In science, the mountain gorillas are known as Gorilla beringei beringei and are noted to be the descendants of the ancestral monkeys which are known to have lived in Africa and Arabia at the beginning of the Oligocene epoch about 34 – 24 million years ago. Despite the poor record of their evolutionary history, it is believed that the primate group which evolved into gorillas separated from the common ancestor along with the chimpanzees and humans about nine (9) million years ago and the initial relative of mountain gorillas is known as Proconsul Africanus. The mountain gorillas are known to have separated from the Eastern lowland gorillas about 400,000 years ago while the two are believed to have separated from the western lowland gorillas about 2 million years ago.
According to IUCN classification, Gorillas are in two sub species namely the Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei. However, this classification has not been an easy matter. The genus was first referred as Troglodytes in the year 1847 but in 1852, it was renamed gorilla. A taxonomist Colin Gloves in the year in 1967 suggested that gorillas should be divided into three Sub species namely Gorilla gorilla gorilla for the western low land gorillas, Gorilla gorilla gruaeri for the eastern lowland and Gorilla gorilla beringei for the mountain gorillas. This was reviewed by IUCN and categorised them in their current siting.
The Mountain gorillas are known to be vegetarian animals that on rare occasions enjoy the supplement from the insects. They are shy and less offensive creatures though with frightening eyes and body features. The mountain gorillas are the most powerful of all the apes and an adult gorilla can weigh up to 275kg with a height of 1.7m (6ft).
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is gifted wit counts of the mountain gorillas as it is part of the greater Virunga massif where 480 mountain gorillas are known to be thriving. There are a range of gorilla families that have been habituated and are always encountered by travellers on Rwanda gorilla safaris and tours. Other groups are dedicated for research only.
The gorilla groups that have been dedicated for research encounters include; Pablo Shida and Beetsme. While the gorilla trekking groups count to ten and they can be given below;
Susa -A Family
The Susa A gorilla family is noted to have originally been studied by Dian Fossey. It is named after Susa River which makes its way through this gorilla group’s home range. The Susa A has twenty eight (28) gorilla members with three (3) silverbacks. The family was the largest gorilla group with 42 members before it split to form Susa B and when one encountered initially, he / she would see the gorilla spread all over. Susa A us denoted by the playful Byishimo and Impano – the twins in the group. It also contains poppy who is one of the oldest habituated gorillas that dates back to the times of Dian Fossey.
Karisimbi Family (Susa-B Family)
The Karisimbi Gorilla Family is known to have separated from the Susa A gorilla family and it is now referred to as Susa B or the Karisimbi gorilla group. This gorilla family has fifteen (15) members and dwells on the slopes of Karisimbi Volcano. Thus, it is also ideal travellers interested in active hiking. The gorilla family at times moves up to the Karisimbi Caldera thus its trek m a take a full day. However, the tourism and Conservation trackers from the Rwanda Development Board always ascertain he location of this gorilla family on a day before to make its search easier for the next trackers.
Sabyinyo Gorilla Family
The Sabyinyo Gorilla Family is the easiest gorilla family to track and is led by the mighty Silverback Guhonda who is the largest of all the silverbacks in the ten gorilla families and as thus us known for her gigantic physical spread. The Silverback Guhonda has a close challenger and rival named Ryango. Though, Sabyinyo gorilla family has few members, it is also impressive to encounter. It contains eight (8) members given as one (1) silverback, three (3) adult female, one (1) non adult male, two (2) Juveniles and one (1) baby.
Amahoro Gorilla Family
Amahoro literally translated as peaceful has seventeen (17) members including one (1) Silverback, two (2) black backs, five (5) adult females, two (2) sub adult males, two (2) Juveniles and five (5) babies. The Silverback of the group is called Ubumwe and encountering it in a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda involves a relative steep climb.
Group 13 ( aka Agashya Family)
At the time of habituation, the Agashya gorilla family had 13 members which made the background for its naming. Apparently, the Agashya gorilla family has twenty five (25) gorilla members including one (1) silverback, twelve (12) adult females, two (2) sub adult female, three (3) Juvenile and seven (Babies). Initially this gorilla family was headed by Nyakirima however after Agashya assessed his strength, he managed to take over from him following a fierce fight. Agasya then took all the members up the Volcano and Nyakirima made no attempts to follow them up. Agashya has since increased the members up to twenty five (25). Up to now, attack when Agashya smells trouble such as a rival silverback, he frees his members up to the top of the Volcano.
Kwitona gorilla family contains eighteen (18) members and the name loosely translates as the humbe one. The gorilla group has two (2) silverbacks and one (1) black back. The Kwitonda is known to have migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo and tends to range for extended distance which makes it at times difficult to trek.
Umubano loosely translates to neighbourliness and this gorilla family has eleven (11) members including one (1) Silverback, one (1) sub adult male, three (3) three adult females and six (6) babies. The Umubano gorilla family broke off from Amahoro when Charles challenged the silverback Ubumwe taking some of the members to form a new group. Charles had matured enough and thus could not stand to the orders of Ubumwe, he resolved to stage fights and this went on for days, weeks and months after which he managed to secure some members and start an independent life. He has since then gained some respect from Ubumwe and though they meet, no fighting has been recorded.
Hirwa which loosely translates as the lucky one, the Hirwa gorilla family came into existence on June 17th 2006 when the trackers saw with their naked eyes the conglomeration of some members from two different gorilla families of Sabyinyo and Group 13 leading to the formation of a small gorilla group. Lucky it was, other gorillas kept in joining and now it stands with nine (9) members including one (1) silverback, three (3) adult females, two (2) sub adult females and three (3) babies.
The Ugenda loosely translates as being on the move. The Ugenda gorilla family has eleven (11) gorillas and two (2) silverbacks. Its naming is inspired by its frequent movements from one area to the other. As a result, it at times presents challenging hikes during the gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda.
The Bwenge gorilla family comprises of eleven (11) members including a silverback. The Bwenge gorilla family mostly dwells on Mount Karisimbi slopes. The Silverback of the group is called Bwenge and his group came into existence in 2007 when he left his intial group and joined females from other gorilla families. The Bwenge gorilla family has triumphed through the hard times when it lost her six (6) young ones. However, with the two successful births, the gorilla family has tried to regain its strength. Bwenge gorilla family is among those gorilla families that present challenging hikes as it can stretch up to 600m altitude points which are at times muddy and slippery.
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Brief Facts about Rwanda
Capital and largest city: Kigali
Area Water(%): 5.3