Africa is a primate paradise with 216 species occurring in more than 50 countries across the continent’s vast expanse—30 million square kilometres. From the most northern reaches to the southern point, in forests and deserts, as well as on mountains, swinging from trees or earthbound, these incredible species are active 24 hours a day.
Of the hundreds of species—from the great apes to monkeys and also lemurs and lorises—111 are found on the main continent, while a staggering 105 call the island of Madagascar home. They come in all shapes and sizes, including some of the most endangered, like the mountain gorilla, and a handful that don’t survive anywhere else in the world, the bonobo being but one example.
Most tourist destinations in Africa offer visitors ample opportunity to marvel at the unique behaviour primates display, anything from the playful antics of cheeky monkeys to the powerful posturing of impressive gorillas. It is almost as if it is a two-way safari, given that primates are human beings’ closest relatives.
Intimate encounters with gorillas and coming face-to-face with these majestic creatures are at the top of the bucket-list for most. Trekking them in the lush rainforests of Central and West Africa has been possible for some time, thanks mainly to the groundbreaking work of Dian Fossey of “Gorillas in the Mist.”
Depending on budget, as this experience does come with a hefty price tag, safari-goers have a few options if they intend to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. This includes the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Not to be outshone by their bigger—if only in size and not stature—cousins, the impressionable chimpanzee provides for an equally satisfying wildlife rendezvous. In this instance, Jane Goodall opened the door to a previously hidden world, and today tourists can visit her old stomping ground in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania—on the shore of Lake Tanganyika where the chimps have been habituated.
A bit further afield in Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains are home to the alluring gelada baboon. Congregating in large, gregarious family groups in a breathtaking habitat usually shrouded in mist, they are a joy to observe.
The only place in the world to observe Africa’s most colourful and weighty primate, the mandrill, is in the Lopé National Park in Gabon. The country also provides shelter to other monkeys as well as a substantial population of the western lowland gorilla.
If wild bonobos, a smaller and darker version of the chimpanzee, are a must-see, a trip to the forests—south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo—is in order. There is also an orphanage just outside Kinsasha where the bonobos can be observed.