We human beings are part of a wonderous and diverse family…. The family of primates — Primat-, from primus: “prime, first rank”. Primates arose 55–85 million years ago from small terrestrial mammals that adapted to living in the trees of tropical forests.
From the tiniest Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, just over three and a half inches long and weighing an ounce, to the eastern gorilla, some as tall as six feet and weighing over 440 pounds, there are 300 or more primate species, including humans, making it the third most diverse order of mammals, after rodents and bats, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. And, remarkably, new primate species continue to be discovered. More than 25 new species were described in the first decade of the 2000’s, and 11 more since 2010.
The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is one of some 100 species of lemurs. Remarkably, they are native only to the island of Madagascar. Most existing lemurs are small, have a pointed snout, large eyes and a long tail.
On the other end of the size scale is the critically endangered gorilla, the largest living primate. Ground-dwelling, herbivores, the great apes inhabit only a small percentage of the forests of central Sub-Saharan Africa. The genus Gorilla is divided into two species: the eastern gorillas and the western gorillas (both critically endangered). They cover a wide range of elevations. The mountain gorilla inhabits the montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 7,200 to 14,100 feet. Lowland gorillas live in dense forests and lowland swamps and marshes as low as sea level.
The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95 to 99% depending on what is included, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the chimpanzees and bonobos. The closest relatives of gorillas are the other two Homininae genera, chimpanzees and we humans, all having diverged from a common ancestor about seven million years ago. Human gene sequences differ only 1.6% on average from the sequences of corresponding gorilla genes.
With so much in common, we owe it to our animal companions on this planet to learn more about them. Our newest President’s Pick: On the Trail of Primates helps you explore the worlds of the lemurs of Madagascar and the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Travel into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ecological importance. This primeval forest remains one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth with some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, butterflies and reptiles. This is home to roughly half of the world’s population of the mountain gorillas. Those who have been lucky enough to spend time with these amazing animals in their natural habitat describe the encounter as one of the most profound experiences of their lives while others speak in terms of a spiritual experience. Whatever your reaction, you will be deeply moved by these gentle animals.
Then you travel on to the island of Madagascar for delightful encounters with a variety of lemurs including inquisitive groups of ring-tailed lemurs and the entertaining Verreaux sifaka as well as mouse, sportive and sifaka lemurs and a great variety of birds such as the malachite kingfisher, Lafresnayes and hook billed vangas, Verreauxs coua, crested and giant coua, scops owl and many others.
The 18-day President’s Pick: On the Trail of Primates journey introduces us to some of our closest relatives.
“The dynamics of Africa are always changing, evolving, and never more than in 2019,” states Ashish Sanghrajka. “The concept of the safari is expanding far beyond classic routes and activities to more authentic, personal and closer encounters. This program demonstrates that and represents the exciting new frontiers to be experienced in Africa.”