Golden monkeys are only found within the Virunga region of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Golden monkey are a sub-species of the Sykes Monkey also referred to as the “Blue Monkey” and are scientifically known as Cercopithecus Mitis kandti. They live in large troops of about 60 members on the lower slopes of the mountains within the Virunga rangers. They differ from other monkey species by the golden-orange spots on their fur coats – making them some of the most beautiful and cute monkey species in Africa. They generally feed on bamboo shoots/branches and will occasionally look for ripe fruits and insects on the ground. Golden monkeys are very active, curious and playful. They are always jumping from tree to tree making photography difficult. Their main predator is the golden eagle
Like mountain gorillas, Golden monkey are listed as an endangered species by The International Union for Conservation of Nature and about 5000 individuals remain surviving within the Virunga ranges. Their habitat was reduced by the civil wars within the Virunga region. They have in the past been persecuted by locals as they sometimes venture out of parks to raid garden like fresh potatoes. Because of their few remaining numbers and uniqueness, tourists are drawn to golden monkeys bringing the need for their protection to world attention.
Where to Find Golden Monkeys
Golden monkey are found in the following national parks:-
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda: The volcanoes national park now has two habituated troops of golden monkeys. The largest and most visited group lives around the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo with about 100 individuals. Golden monkey troops can also be found in the Gishwati Forest Reserve. A small group is also believed to be surviving in the Nyungwe Forest National park. However, tracking is not organized for visitors in the Gishwati Forest Reserve and Nyungwe Forest National park. The groups found here are not habituated and remain wild.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda: There are two habituated golden monkey troops in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. Mgahinga national park is probably the best place to track golden monkeys. The park offers a four hour golden monkey habituation experience were visitors are given more time to observe and understand the lives of the primates alongside international researchers, experienced trackers and guides from the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The Democratic Republic of Congo: Golden monkey can also be found in the Virunga national park and Kahuzi-Biéga in the Eastern part of DR Congo. Golden monkey trekking is not yet fully open to visitors in Congo for several reasons including security.
Tracking Golden Monkeys
Tracking golden monkeys is best done in Uganda and Rwanda because of the greater organization and security in these countries. There is no age limit or number while tracking golden monkeys. Tracking golden monkeys starts with a briefing which takes place at park offices at around 7:30am. After the briefing, you may decide to hire a porter to help with extra luggage before moving to the starting point. Tracking golden monkeys takes a shorter time (about an hour) and is less strenuous than gorilla trekking but some effort is required while locating them. They are smaller and do not leave behind clear evidence of their previous days location like mountain gorillas. Trackers locate them by looking out for fresh leftovers of bamboo shoot. Each day tracking golden monkeys is different – the weather and monkey troop movements decide how the day will go. Because of their constant movements on top of trees, taking photos (flash photos are allowed unlike with the mountain gorillas) of these monkey involves some difficulty. The only time the monkeys stay still is when taking shelter during the rains or when it gets too windy. The winds make it difficult for them to locate prey and a need to stay alert. The best way to take photos of these cute creatures is to set your camera on fast shutter shot speed.
Once you locate the monkeys, you will often need to follow them as they are often on the move jumping from tree to tree with their long tails. The long tails help them balance but may get stuck and cut off in bamboo trees – No wonder some of the troop members have short tails. Habituated golden monkeys are not too shy around humans and may come close out of curiosity. Just like with mountain gorillas, Visitors are only allowed one hour watching golden monkeys.
Golden monkey Habituation
Because of their shy and wild nature, golden monkeys need to be habituated. Wild golden monkey troops will move away from humans on first sight. Golden monkey habituation is the process of slowly getting a troop comfortable with human presence around them. Golden monkey habituation experience is a special treat given to visitors who wish to get a more detailed understanding of the primates beyond the one hour in standard tracking. During golden monkey habituation experience, visitors are given 4 hours to closely study the behavior of the monkeys while getting more in-depth information from researchers and experienced trackers.
You will need to come along with the following while tracking golden monkeys.
- Suitable hiking boots
- long trousers
- A jacket for rain
- A hat
- long-sleeved shirt
- Packed lunch and drinking water
- A camera. Flash cameras are allowed
- A walking stick for support
- A porter to help with extra luggage and navigate slippery terrain
- An insect repellent
Golden monkey permits
Should you decide to go tracking golden monkeys, you need to acquire a golden monkey permit. The permits allows a visitor one hour with the primates. Visitors can acquire the permits directly from the different country boards. In Mgahinga National park, permits are acquired through the Uganda Wildlife Authority while for Rwanda through the Rwanda Development Board. Mission Africa Safaris can help you arrange your entire golden monkey tour ranging from acquiring the permits, accommodation and transportation. Unlike gorilla permits, the price for golden monkey tracking permits change frequently. Golden monkey permits do not need to be booked in advance like Gorilla permits. It is possible to acquire them on the day of tracking. The chance of spotting the golden monkeys is very high. Should it occur that you do not see them (this is very rare), the different country authorities will give you a refund. Let’s look at the prices for tracking golden monkeys in Rwanda and Uganda.
Rwanda: The price for a golden monkey tracking permits currently costs 100USD per person. The price includes ranger and park fees to the Volcanoes National park. The permits are acquired from the Rwanda Development board.
Uganda: Golden monkey permits in Uganda are acquired from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or at the Mgahinga park headquarters – Ntebeko Centre. A golden monkey tracking permit costs 50USD per person for international visitors, 40USD foreign non-residents and 20,000 Uganda shillings for residents of the East African countries. The price includes park fees, ranger/guide fees and the time spent with the primates. Visitors who wish to go for the 4 hour golden monkey habituation experience will need to pay 100USD.
Note: Golden monkey tracking as an activity is overshadowed by gorilla trekking. In most cases, visitors combine gorilla trekking with golden monkey tracking. More adventurous visitors can opt to include a hike to one of the volcanoes found within the Virunga ranges like Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi. Completing such a demanding activity requires great physical fitness.