Facts about golden monkeys in Africa

Since I crossed gorilla trekking off my bucket list (it was awesome!), I’ve been planning to go back to Uganda and do chimpanzee trekking which a friend highly recommended.

After making some inquiries, the tour operator suggested that I should add golden monkey trekking to my itinerary. I did some research about golden monkeys and came up with the following interesting facts about the primates.

Where are golden monkeys found?    

A species of the Old World monkey, the golden monkey (cercopithecus kandti) can be found in four African national parks. They include Kahuzi Biega and Virunga national parks, which are both found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The monkeys are also found in Mgahinga National Park in south-western Uganda, as well as the Volcanoes National Park in north-western Rwanda.

Usually, these monkeys prefer living along the highlands with a habitat that’s rich in fruits and bamboos. In the wild, they are also found to move along different areas according to the changing seasons.   

How are golden monkeys different from golden snub-nosed monkeys?

The golden monkey (cercopithecus kandti) is different from the snub-nosed monkeys, both in terms of natural habitat and anatomical features. Unlike the golden snub-nosed monkeys that are predominantly found in the Sichuan region of China, the golden monkey is found in parts of Africa.

Also, unlike the snub-nosed monkey which is a New World monkey, the golden monkey is an Old World monkey.

Old World and New World monkeys

Old World monkeys tend to be larger in overall size and can be found both on trees and on land. On the other hand, New World monkeys spend most of their time or even their entire lives on trees and this is why they need longer nails that are also very sharp. The Monkeys World is a great resource that gives a detailed explanation of the differences between Old World and New World monkeys.

Moreover, the golden monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) have their nostrils pointing downwards, and the snub-nosed monkeys have their nostrils pointing the sides.     

Snub-nosed monkeys

How big are golden monkeys?    

Golden monkeys are fairly larger than an average-sized monkey. While the males have a height of 48 to 67 centimeters, the females are relatively smaller ranging from 46 to 53 centimeters.

In terms of weight, the males weigh around 4.5 to 7 kgs, while the females have an average weight of 3.5 to 4.5 kgs. Some male golden monkeys can also assume a size of 12 kgs.

How do they look?

If you spot these monkeys for the first time, you’d notice that the males have a reddish hue along their back and dorsal part. Certain monkeys also have grizzled patches on their skin.

The females, however, are lighter than their male counterparts and in almost every case, they are seen to have less of these grizzled patches.    

The golden monkey has a distinctively hairy face. Its cheeks are beautifully adorned with ombre bristles that often appear bushy, just like a beard. Its whiskers along the nose and mouth are white, often resembling a goatee.

Its nostrils are placed downwards, and eyes are highly vigilant, almost resembling the deep brown hue of an owl.

The monkey derives its name from the golden colored fur along the back. This is indeed striking when compared to the black coloration along the feet, tail and legs.     

How long do they live?

Golden monkeys usually have a lifespan of 19 to 20 years. However, this is likely to depend on their habitat and lifestyle.     

Does the golden monkey migrate?  

Golden monkeys usually move along different areas according to the season. If ripe fruit is available in an area during a certain season, they prefer staying in that area. This is particularly common during the rainy season, when these monkeys are seen predominantly moving in to these habitats.

However, results from certain studies have also indicated that if there’s an area that has both mixed fruits and bamboos, the monkeys will frequent the area with bamboos. In certain cases, however, they are observed to migrate in areas with the fruits.

Their heavy reliance on bamboo stems from their lifestyle choices. Since the typical diet of golden monkeys includes bamboo shoots and leaves, they prefer living in areas that provide them the necessary food.     

What is the population distribution?

As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the distribution data of golden monkeys aren’t yet mapped. Due to this reason, no population range map is available for them.

However, some sources estimate the population of these monkeys to be around 2,500 to 3,500. These figures, however, are dwindling as most of these monkeys are hunted down by human predators.

How do golden monkeys live?

The daily lives of the golden monkey is teeming with mystery. They are usually found in large social groups, led by the male. But despite the male’s leadership, the females have a major role in maintaining the cohesion and communication of the group.

Since these monkeys live in bamboo and also thrive on it, they don’t usually charter along different areas. While the females constantly prefer staying in the groups, males often head off to wander.

The groups, on the other hand, stay in areas that are nearer to food, and this itself is the reason why these monkeys are touted to be sedentary creatures.     

What do golden monkeys eat?    

Golden monkeys usually eat around 20 to 30 species of plants. Although they usually depend on leaves, fresh fruits, and invertebrates, their primary preference is bamboo. Their regular diet comprises of small branchlets, bamboo shoots, shrubs, and flowers.

Since they are opportunistic feeders, their diet is strongly influenced by the presence and availability of fruits. So, if ripe fruits are available on a specific season, you will find these species devouring fruits.

They also thrive on flowers and shrubs depending on their availability. In terms of invertebrates, their top favorite is the pupae of lepidopterous larvae that are picked from the parts of leaves.

But regardless of everything else, bamboo continues to be their favorite meal since it is available throughout the year.    

Facts about golden monkeys
Bamboo forest

How are their social lives?   

The golden monkey usually travels in groups that range from 3 to 70. It has been observed that the groups that are found on the higher elevations are usually the ones with fewer members.

In almost every case, these monkeys return to their original sleeping areas, after devouring their meals for a day. Post meals, they will be found sleeping in smaller groups of two to four on the topmost part of the bamboo plants.

These species prefer living in dense plants or a combination of multiple plants as it allows them to come up with a solid foundation for sleeping. At times, you will also find them feeding along the sleeping area and returning to the same area after a day.

When it comes to communicating with their peers, the golden monkey prefers a vocal conversation. However, they also have the ability to communicate via facial expressions just like humans.

The males usually call out vocally in a bid to defend their territories and to completely assert themselves.

As opposed to their male counterparts, females tend to behave like sentries. This means they will only call out when they sense some kind of threat or when they need the attention of the entire troop.

The younger monkeys usually use a form of vocalization to express a sense of deference to the senior members.   

Family life

While observations pertaining to the family lives of the golden monkey are limited, they are deemed to be polygynous.

This means although the male manages the group and isn’t limited to a single female mate, he doesn’t prefer pursuing multiple females. The females initiate the mating the process and the pursuing.

Gestation period

The period of gestation is for 140 days and the mothers are capable of bearing only a single child at once. Right after the infant is born, the mother will lick it clean and care for it over the first few months. The mother has also been observed to eat the placenta.

Post the birth of a child, the mother doesn’t bear a new child for the coming two years. When the kids reach their sexual maturity, they leave the company of their mothers in a bid to join a new troop.

Since the insights regarding the mating behavior of these monkeys are relatively limited, it is all the more important to protect them and their habitat.

How do golden monkeys protect themselves?     

If a golden monkey is threatened by a ground-based predator like a jackal or hyena, they gather together in a group to bark or threaten the predator by showing their bare teeth.

In certain cases, they might also throw sticks and debris in a bid to scare them. If the situation gets worse, they will use sticks in the form of clubs.

Since these monkeys spend a large part of their lives on trees, they have relatively little defense against airborne predators like eagles. So, during an encounter with these birds, they simply hide to avoid them.

Certain kinds of male golden monkeys are also likely to fight with each other for higher dominance in their hierarchy. This is also done in order to display their strength to the females.    

Are golden monkeys dangerous?

Golden monkeys aren’t really dangerous if you do not disturb them. If, however, you disturb them, these monkeys are likely to show their teeth or even bite you.

Like any other land-based predator, they might also throw sticks and stones at you. So, if you spot a golden monkey, it is best to leave them undisturbed.    

Why are golden monkeys endangered?

Golden monkeys are endangered because humans predominantly hunt them. Hunters encroach into the habitats of these monkeys, place traps, and get the bamboos chopped off illegally.

While proper conservation efforts are being initiated to protect these monkeys and their habitat, they still continue to be threatened. In addition to humans, certain other animals like hyenas and jackals hunt them down.     

Why are golden monkeys hunted?    

Golden monkeys are primarily hunted for their luxurious fur. Additionally, their bones and body parts might also be used for curating medicine.

What efforts are being taken to conserve golden monkeys?

Since the golden monkey is deemed to be an endangered species and has already featured in IUCN’s Red List of endangered species, the local governments are taking efforts to prevent the illegal removal of trees.

Alternatively, efforts have also been taken to conserve bamboo in the areas where the golden monkey resides. These efforts, if successful, will significantly assist in the conservation of these species.

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