They may be less well known than their mountain gorilla counterparts, but Rwanda’s golden monkeys are no less precious and rare, and are well worth a visit. Found deep in the heart of the Volcanoes National Park’s bamboo forest, the golden monkey is one of the most endangered primates in Africa. Indeed, it is thought that the Virunga volcanoes, which form part of the boundary between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are home to the last viable population of these monkeys.
The golden monkeys is a local subspecies of the widespread Sykes monkeys, which is also known as the ‘’blue monkey’’. Like the mountain gorillas, golden monkeys are also known as endangered species and they are located on the high altitude forests of the volcanoes national park area which is located in the northern part of Rwanda in Musanze District.
Weighing some 5-15kg, golden monkeys have distinct golden bodies and cheeks that contrast with their black limbs, tails and crown. While their diet of primarily leaves and fruits has been well recorded, little is known about the environmental needs of golden monkeys and total population numbers have never been confirmed. Still, tourists have the unique opportunity to view one of two newly habituated groups within the park. The Kabatwa group is made up of 40 monkeys and lives on the slopes of Mt. Sabyinyo. For the more advanced trekker, there is the Musongo group, with 100 individuals, which lives higher up on the slopes of Mt. Karisimbi.
For one hour, you will be able to observe these rare monkeys in their stunning natural setting as they climb trees, feed on bamboo shoots, and play happily in front of you. Although smaller and nimbler than mountain gorillas, making them more difficult to spot, they are becoming more accustomed to visitors and thus bolder.
Golden monkey tracking is among the major highlight of safari activities done in Volcanoes National Park after the mountain gorillas.
The monkeys are fabulous fun to watch as they play in fruitful trees and they are inquisitive and often spend most of their time jumping from bamboo branches or playing on the forest towards the base of the volcanoes and they have overcome their original shyness to accept their daily visit by researchers and tourists. So when tracking the golden monkey, you are advised to carry first soot cameras shutter-speed to allow for low light in the dense undergrowth and to better your chances of capturing the golden monkeys on film! Because they are not like mountain gorillas which can be just found on the ground, they spend most of their time in trees.
Tracking the endangered golden monkeys begins very early in the morning for preparation, after breakfast head to the Kinigi park headquarters before 7:00am to receive short briefings about the all the process of tracking from the park wardens/ senior ranger guide. After, you will be led by a ranger guide to the forest to begin the search of the beautiful apes (Cercopithecus Mitis Kandti).
Like mountain gorillas, the time taken to meet them is unpredictable since they are wild animals, they move freely in their natural habitat, so you are advised not to forget tracking gears like study pair of walking shoes/boots, long sleeved shirts or blouses and water proof jackets since volcanoes national park is a rain forest, it can rain you while in the forest, and sometimes the forest is muddy and the tracking can take you through steep slopes so it’s better to be prepared. However ounce the monkeys are met you will forget all the troubles you have gone through and utilize the one hour you are allowed to stay with the monkeys while taking photos as well as studding their behaviors.
There are two habituated groups at the park which is ready to receive visitors on a daily basis and they have their base at the foot of Mount Sabyinyo, each group comprises of around 80-100 members. The number of golden monkey trekkers is not limited and by the time of writing golden monkey tracking permit fee is at US$100 per person per tracking and a permit can get through a tour and Travel Company or a tour agent or you can purchase it direct from the Rwanda Tourism Board in Kigali or at the park headquarters.
And you are advised to arrange in advance or book it at the park headquarters on the morning of the track. If you need a porter, you can hire it at the entry point of the park. Booking for a golden monkey is one of the great ways to spend an extra day in the volcanoes national park and if you’re interested in wildlife, this is a rare and pleasant experience not to be missed! If you are interested in this adventurous activity, just book a Rwanda safari to Volcanoes National Park and get close to these endangered primates.