Primates of Nyungwe National Park

from the Uwinka Visitor Center of Nyungwe National Park

The first national park that the Yale FES Rwanda Study Tour visited was Nyungwe, in the south of the country bordering Burundi’s Kibera National Park. A montane tropical forest spanning over a thousand square kilometers, Nyungwe is quite biodiverse, and while it used to host elephants, water buffalo, and leopards, many other mammals are still present in the forest, including thirteen species of primate. Of these, we were able to see eight: vervet monkeys, l’Hoest’s mountain monkeys, blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, mona monkeys, a single olive baboon, and eastern chimpanzees. This was fairly lucky, as the only primates we missed were the owl-faced monkeys, which are shy and restricted to the bamboo groves in a remote part of the park, red-tailed monkeys, which I know nothing about, and three species of galago, which are very small nocturnal primates sometimes called bushbabies, of controversial cuteness. I’ve included some of my photos below:

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Nyungwe National Park is managed by the Rwanda Development Board, and they offer tours to find the habituated and tracked troops of black-and-white colobus monkeys or the chimpanzees–the other primates are seen by chance, for example if a baboon crosses the road, as one did in front of our car. This means that one is practically guaranteed to have the opportunity to watch the chosen primate for a designated hour, and the group of monkeys or chimpanzees is relatively tolerant of nearby human presence thanks to previous work by researchers or park trackers. By limiting the visitation by tourists to one hour per day, the troops of colobus or chimpanzees are protected from unsustainable disturbance to their daily feeding or other activities.

The biggest group of black-and-white colobus monkeys ever recorded in the world, of about 400 individuals, lives in Nyungwe National Park, which is an intriguing case of such an extraordinary amount of these monkeys living together. In a later post I’ll share more photos of the chimp and colobus groups that we were led to by park rangers and trackers, which are worthwhile activities to participate in at the park. But overall it was fun to get to see primates different from the charismatic Central American spider monkeys or howlers, and the bonnet macaques of Kerala, which are the other main primates that I’ve experienced in the wild.

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