by Jessica Burbridge

An endangered species of Old World monkey found only in central Africa’s Virunga Massif region, the Golden Monkey typically prefers the safety of the dense bamboo forest. Most troops can be found ranging high in the stalks of giant bamboo, only venturing down to the forest floor during the rainy season to feast on the succulant bamboo shoots. Solitary males however, with their penchant for potatoes and other crops, may sometimes travel hundreds of meters outside the park border. The Gorilla Doctors are always on call to help return the animal safely to their protected forest.

Male golden monkey, hanging out in an isolated bamboo stand in the farmland surrounding Volcanoes National Park.

Sunday morning, Dr. Noel received a call that a golden monkey had traveled far down from the parks’ bamboo zone the previous day. Exploring the surrounding farmland, he had been feeding on crops and drawing unwanted attention from the local community. Drs. Dawn and Noel, along with Volcanoes National Park Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, loaded the field kits into the back of the truck at the Gorilla Doctors compound in Musanze and set off for the hour drive through Rwanda’s countryside.

Farmland surrounding Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

We parked the truck on a rural road and continued on foot, following the RDB (Rwanda Development Board) ranger to where the monkey was last seen. We found the large, flashy male in an isolated stand of bamboo, surrounded by farmland and gathering locals. Unperterbed by our close proximity, this golden monkey might have once been apart of the habituated troop that roams Rwanda’s section of the Virunga Massif.  

Dr. Noel searches the dense bamboo stand for the golden monkey.

Theoretically, his suspected habituation should have made anesthesizing him all the easier, however, this was not the case. Drs. Dawn and Noel attempted to dart him twice via a CO2 dart projection, however, the darts bounced off of the thick vegetation. He climbed down the bamboo about one meter, and the Docs took the opportunity to pole-syringe him with 25 mg of ketamine and .25 medetomidine at 2:54pm.

Drs. Dawn and Noel attempt to dart the golden monkey.

Once he succumbed to the anesthesia, Dr. Dawn carried him out of the bamboo stand and laid him on a prepared area.

Dr. Dawn carries the anesthetized golden monkey out of the bamboo stand.Elisabeth was successful in convincing the curious onlookers to move back and the vets were able to continue their work. Once the monkey was fully under, the vets performed a physical exam, drew blood and collected samples for future research.

Drs. Dawn and Noel conduct a physical exam and take samples for future research.Dr. Dawn listens to the golden monkeys’ heart.

At 3:15, the vets administered the anesthetsia reversal (atipamezole) and loaded him into a crate. The team packed up the field kits and trekked back to the Gorilla Doctors truck, where we drove the rest of the way to the park border. The golden monkeys’ recovery from anesthesia was smooth but prolonged, in part due to the supplemental ketamine administered during the exam and early reversal. Once he began to wake, a porter loaded the crate onto his head and, along with the team of vets, escorted him 200 meters back into the Kiyira area of the park. 

Dr. Noel released the monkey from the crate at 3:54pm, with the primate still exhibiting some mild ataxia from residual ketamine. The team observed him for another 20 minutes to ensure his full recovery. Once he appeared to climb adequately and demonstrate a good grip on the bamboo, the team headed back down and out of the Park.

Dr. Noel releases the golden monkey from the crate in the bamboo zone in Volcanoes National Park.

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