Searching for the Owl faced monkey

Following on from Jon’s failed attempt to see Fisher, I’m adding my own tale of an unsuccessful trip. These reports are definitely not as satisfying to write as successful ones, but useful nevertheless. My particular quest was to try to see the Owl faced monkey in Rwanda where I was attending a meeting last month. WCS had been carrying out a study of Owl faced in the south of Nyungwe for a number of years, but unfortunately this came to an end in 2007. The WCS office told me that it would be pretty difficult to find them now, but they nevertheless helped me sort out the logistics of the trip.

A colleague and I drove to the area (c. 5 hours from Kigali), which is a seldom visited part of the Park close to the Burungi border and camped at the ranger post. The next day we walked to the area where we were hoping to see them, with some trackers who had been looking for signs of the monkeys for the past few days. We rapidly discovered that the trails were all heavily overgrown, and the surrounding vegetation exceedingly thick, giving very poor visibility. We slogged our way up and down trails for several hours but realised that we were looking for a needle in a haystack. The monkeys would have had to cross the path in front of us, for us to have had any chance of seeing them, as there was nowhere one could sit which allowed a view of more than a few meters. The overgrown trails also made it very difficult to walk quietly. The forest was surprisingly empty: in 7 hours of walking we didn’t see any primates of any description or indeed and spoor or dung of other mammals except for one bushpig scraping. There were also surprisingly few birds. We did hear one loud boom of a male Owl faced some way off in the distance, which at least confirmed that they are still there. With little time at our disposal we decided to cut our losses and drive to the main tourist area of Nyungwe and see some of the primate species there – which others have written about already, and is well worth a trip.

I think it could be possible to see the Owl faced if you went with just one guide and were prepared to spend a week crawling along paths (this is a notoriously shy species), but the logistics are not easy. The main habitat for this species is a good 90 minute walk from the ranger post so unless one had permission to camp in the forest, you’re looking at a 3 hour round trip up and down very slippery trails to get to the possible viewing area and back. You’d have to really want to see it! If anyone knows of any better locations to see this species I’d be happy to hear about them.



  • Jon Hall

    Hi Charles, thanks for this. Really interesting to hear as if I had ever gotten back to Rwanda I would have headed off to look for them,… now you have saved me a trip 🙁 When I was in Nyungwe in 2007 I was told that researchers were working to habituate a group. Presumably this is linked to the now finished WCS project. Thanks for the update and hope all is well


    • arjan

      Dear all, in 2004 I found owl-faced monkey right along the roadside near the campsite in Nyungwe forest whyle on a birding-trip. It was in a spectacular group of colobus en l’hoest monkeys. Very good birding here aswell: found kungwe apalis, albertine owlet, fraser’s eagle-owl and grauer’s swamp warbler and kivu ground-thrush. Dipped on the red-collared mountain-babbler my prime target unfortunately…..

  • PandaSmith

    Sorry to hear you were not able to see the Owl-faced monkeys after so much effort. At least you tried! I remember sitting at the road junction a few months back contemplating if we should head south to search for them, or continue west to nail the other species. We sat staring at eachother for 30 minutes or so….opted for the easy stuff. But would love to go back and give it another try!


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