.

Susa group (Susa A)
This group is popularly known as the group which was studied by Diana Fossey during her time in Rwanda from 1967 to 1985. It was also the largest group with 42 members before it was split in 2008 to form 2 groups. The breakaway group was later known as Susa B or Karisimbi group. Susa A group is well known for its playful twins of Byishimo & Impano and was named after the Susa River that drains through their home range. The group is composed of 33 members including 2 silverbacks and inhabits the forests on the lower slopes of Mt. Karisimbi.

Karisimbi group (Susa B)
This is sometimes referred to as Susa B and is the group which split from the original Susa in 2008. It is made up of 16 members including 2 silver backs. The group is the hardest to track as it inhabits the upper slopes of Mt. Karisimbi at an altitude of 4507m. The group has established their home high in the upper slopes and is suitable for trackers interested in serious hiking. Tracking this group is sometimes difficult as they go further high though RDB rangers will first locate the group a day before.

Amahoro group
As the name suggests, the group is known for its gentility and tranquility which has caused its silver back Ubumwe to lose some members into another group called Umubano. Amahoro means ‘peace’ and the group has lived to the expectations of her name and is regarded as the most peaceful group. It is composed of 18 members including 2 silver backs and is a bit strenuous to track as one has to endure a hike up Mt. Bisoke slopes where the group established their home.

Umubano group
This group broke away from Ubumwe as a result of constant battles between two silver backs; Charles and Ubumwe with Charles challenging the supremacy of the leader Ubumwe. Charles eventually succeeded in breaking away with some members hence forming Umubano group. The group is composed of 13 members including 2 silver backs and its name means ‘living together’.

Sabyinyo group
This is the easiest group to access and inhabits the gentle slopes between Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. Gahinga. The group is popular for its giant silver back known as Guhonda which has kept its main challenger, Ryango out of the family to remain as a lonely silver back. The group is composed of 13 members including one silver back after another was exiled from the group. The commander of the group; Guhonda is the largest silver back in the park weighing about 220kg. The group was named after the Sabinyo volcano that means the ‘old man’s teeth’.

13 Group (Agashya group)
This group got its name from the number of individuals (13) at the time of habituation. The group was initially led by a silverback called Nyakarima but was later over thrown by Agashya meaning the ‘ News’ which is now the leader and the family was named after him. The group has since then expanded to now 27 members including one silver back (Agashya). The group occupies the same territory with Sabyinyo group but sometimes Agashya takes the family deeper into the mountain when it senses danger.

Kwitonda group
This is a migrant group from Democratic Republic of Congo which was named after its dominant silver back called Kwitonda which means the ‘Humble one’. Because of its migration background, the group wonders in the lower slopes of Mt. Muhabura and like Karisimbi group, it is onerous to track as it sometimes moves to the upper slopes. The group is composed of 23 members including 4 silver backs.

Hirwa group
This family was formed in 2006 by some members of Sabyinyo group and others from 13 group (Agashya). More gorillas joined in and now the group is composed of 16 members including one silver back. The group derived its name from its formation process that was out of luck. Hirwa means ‘the Lucky one’ and as luck has it, the group got twins in 2011. Hirwa group inhabits the foothills of Mt. Sabyinyo to the side of Mt Gahinga.

Ugenda group
The name ‘Ugenda’ means to be ‘on the move’ or ‘mobile’. The group was named after its unique behavior of roaming from place to place. It consists of 11 members including 2 silver backs and wonders around Karisimbi area hence very difficult to track since it has no particular home.

Bwenge group
Named after its dominant Silver back Bwenge, the group was formed in 2007 after he had left his Natal group and was joined by females from other groups. The group occupies slopes of Karisoke volcano between Karisimbi and Bisoke mountains and had witnessed dark times when its 6 infants died. The group has however recovered and now has 11 members including one silver back. The name Bwenge means ‘Wisdom’ and it is this group that featured in the Movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’. Tracking this group is not a picnic as it involves some hikes and the track is sometimes muddy and slippery.
With that simple background, you will be able to know what to expect when a gorilla family has been allocated to you for tracking in the Volcanoes National park of Rwanda.