Gorilla Trekking In Rwanda
In the whole world, there are over 1000 habituated mountain gorillas and these are found in only three countries in the world, Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga National park in southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National park in northwestern Rwanda and Virunga National park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rwanda has become the most visited country for gorilla trekking and other primate species like golden monkeys.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is carried out in Volcanoes National park in the northwestern part of the country also part of the eight Virunga Mountains. The Virunga Mountains include Karisimbi, Sabinyo, Muhabura, Bisoke, Gahinga, Nyiragongo, Mikeno and Nyamuragira Mountains.
Volcanoes National park is located in Musanze former Ruhengeri, 110 km approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes from Kigali airport. The park borders Virunga National park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga National park in southwestern Uganda.
Volcanoes National park is also well known as the base for the female American conservationist Dian Fossey who played a big role in the protection of mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey had research centred called Karisoke between the mountains of Karisimbi and Bisoke where she was later buried after being killed by angry poachers on 26th December 1985.
Volcanoes National park covers an area of 160 square kilometres with bamboo and rain forest type of vegetation that harbours the endangered mountain gorillas, besides the huge population of mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National park also harbours golden monkeys, primate species, bird species among others.
Gorilla trekking is currently the most captivating activity in Rwanda with currently 10 gorilla families habituated for trekking and 8 gorilla permits allocated to every group making the availability of 80 permits every day. The gorilla groups were 11 in number but the one group called Hirwa migrated to southwestern Uganda in Mgahinga National park.
Each gorilla group is unique in its own way, be it character, size, and each group is led by a huge silverback or silverbacks. Below are the gorilla groups in Rwanda;
- Susa family
Susa family normally referred to susa A is the oldest and biggest gorilla group in Rwanda with over 29 members, 3 silverbacks and 2 twins. Susa family was the gorilla group that Dian Fossey studied while she was at Karisoke research centre between mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke before she was killed by the angry poachers.
Susa family deprived its name from river susa that flow through where the group inhabits.
Susa group is normally the hardest group to trek because they tend to move high in the mountains making it so hard for the trekkers to reach them.
Susa gorilla group is commonly known for its twins born to impano and byishimo.
- Kwitonda family
Kwitonda family is the second biggest gorilla group with about 28 members.
Kwitonda stays in the areas between mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga and the most popular group for tourists to visit.
The gorilla group deprived its name from the silverback that came from the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the pressure from others gorilla families and formed a one kwitonda, later was taken over by the young silverback Akarevuro, but later kwitonda was found dead at the age of 40 and was known for his humble character. It leaves in the slopes of Mount Muhabura.
- Sabinyo family
Sabinyo family currently has 13 members and 2 silverbacks living in the slopes of Mount Sabinyo. The group came into existence after the death of a dominant silverback where the family split from “amavubi” a Kinyarwanda word meaning wasps and formed another gorilla family and changed the name to Sabinyo family.
Sabinyo family was led by the dominant silverback which was the oldest, strongest and biggest compared to other silverbacks.
This group is well known for its giant silverback known as the Guhonda which is the biggest silverback in the park.
- Karisimbi family
Karisimbi family is initially called Susa B because it separated itself from the Susa family with 15 members with 1 silverback called Nyagakangaga, the group stays in the slopes of Mount Karisimbi the highest mountain in the Virunga ranges.
The Karisimbi family is also a hard group to trek because it stays in the high mountains of karisimbi with 4507 meters above sea level.
For the trekkers who want to test their physical fitness, they are recommended to visit the Karisimbi gorilla family.
- Amahoro family
Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda word meaning peace, therefore the group is characterized by its humble and peaceful characters. The family stays in the slopes of mountain Bisoke with 17 members including the Ubumwe the head silverback. Ubumwe is a Kinyarwanda word meaning togetherness.
Amahoro family is also a hard to trek group because of the terrain of the land in which they stay which can be so hard to climb.
Trekkers humble and peaceful in character are recommended to visit the Amahoro family.
- Umubano family
Umubano family was formed from Amahoro family after silverback Charles and Ubumwe had endless battles, Charles was forced to break off and formed his own group and named it Umubano.
Umubano family has 13 members and 2 silverbacks, they stay in the same area with Amahoro family.
- Agashya family
Agashya family was initially called group family but recently changed its name to Agashya family. Its name was got from the 13 members of the family that it had.
The family was led by the dominant silverback known as Nyakarima who was later overthrown by a silverback called Agashya. The name Agashya means News, and the group was named after the silverback Agashya.
The family has 27 members and 1 silverback also staying in the slopes of Mount Sabinyo.
- Ugenda family
Ugenda family is made up of 11 members and 2 silverbacks, the name “Ugenda” means mobile which relatively describes the group’s behaviour.
Ugenda family is always moving, they have never settled in one place. The family inhabits in the slopes of mount Bisoke.
- Bwenge family
Bwenge family comprises of 11 members with 1 silverback. Bwenge literally means wisdom in English, Bwenge left his group and was joined by other female members then later formed its group and was named Bwenge. Bwenge family stays in the slopes of Mount Bisoke
- Titus family
Titus family was named after the silverback, Titus, was born during times of Dian Fossey when she was still conducting her research at Karisoke Research Centre. The whole of Titus family was killed by poachers and Titus was the only one that managed to survive the poachers. Titus formed his group and named it Titus.
Currently, Titus family resides in the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke.
Gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking all starts with travellers arrive at Volcanoes National park’s headquarters at Kinigi in Musanze for briefing at 6:30 am by the ranger guides on the rules and regulations guiding gorilla trekking.
At exactly 7am, the visitor joins other trekkers to search for the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural environment after being allocated the gorilla groups to trek.
Some groups may be near and others may be far which may require some physical fitness to hike to reach them. Some travellers may take hours to find them and others may take a few hours to find them depending on which gorilla group you are allocated to.
There are always higher chances of spotting mountain gorillas, rangers are sent in the forest very early in the morning to find out where they made their nests the previous night and they are able to communicate with the ranger guides that are directing the trekkers so as to find the gorillas easily.
The hiking process passing through the in passable trails of the park and climbing since Volcanoes National park is situated in the Virunga regions, the experience is rewarded when you encounter with the gorillas and you will forget all you went through to reach them.
Travellers are entitled to only one hour in the presence of mountain gorillas and you can leave the forest.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is managed by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and all payments are made from RDB offices in Kigali town.
Gorilla trekking permits
Gorilla trekking permits are acquired from Rwanda Development Board, each permit costs 1500 US dollars for all, foreign nonresidents, foreign residents and East African residents.
The Rwanda gorilla trekking permits are so expensive compared to Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo gorilla permits as a way of conserving the mountain gorillas. Since gorilla trekking permit is expensive, the gorillas are visited by not more than 80 people on a daily basis hence protecting their natural environment.
The permits being on higher demand, visitors are advised to book their permits at least 3 months in advance.
Rules and regulations for gorilla trekking
- Only 8 members are allowed to visit a certain gorilla group which limits the number of visitors that may transfer diseases to the primates.
- Always wash hands before heading out to these endangered species.
- Do not go on a gorilla safari with cough, flu or any contagious disease that may be transferred to the gorillas.
- Do not leave rubbish in the forests like leftovers, empty water bottles which may cause gorillas to catch diseases.
- Always keep your voices low when searching for the gorillas and when in their presence to avoid scaring them away.
- Keep 7 meters away when with the mountain gorillas because when visitors come close to the gorillas they can easily charge.
- Do not eat and drink in the presences of gorillas.
- Flash photography is not allowed when taking pictures and videos of the gorilla which may destruct their peace and cause them to charge.
- Always turn away from the gorillas when you feel the urge to cough or sneeze to avoid spreading diseases to the gorillas.
Gorilla trekking gears
Wear long trousers and long shirts/blouses to protect you from the harsh branches in the forests.
Wear a hat