Golden Monkeys

Stephen Quinn
November 24, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

Golden Monkeys - Wednesday - 11/24 - Today was a phenomenal day! After an early rise we set out across vast open agricultural fields with morning sunlight raking the high peaks of all the Virunga volcanoes surrounding us. Sabinyo's jagged peaks were glorious in the morning sun. We hired a driver, Pascal, who picked us up in a nice Toyota Landcruiser and chauffeured us in search of an animal endemic to the Virunga massif. As the morning clouds lifted we had magnificent views of all the volcanoes visible from our vantage point - Muhaburu (directly behind our hotel), Gihinga, Sabinyo, Visoke, and Karisimbi (the tallest at 4507 meters). Then emerging from behind the clouds, partially concealed by Visoke, our ultimate destination, Mikeno, emerged from the distant mists of Congo. The name means "Naked One" which refers to it's jagged, rocky top devoid of any vegetation. It looked foreboding. When I saw it appear from out of the clouds the first image that came to my mind was the scene from "King Kong" (my favorite movie as a child) when the explorers in search of Kong first glimpse Skull Island. We watched silently, and then looked at each other with both awe and trepidation. This mountain, the one that was mysterious, secretive, and reluctant to show itself was the mountain we must climb. We stared at it with keen interest and, only when it slipped back behind the clouds, did we turn our attention to the mission of the morning - Golden Monkeys.

Golden Monkeys belong to the genus Cercopithicus, and so, are closely related to the moustached and putty-nosed monkeys that we collected in the Central African Republic for the Hall of Biodiversity in 1995 for AMNH ( those of you who were with me on that trip will remember). How well I remember skinning them while wearing a surgical mask and latex surgical gloves because, at that time, Ebola was thought to be present in CAR and associated with primates. Golden Monkeys, however, live only in the dense bamboo zone that grows around the bases of all the Virunga volcanoes. They feed on fresh bamboo shoots and travel in large troops (up to 100 individuals). And they are beautiful! !!!!!   We had to hike with park rangers across a considerable distance through farm fields, past gardens of beans, potatoes, maze, eucalyptus, and pyrethrum (a small composite that looks like a daisy and is rendered into an organic insecticide). We then climbed through a giant lava rock barrier designed to keep Elephants and Forest Buffalo in the national park and away from the crops of surrounding private land owners. Then we started to hike up through the bamboo zone to where the monkeys are found. We were up at about 4 thousand feet and I could already feel the effects (shortness of breath) of the altitude. I wonder how I'll feel at 12 thousand feet where Akeley's gravesite is on Mikeno? That's why the Mountain Gorillas have big barrel chests to facilitate breathing the rarified air.

Then we were among them. Golden Monkeys all around us. About 40 of them. They were so focused on feeding that I was able to get close enough to do a sketch. Their calls were bird-like and it was fascinating to watch them break and prepare the bamboo shoots for eating. I hope the gorillas we hope to find tomorrow will be as cooperative!

The bamboo was dense. So dense that, when moving through it, one couldn't see more than a few feet into the thicket ahead. The surroundings made me think of Carl Akeley's close encounter with a rogue elephant in 1909 on Mount Kenya while traveling for AMNH. Before Akeley could react, the elephant was on him and tried to crush him into the forest floor with its massive head and tusks. Akeley theorized that a large rock or root must have prevented the elephant from driving its tusks and head deep enough into the earth to finish Akeley off. He was severely injured and it took him months, in Africa, to recuperate. He claimed that during his convalescence he dreamt of a grand gallery dedicated to the splendor and wonder of African wildlife that would eventually become the African Hall at AMNH. He dedicated the rest of his life to making his dream a reality.

Well, I bet some of you may be wondering what happened to that little baby gorilla caught in the snare that Mike Canfield rushed off to Uganda to help.  Mike hasn't arrived back yet from Uganda,  and we've  heard that he was unsuccessful in capturing the young one and removing the snare. He will be making another attempt before returning to Rwanda. More to come.

The vets at MGVP have been hellishly busy with emergencies and we are reluctant to intrude and interrupt their important work. When there are only just over 700 Mountain Gorillas left in the world (the average number of students in the typical middle school in the US) EVERY animal is of critical importance. The vets we've met here are among the most dedicated workers I have ever met. If you are looking for a worthy wildlife conservation organization to support, PLEASE choose the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project. They are the real thing and working against incredible odds, under difficult conditions and I can say without doubt that your dollars will go directly to their work in the field. They need our help. I can also say that, without their work, I doubt the Mountain Gorilla will long survive. Check out their website at gorilladoctors.org. It would be wonderful if, somehow, our visit made a difference and in some way helped them in their noble mission and benefited the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Please consider helping them with their work.

Also, HAPPY THANKSGIVING LINDA, TOM AND CLAIRE!!!!!! I MISS YOU GUYS AND LOVE YOU VERY MUCH!!! ALSO, HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL - hope you all have a great holiday! We all have so much to be thankful for.

Finally, had some good birds today! Stonechat, Pied Wagtail, Pin-tailed Whydah, Chubb's Cisticola, Streaky Seedeater, Harrier Hawk, and mousebirds. More on birds later.

Miss you guys. Save me a drumstick!!

Love to all!

P.S. We have no hot water, we have just lost power, but their are no bed bugs! Life is good at Hotel Muhaburu. 

 

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Nov 24th
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