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Pondering Over Primates

Why not a Primate Travel Bucket List?

By Elsabeth Muller

Keen travellers always have a bucket list, something to look forward to, a new adventure in the planning. Be it to visit all the World Heritage sites or crossing the world’s greatest deserts, doing luxury train journeys, setting foot on each continent, hot air balloon rides in special places… never-ending lists, determined by individual tastes and interests.

Ever thought of creating a checklist for visiting some of the world’s most endangered primates in their natural habitats? Poaching and deforestation are some of the main reasons primate numbers in the wild are declining at an alarming rate. There is thus no better time than the present to compile this travel list and take your travel experiences to another level. 

Let’s get started! The great primates are orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees, but we would also like to add geladas and lemurs to this list.


Jet off to southeast Asia, particularly Borneo and Sumatra, as these are the only two places on earth where you can still find orangutans. According to the WWF there were approximately 230 000 orangutans still in the wild a century ago. It is now estimated that in Borneo there are currently 104 700 left, putting them on the endangered list, and in Sumatra about 7 500, which means they are critically endangered.

Borneo is the world’s third largest island. The rainforests on the island are 140 million years old and are the habitat for orangutans, the ‘Men of the Jungle’. Visit the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, Borneo. Most of the wildlife viewing will be done from a boat as you cruise along the Kinabatangan River and its tributaries. Encounters with orangutans are reasonably frequent and if you spot a large tree in fruit you will definitely find orangutans that took up residence nearby. An extra bonus will be spotting proboscis monkeys as this sanctuary is the best place in the world to spot them.

The best time to visit Borneo is from March to October during the dry season.

Mountain Gorillas

The habitat of mountain gorillas is the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes bordering the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. About 1 000 of these gentle giants are still roaming the wild, but are under constant threat owing to wars, hunting, diseases and loss of habitat.

From Johannesburg you can touch down in Kigali or Entebbe within four hours. Then one of the most rewarding travel experiences awaits. No need to be Comrades-marathon-fit to do gorilla trekking, but it will be good if you could keep a slow but steady pace for three to four hours on an uneven path at high altitude. The going is slow as the trackers first need to locate the gorillas’ nest from the previous night and then track them from there. Observing their family life for an hour is an overwhelming experience. They are in the wild, but you can recognise many human characteristics: affection, teasing, anger, leadership, caring, sadness, joy and jealousy. This hour of your life will be engraved in your memory forever.

The best time to visit Rwanda or Uganda is mid-December to February or June to September.


Once in Rwanda or Uganda for gorilla tracking, you might as well add a chimp tracking experience. The best place in Uganda to do this is in the Kibale Forest National Park with 1500 habituated chimps and 12 other primate species. Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda has about 60 chimps. Chimpanzee tracking is different from gorilla tracking as the chimps are on the move the whole time and sometimes at high speed. They are also a noisy bunch with deafening screams, loud hoots and your hair will raise when they start hitting the tree trunks. The challenge is to keep up with them when they jump from one tree to the next, high up in the forest canopy. Chimpanzee tracking is definitely rewarding, but also exhausting.

Gelada Baboons

Did you know Gelada baboons are grass eaters and the last surviving species of ancient grazing primates? They are endemic to Ethiopia and live in the high mountain meadows of the Simien Mountains. Due to a distinctive red heart on their chest they are often referred to as the bleeding-heart baboons. They are found in herds of several hundred, even a thousand, sitting in the grass grazing. Their distinctive canine teeth are not for eating, but to show dominance or for fighting. A visit to the Simien Mountains can be combined with a historical tour including towns like Gondar, Axum and Lalibela, well-known for the group of 11 rock-hewn churches near the town.

Ethiopia is a great destination all year round. Visits can also be combined with one of the many festivals and ceremonies taking place throughout the year.


To complete this bucket list, we cross the Mozambique Channel to arrive in Madagascar. Here you will find the cutest primates. They are small, have a pointed snout, large eyes and a long tail... lemurs. There are about 105 species and they are native to Madagascar. Lemurs are found across the island as they occupy various habitats: dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, rain forests, wetlands and mountains. While walking in search of lemurs you will become aware of the uniqueness of the island’s fauna and flora. Interestingly, 80% of the plants are endemic, as well as 95% of the mammals, 90% of the reptiles and 50% of bird species. Although the island has beautiful beaches, most tourists visit Madagascar to see all of its unique natural features.

The best time to visit is from April to November.


Tick one (or all) of these primate species off your travel list with Live the Journey. We offer a range of private, guided tours to these destinations for groups or individual travellers. 

Contact Us directly to plan a bucket list primate adventure of your own!