There is no adventure experience in the world that out compete a magical encounter with the endangered mountain gorillas. In the whole world, the remaining mountain gorillas live in three countries that are Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. There are thoughts that only 1060 mountain gorillas are left in the world and Rwanda is known as the leading mountain gorilla tracking safari destination in the world.
Rwanda is among the three countries globally with endangered mountain gorillas. They are greatly endangered species and do live in the jungles of the volcanoes National park. This park is located in North Western Rwanda in the Virunga area and have three major of Karisimbi, Mikeno and Bisoke. There is an estimate of about 600 mountain gorillas living in the area of Virunga Massif and 450 living in in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The first European to encounter an endangered ape was called Oscar Von Beringe; he decided that something must be done to conserve the population of these splendid creatures that suffered for a longtime due to human activities like poaching, deforestation, and illnesses, and in 1925 he convinced the Belgian government to create Africa’s first protected area, Albert National park which is now volcanoes national park. The 1st scientific study of mountain gorillas in the Virunga volcanoes then undertaken by George Schaller in 1959. However his work was sustained by Dian Fossey from 1967 to 1985.She became a prominent primatologist and a researcher who studied and habituated these giant apes to human standards for a period of over 18 years. However, she was later killed in December 1985 in her line of duty by the said poachers whom she had made unpopular especially in Volcanoes forests.
Mountain gorillas are the largest of the great apes family with an adult male silverback which age from 12 and above weighing up to 470 pounds and reach six feet. They are the second close relative of man after chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans and they share almost 97% of human genes.
Mountain gorillas are dissimilar from monkeys for a variety of reasons: they are larger than monkeys, they can walk upright for a longer period of time, don’t have tails and have more developed brains. They are distributed in four groups, the western lowland gorillas; these normally live in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, eastern DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Gabon and the Central African Republic.
The Eastern lowland gorillas mainly live in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Rwanda. Mountain gorillas can only be found in three countries that’s Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. In Uganda these apes are found in two parks that’s Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Mgahinga national park. In Rwanda, these giants live in volcanoes and in Democratic Republic of Congo they live in Virunga national park. The Cross River gorillas live in Cameroon, Gabon. The mountain gorillas are distinguished from lowlands relatives by their broader chest, longer hair, and a wider jaw. They also tend to be a bit larger than other gorillas. Mountain gorillas are the only habituated gorilla family in the world and they can be seen safely in their natural habitat without any harm caused to tourists.
Mountain gorillas look to be shy, but when in danger, they can be hostile. They beat their chests and let out angry grunts and roars. The male silverback group leaders charge in case of any danger ready to protect the group against any threat. Mothers always fight to death to protect their young ones. Rwanda mountain gorillas live in a group of 6-30 and over 10 habituated Rwanda gorilla families are recorded for tracking and each group is led by a male silverback. Other members in a group include several younger males, adults, juvenile females, and infants.
Mountain Gorilla Facts
Gestation period; Females always give birth at about 10 years and will have more descendants every 3 or 4 years and it produces a single young one. Twin cases are so rare in gorillas. A male gorilla begins to breed between 12 and 15 years, when he is in charge of his own group..
Diet; Gorillas are mainly vegetarians; they eat leaves, buds, shoots, tuber, stalks, fruits and ferns and sometimes aunts. These plants seem to provide sufficient moisture so that gorillas do not need water; they spend most of their day foraging for food
Life span: They live to up to 50 years while in the wild where as in captivity they may live less than 35 years.
Threats: Gorillas are threatened by human activities such as poaching for the bush meat and medicine; diseases like Ebola also kill many gorillas, wild animals like lion, leopards attack and kill them especially babes. They are also affected by climate changes especially those that live highlands like mountains.
Rwanda Gorilla Groups
There are twelve habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda; these include the Susa, group 13, kwitonda, Amahoro, karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Agashya, Omubano,Hirwa among othersA maximum of 8 people are allowed to trek each gorilla family which means that a maximum of eighty people can track the primates in volcanoes national park per day. Rwanda gorilla permits costs US$1500 per person per tracking including park entry fee and a ranger guide. Below are the habituated mountain gorilla families in volcanoes national park.
- Agashya Mountain Gorilla Family
Agashya Mountain gorilla family has 13 mountain gorilla members and is also called 13 groups. The members in this group increased and today the family has 25 individual members with a dominant silver back, 12 females, 3 youth and 7 young ones. Agashya which is a dominant silver back is very ambitious and has persistently managed to increase the mountain gorilla numbers in his family from 12 to 25. He is very productive of his gorilla family and once he senses that there is any danger and intrusion, he moves with the whole mountain gorilla family uphill which sometimes makes it quiet hard for the tourists to trek.
- The Amahoro Mountain Gorilla Family
Amahoro Gorilla family has 17 individuals and is quiet a peaceful mountain gorilla family that lives on the gentle slope. It is quiet hectic to get this gorilla group because it involves hiking thus tourists who have visited the group always take about their unique experience and encounters.
- The Bwenge Mountain Gorilla Family
This gorilla group comprises of 11 mountain gorilla individuals and is faced difficult times after the death of 6 young mountain gorillas. They do live along the Karisoke volcanic area and was named Bwenge after the dominant silver back. To get this gorilla family, it is quite e challenging as it involves a hike of about 2 to 3 hours through the trails and steep slopes.
- The Hirwa Mountain Gorilla Family
This group was formed from the Sabyinyo family and has group 13. This group came together to form a joint gorilla family called Hirwa which means the lucky one and has now got 9 mountain members including a dominant silver back,2 juveniles and 3 young ones. The Dominant silver back is very strong and determined to protect all the individual gorilla members in the family.
- The Kwitonda Mountain Gorilla Family
Kwitonda shifted from the democratic republic of Congo and it’s made up of 18 gorilla members including the dominant silver back. It is among the difficult gorilla groups to be trekked because most times, it keeps far in thick forested areas that cannot be easily accessed by tourist/visitors.
- Sabinyo Mountain Gorilla Family
This is made up of 8 mountain gorilla individuals, inhabiting the gentle slopes of the Sabyinyo volcano which is shared between Uganda and Rwanda. This group is easily accessed as compared to the other gorilla group and has the biggest silver back called Guhonda with 3 female mountain gorillas.
- The susa A Mountain Gorilla Family
Susa A group lives at a relatively higher altitude and is also a challenging mountain gorilla to trek. It was made famous by Dian Fossey an American Zoologist who took long studying the mountain gorillas. It is some of the oldest habituated gorillas and very famous for Impano and Byishimo, a twin mountain gorilla. The trekking of the group offers exciting moments especially as tourists watch the twin mountain gorillas.
- Susa B Mountain Gorilla Family
It has got 15 individuals and was previously part of the Susa mountain gorilla family which later broke off forming the Susa B or Karisimbi gorilla family. It resides along the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and also among the difficult mountain gorilla groups to get. It can be trekked by the physically fit tourists since sometimes they move uphill making it hard to get them.
- Uganda Mountain Gorilla Family
This gorilla family inhabits the kirisimbi volcanic area with 2 silverbacks and also quiet difficult to trek since it always move from one area to another explaining the family’s characteristics.
- Umubano Mountain Gorilla Family
It also consists of 11 individual members which are lead by dominant silver back which is black and 3 females and 6 young mountain gorillas. It separated from then Amahoro group after a fight that saw Charles the dominant silverback of Umubano winning Ubumwe, the dominant silver back leaving the Amahoro group with a number of females.
Many people all over the country leave their home lands to the land of a thousand hills for gorilla trekking adventure. Thought the gorilla trekking permit is expensive but the experience is worth the money and no on ever regrets after the trek. It is magical and if you want to have a memorable gorilla safari, Rwanda is the place to visit.