Primates, primates, primates!

After a day with the gorillas, I wasn’t sure it would get better than that. But Rwanda is full of four-legged, tree climbing primates that are fascinating to watch and an adventure to track. On the second full day in Volcanoes National Park in the northwest corner of Rwanda, we trekked to the golden monkeys. These elusive and endangered monkeys are endemic to the Albertine Rift and almost exclusively the area around the Virunga volcanoes. Their golden color and fluffy cheeks are a sight to see and their antics highly entertaining. Similar to the first day, we walked through a village and surrounding farms before entering the forest which was thick with vegetation and bamboo. After hiking to where the trackers have been following them, we broke up into smaller groups of 4-6 people, following one of the guides or trackers to look for the monkeys. Most are high up in the bamboo trees, eating and jumping from tree to tree. Eventually some scamper down the trees closer to where we can see them. They move quickly and therefore so do we!

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Several days later and we’ve navigated down to the southwest corner of Rwanda to Nyungwe Forest National Park, on the border with Burundi. This dense rain forest is one of the oldest in Africa which gives it a high level of biodiversity with 13 species of primates and more than 1,050 plant species. The views of the forest are stunning with the mist rising off the mountains, and anywhere nearby that isn’t forest is covered with tea plantations as far as the eye can see. The third day of primate trekking was the search for the even more elusive chimpanzee. I’d been told that because they are so mobile our chances were 50/50 of seeing them.

We set off with our guide after 7 am and drove for about 60-90 minutes over a rough bumpy dirt road. On commencing the hike, it was clear we’d saved the most challenging for last. The forest and underbrush were extremely thick, and being a rainforest, it’s quite muddy. And did I mention steep?! After about 45 minutes we spotted the chimpanzee community in the trees resting, although the young 9-month and 11-month old babies were actively playing and swinging around. The dense vegetation and their rapid movement make them quite tricky to photograph. Every now and then the group would break out into the cacophonous hooting and shrieking chorus which they use to communicate. The sounds were amazing! They swung with ease through the branches and eventually all made their way down to move off in search of more food. Like gorillas they nest in a different location each night. It is amazing to watch these creatures in the wild and realize that we share more than 95% of the same genetic code. We continued to follow them down a steep, slippery hillside to a path where there were two adults, one carrying a baby, proceeding down the path ahead of me. The one in back kept looking back at me, but moved so fast that we could not catch up. The way back was equally steep and muddy, but filled with satisfaction that we were able to experience these chimpanzees in their native habitat.

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