Uganda’s Golden Monkeys are indeed Golden

Benedict Ntale

A very unique country in East Africa and the world at large, Uganda is abundantly endowed with a diversity of wildlife.

Talking of abundance, Uganda is an East-African hub for primates! Primates or apes are mammals that have distinctive features analogous to those of human beings.

The genetic proximity to humans in gorillas and chimpanzees shoots to above 95%; a vast majority of humans may not recognise our ancient connection but it is indeed vivid.

This article may not provide a definitive list of them but in Uganda one can see primate species like olive baboon, black & white colobus monkey, patas monkey, vervet monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, l’Hoest’s monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, Tauntalus Monkey and Dent’s Monkey among other monkey species.

We have about five species of galagos, mountain gorillas and chimpanzees that hoist high the primate flag on the African Continent.

There is one special species of primates, the incredible golden monkey! It is absolutely fascinating! An Old World Monkey species, golden monkeys (Cercopithecus kandti), hold a conservation status of endangered! They are restricted to highlands of Mgahinga N.P. ( Uganda), Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Park (Rwanda), Virunga & Kahuzi Biega (DRC)! In Uganda, one can only see these gentle-golden beauties in Mgahinga National Park.

Until 1991, when Mgahinga graduated from merely being a game-sanctuary (as was declared in 1930) to full National Park status, human encroachment into park land had reached a height of 2720m above sea level (several kilometers into park land).

Kabaka’s lake, a city birding hotspot

The home-range of golden monkey is at height of about 2800m above sea level. Human activity was close to threatening existence of this monkey species in Uganda.

Golden monkeys live in groups of about 30 or more individuals led by a dominant male and ultimately the commander in chief. Females look more golden and absolutely gorgeous with faces scribbled with natural innocence. A purplish colour on the eyelids gives an impression that the facial appearance of these monkeys could have inspired the human eye-shadow make-up element. These monkeys can live up to 20yrs in the wild.

Masters of foraging in the bamboo and the unspoiled highland vegetation, golden monkeys are skilled climbers and can swing from branch to branch with ultimate ease.

They swing their long tails of about 72 centimeters, balance in space as they land on branches with the aid of both their feet and arms that have gripping abilities! Incredible Golden Monkeys!  Through natural adaptation, they swiftly navigate through thick bamboo in an indescribable manner.

They are predominantly vegetarian but they have to eat insects and reportedly moles to supplement their diet. Elements of their menu are wild coffee, bamboo shoots, bamboo leaves, bamboo fungi and red-hot poker flower, shoots among other plant species! They dwell on soft branches usually proximate to their feeding territories.

Golden monkeys have natural predators such as African Golden Cats, Serval Cats and African Crowned Eagles. Eagles target golden monkey babies; this aerial predator strikes terror among them and the descent to the lower branches ensues.

In a bid to protect little-ones, adult golden monkeys hug and hold on their babies to repel imminent danger. This is an amazing display of survival instincts!

To see these amazing creatures, one needs to make a trip to Kisoro (South Western Uganda) and endure a bumpy but scenic route that reveals the mystery of the three cones (Muhabura, Gahinga & Sabyinyo) to Mgahinga.

The approximately 12kms journey leads to Ntebeko, the Mgahinga National Park Headquarters. The activity takes approximately 6hrs and demands substantial physical fitness.

It is an exceedingly rewarding experience to savor the freshness as the gentle breeze fills the ambiance when walking under the shade of an ancient and pristine vegetation. The ultimate prize is to finally be treated to a full hour of unrivalled natural entertainment starring the golden monkeys.

Mr Ntale is the founding manager of Apetreks Uganda (@apetreksug), a tour company.

Twitter: @ntaleh

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