Bushbabies, also known as galagos, are sweet, furry prosimians that are more closely related to Madagascan lemurs than normal monkeys. With their oversized eyes they hunt for food at night – mostly insects, leaves and tree gum. But it’s by their eerie wails at night that resemble a ghostly crying baby that you’ll first encounter them.

Did you know?

A cornered bushbaby will stand like a boxer, hands raised, ready to bite or cuff.

The first sign of a bushbaby might be a haunting wail that sounds uncannily like a human infant. That’s probably how these small nocturnal primates got their name.

But some say they’re called bushbabies because they are so irresistibly cute. With enormous round eyes, large delicate ears (all the better to hear those insects, my dear), fluffy fur and long, thick tails, they may make you wonder wistfully if they would be good pets.

They would not. For a start, they have the somewhat anti-social habit of urinating on their hands and feet, all the better to scent-mark their aerial pathways, sleeping trees and nests. They also urinate on each other. And also – need one even mention? – they sleep all day and are active all night.

Bushbabies (of the lesser and thick-tailed species) live on a diet of insects, tree gum, fruit and leaves. And they leap prodigious distances to get to them – up to 7m in a single bound. This from a creature not much bigger than a cat (in the case of the thick-tailed bush-baby) or a squirrel (the lesser bushbaby).

Where we perceive only pitch-darkness in dense woodland, they can locate tiny moving bugs. Their enormous eyes are able to sense movement in the scant 1% or so of starlight that reaches the forest floor.

As they leap they fold their delicate bat-like ears against their heads for protection against thorns.

They’ll also hop along branches like kangaroos, their forelegs dangling.

Bushbabies, or galagos as they are sometimes called, are more closely related to the slow-moving potos and lorises of South America than to other monkeys.

You’ll find bushbabies in most woodland areas and if you are lucky enough to see them leap from tree to tree, you’ll immediately recognise the lemur-like movement. Look out for their highly reflective eyes in the night.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

Your best chance of encountering bushbabies is in thickly wooded areas in the north-eastern part of the country. The Kruger National Park and nearby private game reserves like the Sabi Sand, Timbavati and Klaserie are likely spots. They’re also found in free-roaming captivity at sanctuaries like Monkeyland near Plettenberg Bay in the southern Cape, or Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary north of Johannesburg.

Best time to visit

These are nocturnal animals that wait until it’s fully dark before emerging. If you’re visiting a game lodge, ask whether you’d be able to see them. There are a few places where they are fed fruit so that visitors can see them – or because they used to be orphans and are still used to human company.

Length of stay

With wild animals, the longer you stay, the better your chances of seeing them. In a sanctuary situation, things are somewhat easier, but you may need to ask permission to stay after hours.

What to pack

If you’re out at night, always pack something warm, even in the temperate Lowveld near the Kruger National Park.

Where to stay

There are a number of accommodation options close to sanctuaries. Alternatively, stay at private game lodges or in national parks.