The Hirwa gorilla family that had crossed from Rwanda to Uganda in August 2019 has reportedly returned home. The gorilla group had migrated from Rwanda’s gorilla home of Volcanoes National Park to the Ugandan side in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
On Saturday, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) reported that the family had returned home after 11 of its members were sighted and identified by gorilla trackers in Volcanoes National Park.
unfortunately, only 11 of the 17 members of the family that had crossed over to Uganda managed to return with the rest succumbing to death due to different causes while on the visit. Four members were reported to have died from a lightning strike in early February and two succumbed to intestinal obstruction and respiratory infection respectively. The family also lost an infant that had been born in January in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park due to intestinal obstruction of the colon.
Gorilla movements in Virunga Mountains
Mountain gorillas within the Virunga Massif ecosystem have been moving freely within the region switching countries in the process. Unlike humans, gorillas don’t respect borders and they can cross into any country if they need to. The migration of Hirwa gorilla family was not the first of its kind in this gorilla community, the Nyakagezi gorilla family currently living in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda was fond of switching borders especially between Uganda and Rwanda.
The 3 parks within the Virunga Massif ecosystem including Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda are just separated by borders. Cross border movements among the gorilla families usually take place due to several factors including search for food and inter-group interactions. Sometimes competition for food and reproduction also force gorillas to change their home range and hence they may find themselves crossing into another country.
Other gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park
Hirwa is one of the 11 gorilla habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park, others include; Bwenge group, Susa group, Agashya group, Karisimbi group, Ugenda group, Kwitonda group, Sabyinyo group, Umubano group, Amahoro group, and Titus group. These are the habituated gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park that can be visited by trekkers who visit the park for gorilla safaris.
Gorilla safaris in Rwanda
Gorilla safaris in Rwanda take place in Volcanoes National Park in the Northwest of the country where mountain gorillas are protected. Just like in Uganda and in DR Congo, gorilla safaris in Rwanda have the same arrangement with the major difference being the prices of the gorilla permit which is unique in each of the 3 countries. Rwanda’s gorilla permit is sold at $1,500 per person. To visit mountain gorillas, trekkers are arranged in groups of 8 with each group visiting a different group of mountain gorillas. The average time spent to reach a gorilla group is between 2-4 hours of trekking. Once trekkers reach their allocated gorilla group, they are permitted to spend one full hour in their presence. During this magical hour, visitors are allowed to take photos of the gorillas while observing the recommended distance between them and the gorillas of 7 meters. Other key rules to observe in the presence of gorillas include maintaining silence and avoiding littering in their habitat.
How to book a gorilla safari
Due to the limited availability of gorilla trekking permit given the strict measures of gorilla conservation, those who wish to trek mountain gorillas are encouraged to book for their gorilla safaris at least 6 months in advance. Although the number of mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing in the past few decades, they are still endangered animals. This is why their conservation is taken as a priority and therefore visiting them is highly regulated. The early booking allows a local tour agent to contact the wildlife authority in time and start processing the trekking permit in accordance to the gorilla conservation regulations. The agent also arranges accommodation and transport services for the traveler as well as other services as agreed by the two parties.