Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is known for mountain gorilla trekking that park is rich with many other exotic activities for one to take on. This park is part of the Virunga volcanoes which are shared amongst Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo with an evergreen bamboo forest with grassland areas, swamp, and heath in other areas.
The mountain gorillas are the major attraction in volcanoes national park with gorilla trekking happening all year round. Due to the high altitude, it is generally cold, mostly early morning and the evenings, you are advised to carry a light sweater for these times. The park is located only 2 hours from Kigali in the north of Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas were the subject of the late Dian Fossey who dedicated her life to their protection and conservation. She carried out research on mountain gorillas at the Karisoke Research Center in Volcanoes national park, Rwanda. Her study on mountain gorillas lasted for 18 years resulting in the formation of gorilla tourism which contributes directly to gorilla conservation. Much of her work is portrayed in the internationally acclaimed film “Gorillas in the Mist,” which was shot in Volcanoes National Park.
The park continues to uphold its reputation as a destination for unrivalled wildlife encounters. The edges of Mt. Sabyinyo are also where you will find Fossey’s tomb, as she was buried among the gorillas she grew to love so dearly.
Gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park
The park is best known for the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) with other mammals include: golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.
There are several gorilla families in volcanoes national park, with some habituated for gorilla tourism and others for research, whereas others are not habituated. Tracking gorillas, one needs to purchase a gorilla permit through his/ her tour operator with specific dates before embarking on this fulfilling bucket list experience. Each gorilla group is given a name depending on different circumstances and is lead by a silverback. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback, he must ‘steal’ some females from an existing group in order to form his own family.
Amahoro gorilla group: Amahoro means “peaceful” and is led by the calm Ubumwe. The group mainly resides uphill which requires you to endure a steep climb to eventually come into its territory but as always, the climb is worth it.
Bwenge gorilla group was formed by silverback Bwenge after breaking away with females from other groups. Bwenge is translated ‘Wisdom’. The group occupies mainly the slopes between Karisimbi and Bisoke mountains.
Group 13 / Agashya gorilla group had only 13 members during habituation hence its name. Currently, it has a membership of approximately 25 members and is led by silverback Agashya which explains the name change.
Hirwa gorilla group emerged from different existing gorilla families including Group 13, Susa and Sabyinyo. Munyinya the silverback after leaving Susa with 2 females, got others along the way and eventually formed a group.
Kwitonda gorilla group is led by silverback Kwitonda and the name is translated “humble one”. This gorilla group migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo and settled ‘permanently’ in Rwanda. It is moderately difficult to trek because it ranges far in the upper slopes of Mt Muhabura.
Karisimbi / Susa – B gorilla group split from the original Susa (A) group and has 2 silverbacks. This group is one of the hardest to trek, residing on the upper slopes of Mt Karisimbi. It is best for seasoned hikers who enjoy the hiking experience as much as sighting the gorillas.
Susa (A) gorilla group is the largest gorilla group in the park with 41 gorillas and is the group which was studied by Dian Fossey. The group is known for having the rare twins named Byishimo and Impano. This family ranges in the high mountains making it difficult to trek, but rewards you with its size on sighting it.
Sabyinyo gorilla group is lead by Guhonda, named after one of the volcanoes – Mt Sabyinyo. The members within this family are generally fewer but is an impressive family. This group is closest to the park headquarters if you are wary of tracking long distances, this is the group to request if available.
Umubano gorilla group is led by silverback Charles who broke off from Amahoro gorilla group with some females to form Umubano. The name Umubano is translated ‘living together’.
Ugenda gorilla group was named after its unique behaviour of roaming from place to place around the Karisimbi area, come ready to hike this volcano as you follow this gorilla group.
Titus gorilla group was named after silverback Titus which was born during the days of Dian Fossey’ research at Karisoke.