At the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, we are dedicated to protecting gorillas and their habitat, but our direct conservation efforts also extend beyond gorillas to include other species sharing their habitat. This includes the endangered golden monkey, which is the only other primate living in the Virunga forests with the mountain gorillas and currently in the midst of one of its seasonal birthing periods.
Just in time for international “Monkey Day,” our field staff in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has been observing the latest golden monkey birthing season, with 22 births recorded between late August and late November, in two of the groups that we monitor.
The Fossey Fund began study and protection of these unique monkeys – found only in this region – in 2004. At that time there was a plan to habituate two initial groups that could be studied, monitored and also eventually visited by tourists. And our biodiversity researcher – Dr. Deogratias Tuyisingize – was then a University of Rwanda student ready to do his senior thesis work to get this plan underway.
Since then, Dr. Deo, who is now our biodiversity research program manager, has continued leading our golden monkey efforts, and recently completed his doctoral studies on their conservation and ecology. And nearly 450 individual monkeys – in four groups – have been identified, using a unique set of their distinctive traits and markings.
Golden monkey birthing patterns
Unlike gorillas, who mate and give birth year round, golden monkeys are seasonal breeders. Their breeding aligns with the availability of food, particularly bamboo shoots, crucial to their diet and reproductive cycle.
The two groups we study in the eastern, lower-elevation section of Volcanoes National Park have their birthing season from September to December, while the groups we study in the western section welcome infants from February to April – each corresponding with when bamboo shoots are most plentiful in the part of the park where they live. This cycle not only underlines the interconnectedness of the golden monkeys with their habitat but is also an essential time for conservation efforts and our ongoing studies.
We monitor these birthing seasons closely, recording the births, locations, the health of mothers and infants and more. The data we collect is crucial for understanding group dynamics and ensuring their survival.
“The golden monkey birthing season is an amazing time, as we watch new mothers bond with their infants, while others without babies surround them and observe,” says research assistant Alexandre Gategeko. “It’s a time of communal bonding.”
Golden monkey future
The future of these monkeys is looking brighter, as this year Dr. Deo helped finalize the first-ever golden monkey action plan, which has now been published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was created by an international collaboration of conservationists, park authorities, scientists and local communities, all working together to ensure the future of this special species.
“The action plan marks a milestone in the collective efforts to ensure the survival of the golden monkeys,” says Dr. Deo. “Coupled with the collaboration of our partners, community engagement, education, sustainable tourism, and research and protection activities will help reduce threats to the golden monkey and its habitats.”
The fate of the golden monkeys is essentially linked to that of the gorillas as well. By protecting one, we help protect the other, reinforcing our commitment to preserving the incredible biodiversity of their forest for future generations.