6 of the best primates to spot


Picture credit Mike Unwin

1 Mountain gorillas
This enormous ape is a high-altitude race of the eastern gorilla. Just over 1000 remain in the wild, according to census figures this year. They are best seen in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park or Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where guided treks visit habituated troops.

Picture credit Will Burrard-Lucas

2 Lowland (western) gorillas
Far more numerous than mountain gorillas but generally less accessible. In a few reserves, such as Dzanga Sangha in the Central African Republic, habituated troops can be observed visiting the large forest clearings, known as bais.

Picture credit Mike Unwin

3 Chimpanzees
Widespread across West and Central Africa but shy and hard to observe, except where habituated to visitors. Top chimpanzee trekking locations include Kibale (Uganda), Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream (Tanzania), and Nyungwe Forest (Rwanda).

Picture credit Henk Bogaard

4 Geladas
These large baboon-like monkeys form the biggest gatherings of any primates, with groups of more than 1200 recorded. They are confined to the Ethiopian Highlands, with excellent viewing in Simien Mountains National Park.

Picture credit Mike Unwin

5 Baboons
Common in most reserves, with five species recognised. Top spots include the Kruger Park and Okavango (chacma baboons), the Luangwa Valley (yellow, above) and the Masai Mara (olive). Beware tourist hubs, where habituated troops can be bold and aggressive.

Picture credit Mike Unwin

6 Black-and-white colobus monkeys
Arboreal forest monkeys, long persecuted for their luxuriant pelts. Five species are recognised. Most easily seen on safari are the Abyssinian black-and-white colobus in central Kenya, northern Tanzania and Uganda, and the Angola colobus, along the East African coast. Look up high for dangling tails.

How to see them
Plenty of tour operators can help you construct a brilliant itinerary to Africa’s key primate locations. The author, Mike Unwin, travelled to Uganda as a guest of Rainbow Tours, which offers
a variety of guided chimpanzee and gorilla trekking packages, visiting all key primate locations.