Welcome to the Gorilla Highlands archives. For fresh stories don't miss the Gorilla Highlands Experts Blog.
Of the two ways to track golden monkeys in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the longer and deeper one exists because of the efforts of Sandra Gray. This former British nurse, now a primatologist, is so passionately committed to her monkeys that she cannot find peace in Europe anymore.
Sandra and her team monitor golden monkeys daily, and are happy to take visitors along. Animal sightings are not guaranteed; they are more likely in the rainy season when monkeys leave treetops and feast on bamboo shots. The research is tiring, long work that consists of walking from early morning and scanning the whole range of a group of golden monkeys, looking for faeces, food leftovers and other traces. They record their GPS position every 30 minutes and jot down any observations. They have to be careful with forest buffalos and forest elephants and be aware of poaching activities. The latter are the biggest threat as they are cutting bamboo and thus reducing the golden monkey habitat.
“This works requires time and patience, determination and lots of passion for the research, the monkeys, the forest and the surrounding communities. It is not about one hour, not one week, not one month, but one life,” says Sandra.
She works alongside Uganda Wildlife Authority and reports to the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology as well. She gets paying volunteers occasionally, of different backgrounds, who stay for at least three months. Her research activities have no permanent international backing. According to Sandra, it is very difficult to get funding for a ‘not so well known species’ as funding is more often focused on big and fashionable animals such as gorillas, chimps, lions and elephants.
Before the path of life cleared for her to reach the jungles of Africa, she was a nurse, then a military wife. She followed her husband to Germany for nine years and brought up two sons. But her dream had always been to live with animals and be a primatologist in Africa, so she went back to school to study zoology.
Her first field experience was in Cameroon where she stayed for seven years. Her work involved rescuing gorillas, chimps and other smaller primates from the illegal pet and bush meat trade, including hand-rearing and rehabilitation of these animals. She also researched captive lowland gorillas, comparing them to their cousins in the wild. In 2004 she came to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda but fell in love with the golden monkeys. Cameroon was dangerous to live in, therefore she was very happy to get a chance to work in the Gorilla Highlands. She has never really left.
Whenever Sandra Grey needs a break, she takes care of abandoned dogs and teaches animal welfare at local schools. However, even when she leaves the national park and descends to Kisoro Town, she will always stay at a popular hostel called Golden Monkey Guest House…
text: Eva Marn, Miha Logar