GORILLA FAMILIES IN RWANDA

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 from which new babies are often named annually during the Kwita Izina ceremony. They include the following;
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.