On an African safari tour, many travelers find themselves drawn to primates. That’s partly because humans are considered primates and animals in this order often remind us (in funny, poignant, and surprising ways) of ourselves.
So what should you look for during your next trip to Africa? Keep your eyes peeled for these six primates, which compose most of the major primate groups (there are 51 species total!).
Gorilla: Found in tropical and subtropical African forests, gorillas are the largest non-extinct primate species. Gorillas are social animals, and tend to live in troops, which generally consist of one adult male (also called a “silverback”) and multiple females and young gorillas. Some troops include more than one male. Most closely related to chimpanzees and humans, gorillas are vegetarians and communicate through grunts, barks, and deeply resonant burps.
Chimpanzee: The two types of chimpanzees, the common chimpanzee and the bonobo, are the closest living relatives to humans. Like humans, chimps live in large social groups (“communities”) composed of several males and females. Within these groups, a hierarchy of power develops, with one alpha male atop the order and many lesser power ranks below him. The alpha male is not always the biggest or strongest, but instead forges strategic alliances with others who help him maintain his power. Sound familiar?
Black-and-White Colobus: This type of monkey lives in dense African forests, where it has adapted to occupy places that other primates cannot. Colobuses play an important role in spreading seeds throughout their habitats (through their digestive tracts and the act of eating), but are currently threatened by bushmeat hunting. While bushmeat hunting (that is, the hunting of wild game, or animals that live in the “bush”) threatens a number of wild species, many Africans living at the subsistence level rely on such food to live.
Vervet Monkey: Native to southeastern African countries (including Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa), the vervet monkey is small and plain in color (mostly black, white, and gray). One of the vervet’s most fascinating attributes is its warning calls—vervets warn of predators with predator-specific vocalizations. In some situations, mother vervets have been observed chastising their young for giving the wrong warning call!
Baboons: Social animals, baboons live in troops that can range from five to 250 members. A variety of mating and friendship behaviors might take place, but among one of the most interesting is that some male baboons will grab babies during fights to protect themselves.
Galago: Also known as a “bush baby,” this small primate species is nocturnal and known for its unusually strong jumping abilities. While galagos tend to live in groups, these groups usually consist of only males or females. A single male often mates with all the females in an area, and males who have not established territory for themselves might live in “bachelor” groups.
When you’re planning your African safari vacation, be sure to schedule time to observe these amazing, highly developed animals in their natural habitats!
What’s your favorite African primate?