Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Golden Monkeys in Rwanda

When you visit the Virunga National park in northern Rwanda to trek for the mountain gorillas you can also spend an easier day trekking (actually 'ambling' would be a better word) to find the golden monkeys in another part of the park.  

Though these primates appear to be plentiful in the area we trekked in, the Golden Monkey is officially an endangered species.

A day after the 2.5 hour slog up the steep sides of the park and the slip-sliding about to locate a family of mountain gorillas, the walk to view the gorgeous Golden monkeys was a doddle. 
The park rangers make it a bit more fun by pretending that we might never set eyes on the animals but truth be told, they have trackers almost permanently in the park keeping an eye on both the whereabouts of the various mountain gorilla families, and the golden monkeys.
We walked for 35 mins through open farmland, potato fields and acres of pyrethrum flowers before having to squeeze through the narrow gap in the stone wall marking the park's boundary (which apparently extends for 75kms - from a distance it's an impressive sight).  The thin gap is to prevent larger animals like Cape Buffalo from getting out of the park.  In the park the terrain is relatively flat as you walk through dense bamboo forests (pictured). As soon as one of the armed rangers appears in view you know the monkeys are not far off. You ditch all your baggage, taking only a camera and walk off for another five or so minutes before coming face to face with your first golden monkey.  As you can see from the shots here, these guys are really beautiful to look at, and are quite used to humans.  You can get as close as a metre or so before they flit off in to the shrubbery.
Young monkeys tumble and wrestle all over the forest floor, while the adults groom each other in the sun.  We were regaled by a large troop - probably 30 monkeys in all, frolicking about among the bamboo.  Getter a good shot of the critters was slightly easier than with the gorillas - for a start they are not black, were a lot more active and often stopped, albeit for only a few seconds, in a perfect pose.

This is an HDR image of the bamboo forest that the monkeys prefer. 
The bush is high enough to provide safety from predators on the ground while providing some cover from flying predators, mostly eagles, circling above.

Wherever you go in this corner of Rwanda, the impressive volcanoes dominate your view.
Mt Muhabura (4127m) is off to the right hand side.
The highest peak, Karisimbi, reaches over 4500m.
Good view of Mt Sabyinyo (3645m) most of which is in the Congo

Under the bamboo, shooting required an ISO of 1600 or higher, but once in the glade in the sun, I found ISO 200 ideal.  Best lens: a 70-200mm f2.8 lens is ideal.
The subjects are close enough for the focal length range while the fast max aperture is brilliant when the subjects sit in the deep shade of the bamboo forest
With your super-active subjects only five foot away from you, anything more magnifying would be too powerful.

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