The critically endangered Mountain gorillas-scientifically known as “Gorilla beringei beringei” and the endangered golden monkeys-scientifically known as “Cercopithecus kandti” are the major interesting primate species found within the Virunga Massif (within Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, Virunga National Park of DRC and Mgahinga National Park of Uganda). The Mountain gorillas, considered the number one attraction within Africa are also found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is not the case with the golden monkeys. It is obvious that these primates are different in appearance and the experience of tracking them is totally different, but tracking them both will leave you a fulfilled person. Tourists who have participated in both golden monkey tracking and gorilla trekking understand the difference between the two experiences, but those who haven’t might wonder how they are different. This article provides some of the obvious differences between gorilla trekking and golden monkey tracking.
First of all, for visitors interested in tracking the golden monkeys, it is done from the tropical rainforests of Mgahinga national Park situated in the South-western part of Uganda in Kisoro district and Rwanda golden monkey tracking is conducted from the bamboo forests of Volcanoes National Park (2 hours drive from Kigali City). There are 10 habituated gorillas groups in Volcanoes national Park, only one habituated group in Mgahinga National park and 11 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi National Park while there are only 2 habituated golden monkey groups in Volcanoes and other 2 habituated golden monkey groups are found within Mgahinga National Park.
Mountain gorillas inhabit the mountainous areas (areas within higher altitudes) ranging between 2200 meters/7218 feet and 4500 meters/14764 feet above sea level, while their counterparts inhabit the Afro-montane and Bamboo forests (in the Virunga Massif i.e. Uganda, Rwanda and DRC) and the Afro-montane Forests of Nyungwe Forest and Gishwati forest Reserve. Unlike the mountain gorillas, the golden monkeys live in larger groups comprising of up to 100 individuals.
Mountain gorillas are identifiable by the darker hairs on their skins (when compared to other sub-species of gorillas). This is one of the features that make them to survive and thrive within the mountainous areas with low temperatures. The Golden monkeys on the other hand are distinguished by their Golden-brownish Patches on their Upper backs and flanks.
The process of tracking
Both golden monkey and gorilla tracking start by arriving at the Park headquarters/Camp (Kinigi Park headquarters for Volcanoes National Park and Ntebeko briefing Camp for Mgahinga National park) for pre-tracking briefing on the guidelines/dos and don’ts of tracking these primates. The Mountain gorillas are always sighted within the thick forests foraging and resting. This is not the case with the golden monkeys that are very active, often swinging and jumping from one tree branch to another or playing which makes the entire experience exciting, but when it comes to taking photographs, you will get clear shots with the mountain gorillas.
Number of people allowed tracking a habituated group.
The number of people allowed to visit a habituated gorilla group is strictly 8 persons for both Uganda and Rwanda, but for golden monkey tracking, the number ranges from 6-8 per person for a habituated golden monkey group. The accepted time to spend with these two primate species is strictly one hour in both Uganda and Rwanda.
Price of tracking permits
It is always a good practice to know the prices of the trekking permits before embarking on a Rwanda Safari or Uganda Tour. Golden monkey tracking permits are comparatively cheaper than Gorilla trekking permits in both Uganda and Rwanda. A golden monkey tracking permit in Uganda costs $50 for both foreign non residents and foreign residents and Shs 20,000 for East African community residents excluding Park entrance fees and the cost of a permit for the Golden Monkey Habituation Experience is $100 for all categories of tourists visiting Mgahinga National Park. A golden monkey tracking permit for Volcanoes national Park is $100 per person, while a gorilla trekking permit for Volcanoes National Park is $1500 per person (15 times and 30 times higher than the price of a golden monkey tracking permit in Rwanda and Uganda respectively). A gorilla tracking permit for Uganda costs $600 for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and Shs 250,000 for East African Residents. However, no matter how expensive gorilla trekking is, golden monkey tracking experience can never be matched with the magical feeling of meeting face to face with the Mountain gorillas.
In conclusion, golden monkey tracking and gorilla tracking are the most interesting tourism activities conducted within the Virunga Massif. However these two activities are different in terms of the price of permits and the experiences of meeting any of these two primate species but are similar in terms of the process of tracking and the number of people and time allowed to spend with the Primates once sighted.