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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > October-December 2018 (84) > IN PRAISE OF PRIMATES

IN PRAISE OF PRIMATES

On a recent trip to Uganda, Mike Unwin saw 13 primate species, including mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons and bushbabies. Here, he shares his fascination with these animals and discusses their intriguing behaviour and the best places to see them
Getting some R&R: Mountain gorillas take a rest during the late morning after a feeding session. They are almost entirely vegetarian: 86 per cent of their diet is comprised of the leaves, shoots and stems of up to 142 plant species
MARCUS WESTBURG / REMEMBERING GREAT APES

I’m standing on a dark forest trail at night peering up at two points of light among a lattice of branches. They disappear for a second then reappear a short distance away. My binoculars follow the torch beam to a tiny, squirrel-like animal staring back at me, its saucer eyes reflecting the beam in curiosity and alarm. It’s a Prince Demidoff’s galago. At 60g, about the weight of a tennis ball, this is the smallest of the bushbaby family. I can’t enjoy it for long, though. Ping!

With one frog-like bound, the elfin creature leaps out of our illumination into the surrounding blackness.

Three days later, and I’m again standing on a forest trail peering up into the canopy. This time it’s mid-morning, and I’m breathing hard after a steep, sweaty climb. The foliage parts as a hairy black arm reaches out to grip a thin sapling. Next, its massive owner emerges and begins to descend hand-over-hand, as though down a fireman’s pole. Reaching the ground, he turns on his knuckles and glares at us from under deep, disapproving brows. It’s a male mountain gorilla: at around 180kg — about the weight of 3000 tennis balls — this is a rather different animal from the galago.

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Special Wildlife Issue, celebrating Africa's fauna • Big Cat lovers • Understanding elephants • In praise of primates • Painted dogs • Snakes • Birds • The wildlife in forests, deserts and rivers... and much more!