You can easily guess that the Golden monkey gets its name for its striking golden colouring. The tails of the Golden monkey are bright, vibrant, golden orange, as are its cheeks and patches of its back and torso, which contrast sharply with its jet-black legs and head for a visually stunning effect.
It is part of the Old World monkey family and is endemic to Central Africa’s Virunga Mountains. In Uganda, one can only see it in Mgahinga National Park, located on the extreme southwestern tri-border with Rwanda and DRC.
The ongoing separation of forests has led to fragmentation of the Cercopithecus species range, making them live in isolated populations that have adapted to the local environment. As a result, the monkey has diverged from the Blue monkey.
The Golden Monkey numbers are estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 individuals. It is listed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and categorized as Endangered under criteria B1ab (i, ii, iii).
They are highly social animals, forming groups of 30 – 80 individuals led by an Alpha male. The group size varies with elevation; generally, groups at higher elevations are smaller.
Females are constantly with the group to defend the territory, whereas males usually remain with the group temporarily, leaving it after a while.
These monkeys are diurnal and arboreal, and their sleeping sites are at the tops of bamboo plants. When sleeping, golden monkeys gather into smaller groups of, on average, four individuals.
The Golden monkey is a herbivore (folivores and frugivore). It feeds upon bamboo leaves, branchlets, shoots, fruits, flowers, and shrubs, supplementing this diet with occasional invertebrates such as the pupae of lepidopterous larvae found on leaves.
Feeding areas are usually near their sleeping sites, so they take daily trips to forage.
In addition to relying on bamboo for nutrition, the Golden monkey also uses bamboo to craft little homes. In an astounding intelligence feat, Goldens weave multiple bamboo plants together to make “beds.”
Unlike the mountain gorilla that builds a nest every night, the monkeys will travel a bit during the day to feed but return to these beds for rest night after night.
These primates’ primary forms of communication are visual expressions and various vocalizations. Males use some of these vocalizations during confrontations or when defending their territories. Females use a wide range of calls to maintain the group’s unity and alert community members of potential threats.
Meanwhile, sub-adults are known to accompany mobbing behaviour with specific calls. Additionally, young individuals may display submissiveness through vocalizations.
The only place one can see the golden monkey in its natural habitat up close is on the volcano mountain slopes of Mgahinga National Park. Mgahinga protects Uganda’s side of the Virunga Mountains, on the extreme tip of the southwestern Ugandan border.
Basically, you will have to drive about 500 kilometres from Kampala to Kisoro town on a tarmacked highway, then connect about 11 kilometres to the Mgahinga visitor centre at Kanyanchu. There is decent accommodation in Kisoro for all types of travellers.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority runs the park and has some golden monkey groups habituated for tourism. The cute little primates don’t get as much attention as their park-mates, the mountain gorillas. So, you’ll not have crowds walking with you on the daily morning golden monkey trekking excursion.
UWA charges Foreigners USD 60, Foreign residents USD 50, and Nationals UGX 40K for the golden monkey permit. But that doesn’t include park entrance fees of $40/$30/20K per person; it only includes the guided ranger trekking and conservation fees and allows tourists to spend one hour with the golden monkey family.
The park has a semi-habituated troop available for the Golden Monkey Habituation Experience that allows 4 hours with the monkeys and costs US$100 per person for foreigners and UGX 100,000 for EAC nationals.
You can buy the golden monkey tracking permit from the UWA office or a licensed tour operator who can also organize your entire journey.