Meet Umubyeyi; 'Queen of the Jungle' who has tracked primates for 19 years

As early as 7am every day, Honorine Umubyeyi is already in the middle of Volcanoes National Park; enduring the chilly weather and encounters with dangerous buffaloes and elephants to track golden monkeys.
Honorine Umubyeyi.
Honorine Umubyeyi.

As early as 7am every day, Honorine Umubyeyi is already in the middle of Volcanoes National Park; enduring the chilly weather and encounters with dangerous buffaloes and elephants to track golden monkeys.

She wakes up as early at 5am, to be able to prepare her kids for school before she reports to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Kinigi center—from where she meets the rest of her colleagues and plan their day which is hiking the steep Virunga Mountain into the park to track the monkeys. She is supposed to have traced her group by  at least 7 am.

 

This is what the 40-year old Umubyeyi has done for almost half of her life.

 

To be specific, she has tracked Golden monkeys for eight years now; but “this journey” begun long time ago, she says.

 

19 years ago, Umubyeyi started as a gorilla tracker and her passion for the endangered primates has never been satisfied.
 
“I have done this job of tracking for as long as I can remember… and I don’t mind doing it for a lifetime; it is such a great job because it allows me to meet new people on a daily basis and to take care of endangered animals.” Umubyeyi says.

The charming and soft-spoken Umubyeyi is married and has four children. She was born in Musanze town at the foothills of Volcanoes park.

She is in charge of tracking a Golden Monkey group known as “Golf Mike 1”, which has 120 members.

From the conversation, you will realize that she has developed a special relationship with this endangered species.

“Golden monkeys are really clean and cute. They are very social, that’s why I enjoy working with them. We make sure to engage them as much as possible to acquaint them with people.

“Male golden monkeys are quite jealous, they don’t like sharing their female partners as it is with gorillas,” Umubyeyi explains.

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Golden monkey.

Unlike other classes of monkeys found in other parks in Rwanda, golden monkeys can only be found in the Virunga Massif.

Is everything in the jungle rosy though?

Umubyeyi has encountered several unexpected occupants, during her time in Volcanoes National Park and which at some point have made her “think twice” about her cherished job.

“Throughout all those years, I have had several good experiences and met a few challenges as well. This park has various animals such as buffaloes and elephants; they are dangerous and they can kill you, but we know how to hide and let them pass—whenever we meet them” Umubyeyi says.

Indeed, through Kabatwa trail, a few trekkers and I meet numerous foot prints of elephants and buffaloes.

Luckily enough, she explains: “The buffaloes here are not so aggressive compared to those in Akagera National Park.”

She also says that the park has “rare poachers” and they can be aggressive once they meet trackers—which could be risky.

“We are supposed to arrive in this park as early as 7am and leave late in afternoon…depending on how long the last group of tourists will take trekking around.” Umubyeyi explains.

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Tourists.

There are three groups of golden monkeys, which are accessible to tourists. Umubyeyi’s group “Golf Mike I” has 120 monkeys in total.

Athough RDB is yet to carry out a census for these endangered species, it believed that they could be more than 1000 on the Rwandan side.

Foreign tourists pay as much as USD 100 to visit Golden Monkey; Rwandan are charged Rwf400 and foreign residents in Rwanda pay USD60.

Unfortunately, Umubyeyi says: “Few Rwandans visit monkeys compared to international tourists. This, I think, is due to our mindset and maybe lack of resources; we need to visit and experience what we have in our midst because it is relieving”.

Her dream is to see more Rwandans touring and experiencing the beauty of their country more than international tourists

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