Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park has 10 habitualized gorilla groups for visitors to see. - what to expect in terms of challenge on the hike

  • Sabyinyo Group - 13 members, with the biggest Silverback (Guhonda) known in the entire jungle. The easiest family to track. Guhonda weights about 220kgs. This group was named after the Sabinyo Volcano that means "old man's teeth".
  • Amahoro Group - 18 members with 2 Silverbacks gorillas. Amahoro means "peace and serenity" in Kinyarwanda and this family lives up to the expectations of their name  -they are know to be the most peaceful group. This trek can be challenging as you must hike up the Mt.Bisoke slopes to reach the gorilla family.
  • Agashya Group (Group 13) - 27 members including 1 Silverback gorilla. They occupy the same territory as the Sabyinyo family. Lead by Agashya, this family will move deeper into the jungle and away from the Sabyinyo family when they sense danger. Formerly Group 13, this now 27 member family was originally led by a silverback named Nyakraima who was overtaken by Agashya.  An easier tracking experience.
  • Susa Group - is the most popular gorilla family with previously 42 members before the group was divided into two groups. Dian Fossey studied this group between 1967 - 1985. In 2008 the family of 42 was split into two groups:
    • Susa Group A with 33 members including 2 Silverbacks gorillas. Known for its adventurous twins, normally found in the lower slopes of Mt. Karisimbi.
    • Karisimbi Group (Susa B) with 16 members including 2 Silverback gorillas. To reach this gorilla group you must climb to high altitudes, up to 4507 meters depending on their location. This family is located in the high slopes and therefore is only suggested for trackers who are serious about hiking.
  • Umubano Group - 13 members with 2 Silverback gorillas. Their family name means "living together" with Charles as their dominant silverback.
  • Hirwa Group - 16 members with 1 Silverback. gorilla. Family was formed in 2006 from a combination of members from Sabyinyo and Group 13. New twins were born in 2011. Inhabiting the foothills of Mt. Sabyinyo to the sides of Mt. Gahinga, this can be a challenging trek.
  • Kwitonda Group - 23 members with 4 Silverback gorillas. This family is a migrant group from the DR of Congo, they move through the lower slopes of Mt. Muhabura to the higher slopes like the Karisimbi family. This can be a challenging trek depending on their location.
  • Bwenge Group - 11 members with 1 Silverback. Famous for their feature in "Gorillas in the Mist", this gorilla group inhabits the slopes of Karisoke volcano, situated amidst Bisoke and Karisimbi mountains. Formed in 2007 this gorilla family experienced tragedy when 6 infants died. 
  • Ugenda Group - 11 members with 2 Silverback gorillas. A very difficult gorilla family to track due to their constant moving habits. Ugenda means "on the move" in Kinyarwanda and this family keep true to their name, moving from place to place they do not have a so called "home".

As gorillas are wild animals with instinctive behaviors the family dynamics can change with out notice. You will be briefed on the current family groupings the morning of your trek. This is one of the beauties of nature, the ever changing rhythms of life. Spending time with the curious playful mountain gorillas is surely to be a life changing and once and life time experience.

Habituated Gorillas

Gorillas are the largest members of the primate family and are closely related to humans, with 98% of their DNA identical to that of humans. Hollywood has portrayed gorillas as aggressive predators, however, mountain gorillas are shy gentle beings that would not attack unless provoked.

Mountain gorillas live in forest regions high in the mountains, reaching elevations of up to 8,000 to 13,000 feet. More than half of the habitualized gorillas are found in the Virunga Mountains. First being discovered in 1902 the mountain gorillas have been threatened from disease, hunting and habitat destruction. They are currently on the IUCN list of endangered species. As humans began to clear land for agriculture and livestock this hugely impacted the gorillas stability. Thanks to conservation efforts and support from gorilla tracking safaris, the numbers of mountain gorillas has shown an increase in the last decade.

The process of gorilla habituation can take from two to three years before completion. Managed by a group of researchers this process involves visiting the selected family of wild gorillas every day until they start to become familiar with the researchers. The gorillas are studied and all individuals are identified in terms of their sex and age, they are given names and are then considered to be visited by tourists. Following mock exercise trips for up to 8 months the gorilla group may then be deemed fully habituated and is then opened for tourism. Gorilla habituation process heavily relies on support from Gorilla Trekking Safari Holidays.

Dian Fossey played a large role in Mountain Gorilla conservation and habitat protection. She dedicated many years to research and lived with the gorillas at her base camp, some 10,000 feet above sea level.

Taken from Dian Fossey - Short Bio

Fossey struggled with fear of heights on steep slopes, and battled disease, torrential rains, poachers, witchcraft and revolution. However, her tireless efforts at gorilla habituation were rewarded when an adult male gorilla, whom she had named Peanuts, touched her hand. This gesture was the first recorded instance of peaceful gorilla-to-human contact.

Fossey's intense observations and study of the mountain gorillas over thousands of hours brought new information to the scientific community. Her commitment also earned Fossey the complete trust of the wild mountain gorillas she studied. Even though she cared deeply for each gorilla, Fossey became particularly attached to a young male gorilla she named Digit. In 1977, their friendship came to a tragic halt when poachers attacked and killed the young gorilla. Fossey reacted with fury and even greater commitment. Several major publications, including National Geographic magazine, heeded her pleas for justice by running in-depth, poignant feature articles. This coverage propelled the plight of the mountain gorillas into the international limelight. It was shortly after  Digit's death that Fossey founded the Digit Fund to help raise money to protect the gorillas.

In 1983, Fossey published Gorillas in the Mist, an account of her life and work at Karisoke™. The book became an international best seller. A movie based on the book was released in 1988. The film, starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, achieved great popular success and helped attract public support for Fossey’s work.

Fossey was killed in 1985 in her cabin at Karisoke. The name of the Digit Fund was changed after her death to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. In subsequent years her legacy has grown through the Fossey Fund’s programs, which are dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa.

You can learn more about Mountain Gorilla conservation by visiting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.