Walking Wild – The Samango Safari

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Wild Walking – The Samango Safari

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Tracking the Endangered Samango Monkey in Mistbelt Forest. Photo DB

”If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living…. I mean the intimate beauty which comes from the nature of its parts and which a pure intelligence can grasp.” Poincare

31 January, 2020. Dargle Valley, Midlands, KwaZulu Natal.

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Driving up to Lemonwood Cottages

Making our way slowly up the winding track, I checked the time: five to eight. The call of a forest buzzard sliced the air before the raptor appeared in front of the windscreen, then flew ahead towards the mistbelt forest that provides an impressive, mysterious backdrop to Lemonwood Cottages. 

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Lemonwood Cottages – on the edge of Mistbelt Forest

Expecting the temperature to reach 36 degrees, I reached out, testing the air. The forest promised protection.

Lemonwood’s owner – Kate Robinson –  warmly greeted us at the entrance. Once the seventh guest had arrived, we assembled at the dining room table for an appetizing breakfast with coffee. I started my talk, sharing a sliver of my past primate-related experiences, the moments that had led up to this day.


Like a spider creates and recreates threads in its web, memories are collected and built along the road of life. And when those experiences are felt in the core of our bones, they bring everlasting transformation. Some of my experiences with primates have been powerful enough to morph my world view into something entirely new. The lessons learned, the understanding gained, the old self shed and the new self born, again and again, brought an unforgettable reminder of our ancient connection to other primates and the natural world we are separated from.

Wild primate societies have much to teach us about ourselves, about what it means to be human.

The information below provides a brief summary of the talk on the Samango Safari:

Primate behavior is not an exact template for human society with its layers of culture, politics and economics. The similarities however, hint at a deep, often hidden primate connection.  In the fields of Psychology and Anthropology, wild primate societies are used as models for understanding human behavior and evolution.

Around 1735, taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus had the opportunity to examine some monkeys. He noted similarities between monkeys and humans, pointing out that they basically have the same anatomy as us.

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Baboon Foot and Hand – Uncannily Human-like

Besides speech, he could find no other significant differences. Thus he initially placed humans and monkeys under the same category called Anthropomorpha, meaning “manlike”.

Science today places us in the category Great Apes along with the bonobo, chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan.

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Along with the Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Bonobo and Orangutan, Humans are placed in the category Great Apes

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The Samango Monkey Research Project, Midlands, KwaZulu Natal began in 2016 with its main objective being to ascertain how healthy samango populations are. The many hours spent walking forest patches have resulted in some fascinating findings, several piercing questions and a sprinkling of answers.

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Rehabilitating Darwin. Photo Fransje

I’ve spent close to two decades rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned baboons and monkeys. My approach led me far into the wilderness as I wandered as far as I could into the lives of wild baboons. Full of awe and wonder at the lessons this brought, I’d dedicated my life to breaking down the misconceptions that cause tragedy for wildlife. But as time moved on, the manner in which vervet monkeys and baboons are unfairly persecuted, the horrors I witnessed and the war I lost resulted in dimished hope.

Awe, wonder and hope were renewed towards the end of 2017 when myself and my co-worker DB, came across an unusual phenomenon while observing primates at one of our research sites. The message seemed clear: nature fights back in the wake of human destruction.

Towards the end of my presentation, I invited the participants to contemplate our human roots. It is now believed that we are in fact a species that has evolved out of hybridization: all humans tracing their ancestry beyond Africa carry a small percentage Neanderthal DNA.

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Samango Monkeys in Dargle Valley, Midlands, Kwazulu Natal

Around 9.30 AM, we set off for a three hour walk in the forest to look for the elusive  samango monkey while softly stepping on the moist forest floor that hinted at the faded spoor of the lost primate self.

Walking Wild - Samango Safari
Photo: CB
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On the Samango Safari – Walking Wild. Photo DB


The Samango Safari is a four to five hour experience that starts at Lemonwood Cottages  with an introductory talk and delicious breakfast. Lemonwood is situated on the edge of an indigenous mistbelt forest. Valuable work conducted by local conservancies in the midlands has helped preserve these magnificent forests and the area has been highly rated as one having irreplaceable biodiversity. Guests traverse through forest and grasslands searching for the threatened samango monkey (ssp. Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus). The environment is conducive to heightening one’s senses, and allows for a powerful connection to nature while practicing non-threatening primate body language. . Being forest specialists that spend most of the time in the canopy, and with fluctuating foraging routes, samango observations cannot be 100% guaranteed. It is however extremely rare not to hear them vocalizing. The environment is also home to a wide variety of other wild animals, including Cape reedbuck, porcupines, bushpigs, duiker, bushbuck, oribi, caracal, serval and supports a rich diversity of birdlife, such as the Knysna lourie, Cape parrot, narina trogon, tree hyrax, and various raptors.

Guests have the choice to book one or two nights at Lemonwood Cottages  or to meet us there at 7.30 am on the day of the experience. A visit to Lemonwood offers wildlife sightings, tranquility and wonderful scenic forest walks.

Wildlife in the midlands, Kwazulu Natal. Trail Camera Footage  – Samango Monkey Research Project, midlands, KwaZulu Natal


About your guide – Karin Saks:

Karin is a primate naturalist and artist (BAFA) with FGASA level 2 in primate conservation. For two decades she’s been involved in the fostering and rehabilitation of orphan wild primates while learning from the wild troops close by.

Her work with chacma baboons formed the subject matter for a book and documentary: Life with Darwin, Fransje van Riel. Penguin Books and Baboon Woman by Firecracker Films, UK.

She is currently researching the samango monkey subspecies (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) in the midlands, KZN.

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Website: samangomonkey.com

6 thoughts on “Walking Wild – The Samango Safari

  1. It is so interesting hearing about Karin’s deep sense of connection with monkeys and baboons and her insights into primates in general (including humans!). The forest walk is magical as it is the abode of the endangered samangos and many other creatures, and walking with Karin creates the opportunity to heighten one’s awareness using all one’s senses and “see” the forest in a new way and more intimate way.
    P.S. The breakfast is very good too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for joining us on the Samango Safari Paula. It was great to have you with us and I hope my sometimes pointless attempts at avoiding the spider webs along the path, didn’t disrupt the momento 🙂


  3. I had the privilege of walking Karin’s Samango Safari last Friday (31st Jan 2020) It was a sublime experience. A delicious breakfast followed, by Karin’s informative and captivating slideshow prior to the expedition,ensured we were ready to find the Lemonwood Samangos. Entering the natural bush is a magical experience. I don’ t think anyone can leave feeling unmoved by the wonder of the forest.
    It was a particulatly hot day – and we were only rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of the troupe in the highest canopy of the trees. I say rewarded, because it was worth hearing them scrapping and cheekily calling out a warning to move on despite not hanging around for us to watch them at length. What was particularly significant for me was to hear the Samango “Boom” call of warning that Karin had explained to us prior to walking. A new call/ sound for me.
    The walk itself was about 3 hours. I would recommend having a relative fitness to do complete the full length walk we did – but i so adocate it as it was so worthwhile on so many levels. I will most definitely love to have this experience again. Get your walking shoes on and book this unique experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I did a walk with Karin through this forest a little while ago. It was a wonderful experience, and I learnt so much, not only about Samango monkeys. I would love to come and do it again from this new starting point with the bonus of coffee and breakfast. Highly recommended experience..

    Liked by 1 person

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