More Than Gorillas: Primates of East Africa

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Primates intrigue us for many reasons, not the least of which is their similarity to our own mannerisms and physical makeup. Africa is the only place in the world to see most of the highly developed primate species as well as unique specimens like the bush baby and vervet monkey.

And, yes, gorillas number among these species, but since gorillas get much of the focus when talking about African primates, we decided to highlight some other interesting species worth taking a look at when on an east African safari.

Bush Baby

Bush babies are one of the smallest primates and one species group that people often forget are included in the order. They are noted for their enormous eyes, nocturnal nature and characteristic “crying” mating call that actually does sound quite like a baby.

Bush babies exhibit fewer human-like characteristics than other primates, but they can still engage in social bonding activities like play and grooming. And they can actually be quite sweet when they bond with humans. Just don’t get any ideas; they are illegal to own as pets and cannot thrive outside of the wild.

Vervet Monkey

Vervet monkeys are easily recognizable for their small shape, sandy-colored fur and tufts of wispy white hairs. They are not afraid of humans — quite the opposite, in fact! Having a group of vervet monkeys jump on your car roof as you enter a park is not an uncommon occurrence.

They usually expect to be given food in these situations, but feeding them is illegal since it disrupts their natural diet and encourages them to be even worse pests. Plus, they may be cute but can still bite!

Colobus Monkeys

Colobus monkeys are much more elusive primates despite their body size (up to 50 lbs) and the easily spotted wispy white hair growths on their arms and tail. These black-and-white coats were once prized as ceremonial attire until hunting of Colobus furs was made illegal.

Since they flee from the sight of humans and rarely leave their treetops for the ground, you are more likely to hear colobus monkeys than see them.

Baboons

While they are more different than us compared to apes, baboons are actually the second-most successful primate species on the planet. They can adapt to a variety of environmental conditions and tend to live near cliffs, forests, savannas and even near highways! In fact, baboons have been so successful at living outside of protected areas that many farmers consider them crop-stealing pests.

Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are the most similar living primates to us humans on the planet. They share 98 percent of our genetic makeup, and they even have the same number of teeth as us.

Observations of chimpanzees by researchers, including Dame Jane Goodall, have revealed their complex and quite human-like social structures. They use tools, exhibit a range of sympathetic emotions and can even engage in warfare between chimp groups.

Unfortunately, while chimpanzees have success breeding both within and without captivity, habitat loss, disease, poaching and illegal trading of chimpanzees as pets has led to significant loss in chimp populations.

See All of These Magical Monkeys and Amazing Apes on an East African Safari

Countries like Kenya and Uganda offer the best chance at seeing most or all of these wonderful, intriguing species. Make sure to book your east African safari tour with primates in mind since many tour guides and companies can help take you to the perfect spot to catch a look at your favorite monkey or ape species.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

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