While mountain gorilla trekking gets most of the Rwanda wildlife fanfare [and rightly so], there is also another trek that intrepid travelers can do while near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, in the Volcanoes National Park, can be found a vast bamboo forest, and if you look to the treetops and wait patiently, slowly dozens of golden moneys will descend to the ground and give you a mighty good show.
The golden monkey [Cercopithecus kandti] is a species of Old World monkey found in the highland forest within the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa. This area is represented by four national parks in three countries: Mgahinga [Uganda], Volcanoes [Rwanda], and Virunga and Kahuzi-Biéga [Democratic Republic of Congo].
The golden monkey is still a bit of a mystery, but we do know that it lives in social groups of up to thirty individuals and it mainly eats leaves and fruit, with a few insects every now and again. Golden Monkey treks are similar to Mountain Gorilla treks in that once they are spotted, trekkers are only allowed to spend one hour with them. Treks usually begin early in the morning, and it can take some time to trek to a location where they can be spotted.
The Golden Monkeys are quite amusing to watch, as they bounce around and jump from bamboo to bamboo, and up close they do act in a manner consistent with a domesticated cat or a dog – not frightened of humans as a result of having been habituated. Habituation is a method of preparing wildlife for exposure to humans by having humans live with them every day for a certain period of time, usually a year or two. The idea is that after a period of exposure to a stimulus, the wildlife will stop responding to that stimulus and in this case [ironically] not see humans as a threat.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], the main global authority on the conservation status of species, lists the Golden Monkey on its Red Data list due to the gradual destruction of their habitat.