Gorilla families in Virunga national park

Virunga national park is located in North Kivu Province in eastern DR Congo. The protected area is part of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of 8 volcanoes that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. The park is contiguous with Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, together forming the Virunga Conservation Area.

The Virunga region is famous for harbouring 604 of the 1,063 world’s mountain gorilla population. Virunga national park alone may be home to over 200 individuals from which 8 gorilla families have been habituated for tourism. These include Humba, Rugendo, Bageni, Kabirizi, Munyaga, Lulengo, Mapuwa, and Nyakamwe.

Virunga national park

Bageni gorilla family

Bageni has 48 members and is the largest mountain gorilla family in Virunga national park. The group resides in the Bukima sector and its home range surrounds the gorilla trekking center. It is named after the dominant silverback Bageni, which in 2013 broke away from its paternal group Kabirizi. At the time, Kabirizi had 36 members of which Bageni took 20 individuals including his mother among other 8 females, a silverback and male sub-adult male. Bageni formed his own group and started acquiring more members from rival groups.

In 2015, Bageni met with Kabirizi again and added an adult female to his family. Two years later, Bageni also crashed with another group named Willungunla, which was being habituated and grabbed more two adult females. The monitoring of Bageni family by Virunga rangers from 2013 to 2022 indicates that the group has gone through social dynamics. The group acquired more 4 members, registered 34 births, and lost 10 individuals of which 8 died and 2 went to other groups. Now, Bageni is composed of 48 members including 3 silverbacks, 16 infants, 7 juveniles, 13 adult and 8 sub-adult females, and 1 black back.

Kabirizi gorilla family

Kabirizi gorilla family dwells in the Bukima sector and is led by silverback of the same name. The group clashed over territory with an already habituated group named Zunguruka and killed its leader Buhanga in 1998. The victorious Kabirizi took all the adult females and expanded its family to 36 members by 2012. Among them was an offspring Bageni, who had become a silverback. Bageni challenged his father and split with 20 members to start his own family. With only 16 individuals, Kabirizi lived on to expand its family. The Virunga rangers didn’t record any death between 2013 to 2022. Now, the group is composed of 25 individuals including 6 silverbacks.

Munyaga gorilla family

Munyaga gorilla group resides around the slopes of Mikeno Volcano in Bukima sector, where it was first spotted in 1998.  The family had 12 individuals of which one named Kadogo has a bald head when the Virunga rangers started habituating it for tourism. They found out that two young males named Mawazo and Kasole had joined Mapuwa from an already habituated family of Buhanga. Munyaga lost most of its members remaining with only six after colliding with more other groups including Kabirizi in 2002. 

Virunga national park witnessed an unfortunate rebel insurgency between 2006 to 2009. The National Congress for Defense of the People attacked and took control of some parts around Bukima sector. Monitoring of Munyaga group became challenging as the group’s whereabouts were not known during that period. After the return of peace to the park in 2010, the group was rediscovered with Mawazo as the dominant silverback. None of the members died except for only 1 member who had migrated group. In fact it was found out that the group registered birth of 7 individuals.  Now, Munyaga consists of 12 members including 3 infants, 3 silverbacks, 2 juveniles, 1 sub-adult and 3 adult females.

Mapuwa gorilla family 

Mapuwa gorilla family started with 3 adult females in 1998. By then, the dominant silverback Mapuwa obtained the three after interacting with its counterpart group called Lulengo. Prior to starting his own family, Mapuwa left his partner group Rugendo in 1995 and lived for almost 4 years as a solitary male. During that time, Mapuwa aggressively confronted several groups grabbing members and increased his family to 15 individuals in 2009. According to Virunga National Park official website, the group has had 14 birth, 4 departures, and 1 death between 2010 up to 2021. The aging Mapuwa was challenged by a younger silverback called Mvuyekure who is now the dominant leader of the group. Now Mapuwa consists of 26 individuals including 2 silverbacks.

Lulengo gorilla family

The habituation of Lulengo gorilla family started in 1985 in the Jomba and Bikenga areas in the southern sector of Virunga national park. The group was attacked by rebels who killed Rugabo, the dominant silverback among other 2 females were killed in 1994. They also attempted to kidnap juvenile male named Mvuyekure with the intention to sell it as a pet in Uganda.

However, the gorilla was rescued and the kidnappers were arrested and prosecuted. After the death of Rugabo, a young silverback named Lulengo became the successor. Lulengo was challenged by other mature silverbacks from the groups of Rugendo and Mapuwa, taking away some of its members. For instance, an adult female among several others left Lulengo and joined Rugendo in 2014. Lulengo was left with only 6 individuals, however. The group has since grown to 14 members including 2 infants, 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles, 2 sub-adults, and 1 black back.

Rugendo gorilla family

Rugendo is one of the three gorilla families that were the first to be habituated in the Bukima sector of Virunga national park in 1985. The group was named after its dominant silverback Rugendo renowned for having given birth to several male gorillas including Humba who are now silverbacks of their own groups including Humba, Nyakmwe, and Mapuwa. Rugendo’s life was cut short by rebels in 2001 and the group was led one of his off springs Senkwekwe. The younger successor among other 5 members was killed by unknown murderers in 2007.

The gorillas that survived it were hard for them to survive on their own due to trauma. This led to creation of the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Orphanage Sanctuary in 2009 where Virunga Park rangers started offering care to the orphaned mountain gorillas. Rugendo group remained with 5 individuals led by a solitary silverback named Bukima who was previously a member of Buhanga and Munyaga groups. From 2010 – 2020 the Rugendo gorilla family has grown to 15 individuals including 3 silverbacks having got 12 new births.

Nyakamwe gorilla family

The Nyakamwe gorilla family now resides in Bukima sector and was formed when a silverback Humba split from the Rugendo group in 2014. Among the members that Humba had was his brother called Nyakamwe. With time, Nyakamwe grew into a silverback and challenged Humba eventually, taking 9 members away to form his own family. Humba remained with only 5 individuals. Nyakamwe also confronted with Kabirizi group and acquired an adult female in 2015. Nyakamwe has increased with 8 birth registered to 15 members which include 3 infants, 3 silverbacks, 3 juveniles, 4 adult and 2 sub-adult females.

Humba gorilla family

Humba gorilla family was formed when Humba split from his father’s group of Rugendo in 1998. Humba started with only 6 members including his brother Nyakamwe and the number had increased to 16 by 2014. During the same year, Humba was challenged by Nyakamwe who took away 10 individuals, leaving Humba with 6.  From 2015 to 2022, Humba family acquired a female adult from Munyaga group and has recorded 9 births. Now the group is composed of 15 including 2 silverbacks of which the dominant is Humba. Among other members include 5 infants, 4 adult females, and 4 juveniles.

Virunga national park offers an incredible gorilla trekking in the heart of central Africa’s rainforests.  Virunga was established in 1925, making for Africa’s oldest protected area and gorilla tourism begun in the 1980’s. Stretching for 78,000 sq.km, the park’s area encompasses Mikeno dormant volcano and 2 active volcanoes of Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira; part of the snow capped Rwenzori Mountains to the north, Lake Edward and Ishasha plains along the border with Uganda’s Ishasha wilderness.

Virunga national park

Virunga is rich in biodiversity including 22 primate species among them are the 3 great apes of chimpanzees, mountain, and eastern lowland gorillas; 218 mammal species including elephants and lions and over 706 bird species. The biodiversity of Virunga is threatened by war, habitat loss and poaching. As such, the park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in danger.

Following Covid-19, the park was recently closed due to insecurity that stems from the long term conflict for control of natural resources including mineral rich deposits of gold, diamonds, as well as timber and elephant ivory. Updates when it will reopen again will be shared on this website so keep coming back. Those intending to experience Virunga can still opt to visit Lake Kivu, Goma city, and Kahuzi Beiga national park for lowland gorilla trekking safari via Rwanda.