PRIMATES IN EAST AFRICA
East Africa is a vast tropical land that stretches over 1705880 km² in the eastern region of Africa. This region is comprised of Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan. The major geographical feature found in East Africa is Great Rift Valley, it covers almost the whole region in fact. Other unique features include mountains for example the three large mountains; Rwenzori found in Uganda, Mount Kenya found in Kenya and Kilimanjaro found in Tanzania. There are also lakes for example Lake Victoria which is Africa’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Tanganyika the second largest and longest lake in Africa, and so many other lakes and rivers. The primary vegetation types in East Africa are grassland, bushland or ticket and woodland and primates.
Primates, commonly known man-like mammals, is a class of eutherian animals. These are mammals of an order whose members are born completely developed and typically attached to the mother’s placenta. They are biologically from the Animalia kingdom and Mammalia class. Primates represent one of East Africa’s best studied taxonomic groups of mammals. A total of approximately 38 species and 47 subspecies of primates are found in East Africa having Tanzania with the largest number, followed by Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi respectively. Examples of primates include; humans, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, baboons, lemurs, mountain gorillas and many others
Mountain gorillas are an endangered species of primates that live in mountainous tropical regions. There are two populations of mountain gorillas left in the whole world. One of these populations are found in the Virunga volcanic mountains and they are shared amongst three countries and national parks and these are the Mgahinga found in the Southwestern region of Uganda and the Virunga National Park found in both Rwanda and the democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas become adults at the age of 8 years and from the age of 8 to 12 they are known as blackbacks. Their gestation period is about 8.5 months and it also takes two years for them to give birth to another offspring. They are individually identified by the nose prints which are unique from each other. They are non-territorial and they have strong relationships amongst themselves. However the female’s relationships are relatively weak. Mountain gorillas are herbivorous and they eat roots, fruits, wild celery, tree bark and pulp.
Gorilla trekking is an activity that involves hiking in the wild/forest in search for given habituated gorilla families. This activity is done in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The peek season for gorilla trekking is July and August with long rains and from March to May there are the short rains. This activity requires a tourist to first get a permit which enables the allowance to go into the gorilla territories. In Uganda gorilla trekking permit can go for $700 for the foreign non East African residents. The tourists must be 15 years and above to do this activity. These permits are issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority or one can book a permit through a tour company. Some of the rules and regulations during gorilla trekking are that the gorillas live ten meters from the human settlements to prevent human diseases attacking these animals other regulations include no leaving or dumping rubbish during the hike or the trekking, no touching the gorillas and incase a tourist is sick with a cold or flu or any diseases that can easily be contracted they aren’t allowed to go trekking because the gorillas could catch it and fall sick or even die.
While mountain gorillas are primarily found in Bwindi National park, Chimpanzees on the other hand are found in a couple of different forests in Uganda with multiple destinations including Kibale forest found south-western Uganda, Budongo forest located in the Murchison Falls National Park and Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth national park. Uganda is, plausibly, the best country in East Africa to see the chimpanzees. Eastern chimpanzees are currently estimated to be at least 150,000 individuals with Uganda habituating over 5,000 individuals. A chimpanzee spends most time on the ground but usually sleeps in a selected tree, where it builds a nest for the night. Chimpanzees live in communities of approximately 20 to 150 members, but spend most of their time traveling in small parties of just a few individual chimpanzees. When confronted by a predator, chimpanzees will react with loud screams and use any object they can get to protect themselves against the predators. It is in Mgahinga that you will enjoy the coordinated and peaceful stay of mountain gorillas together with chimpanzees and golden monkeys.
The Golden Monkey Cercopithecus mitis kandti is one of Uganda’s 20 primate species and their overall estimate currently stands between 2000 to 4000 individuals. They are delightful to look at. They have bright colors, their fur is orange with a touch of gold. The golden monkey will often return to one of several different sleeping areas after a day of feeding. The golden monkeys often sleep in small groups of four at the top of bamboo plants. The male golden monkeys range from 48-67 cm in height and a weight of 4.5-12kg whereas the females are a little smaller compared to the males at 46-53cm in height and a weight between 3.5 to 4.5kg. Their lifespan is known to be 19 years. The female golden monkeys have a gestation period of 199 days. Golden monkey trekking involves travelers hiking the forest in search of the golden monkeys in their natural habitat. This activity starts with an orientation at the information centers at 8am before the trek. The same rules and regulations for gorilla trekking still apply here and that is no littering during the trek, no feeding or touching the monkeys, don’t trek in case of any illness because it be also be contracted by the monkeys.
For centuries, East Africa has been, and continues to be so, the heart and home to various wild life and it’s our responsibility to provide a safe haven for these non-human great apes. Tourism is one of the practical ways to aid with conservation however it must be carried out carefully to minimize zoonotic disease transmission especially in these post-pandemic times.