WATCH: Ellie the “Monkey Boy” of Rwanda

Nsanzimana Elie, famously known as “the monkey boy” was born in 1999 in the southern province of Rwanda, the Land of A Thousand Hills popularly known for gorilla safaris among travellers. His mum after losing the first five children, “prayed to God to get any child”. At birth, the boy’s head was small and his facial features were abnormal, distinguishing him from his peers. Elie was discovered to be microcephaly, a rare condition where a baby’s head size is much smaller than the rest of his body. It results from abnormal brain development which occurs during pregnancy. According to Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the causes of microcephaly are not known but may occur due to changes in the genes of babies. Although this condition can be diagnosed, Ellie was not lucky enough to get treatment after birth leading to mental disabilities including inability to learn, communicate and socialize with others.

Growing up, Elie’s character was unique, he couldn’t properly speak and spent most of the time hiding in the jungles of Nyungwe Forest with monkeys eating bananas and fresh fruits instead of cooked food. People with small heads, known as ‘pinheads’ in ancient Rome were displayed as a public spectacle and it occurred to Elie while growing up in southern province of Rwanda.  He became a target of bullying in the community with people referring to him as the ‘monkey boy’ or chimpanzee. Despite the social stigma, his mum in a televised media interview said “Elie is my sixth child. After the death of his elders, we were separated. We prayed to God to get another child and fortunately, we were blessed with Elie. Now I cherish him as a heaven’s gift from God and love him enormously.” She said.

Video Credit: Afrimax

As a result, his family faced a lot of challenges including providing food among other basic needs. As an infant, also, the boy was unable to attend school due to his inability to rightly communicate and learn with others. Ellie’s mother was always heartbroken when villagers insulted his son calling him unpleasant names including gorilla. “Whenever I hear someone bullying, insulting or beating him, it really gives me a heart attack. My kid is innocent, he never does harm to anyone and I sometimes lose my temper when people call him animals and not treating him like a human being” she added.

When something bad happened, it was always a pity for the mother and the story of getting the monkey boy out of such a condition seemed like a fairy tale.

How Ellie’s life has changed

After Afrimax shared Ellie’s story online, many people around the world were touched and well wishers started contributing money to help Ellie and his mother. This prompted Afrimax to set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe through these kind contributions were channeled. The donations have helped Ellie attend a school for children with special needs at Ubumwe Community Centre in the western province of Rwanda.

Part of the donations has also been used to construct a three-bedroom house for Ellie and his mother as well as buying him other necessities including clothes and shoes.

The “monkey boy” of Rwanda is now a changed man. He has learnt to communicate with people after many years of hiding in the jungle and can now be seen wearing suits and designer clothes. Elie is now a celebrity in his country. People who disliked his ways before are now his fans and many want to take selfies with him which has turned Elie into a celebrity.

Why you should visit Rwanda

Ellie’s amazing story is just the icing on the cake when it comes to Rwanda safaris which offer a variety of amazing experiences. The country offers a wide range of breathtaking tourist experiences to her visitors ranging from wildlife and adventure to historical and cultural encounters.

Gorilla Trekking


Gorilla trekking is Rwanda’s prime tourist experience which takes place in Volcanoes National Park, the country’s home to the endangered mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking is described as one of the best wildlife experiences in the wild. With gorillas sharing up to 98% of the human DNA, it is so fascinating to meet them face-to-face in the wild.

Travellers who who wish to trek gorillas in Rwanda should be willing to pay for a gorilla permit at $1,500 per person which allows them to access the animals. This cost does include other services like accommodation and transport. The peak season which falls in the dry period between June to September and December to February is the best time to trek gorillas in Rwanda.

Travellers wishing to trek gorillas in Rwanda are advised to book their permits at least 6 months in advance due to their limited availability. A maximum of 80 trekkers visit Rwanda’s 10 habituated gorilla groups per day with each group visited by a group of 8 trekkers who are permitted to spend one hour in their presence.

Game viewing


Rwanda also offers amazing game viewing experiences in Akagera National Park located in the eastern part of the country. The breathtaking game drives in the park lead to its most outstanding species including big game like lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros. Other popular game species in the park include giraffe, zebra, antelopes, warthog, among others.

Chimpanzee and primate tracking


Nyungwe National Park in the south of Rwanda is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa and probably the best preserved montane rainforest in central Africa. Nyungwe protects up 13 primates species including chimpanzees and L’Hoest’s monkeys making it one of the best destinations on the continent to track primates. The park also offers a unique experience of canopy walk to its visitors who get a chance to view the beautiful surrounding of the area while on top of this thick forest.

Bird watching


Rwanda is one of the best bird-watching destinations in Africa with over 700 bird species which include Albertine Rift Endemics and Lake Victoria Basin Endemics. Nyungwe National Park is the leading birding spot in Rwanda as though a variety of bird species can also be seen in other parks like Akagera and Volcanoes as well as other parts of the country.

Social and cultural experiences


Away from wildlife, Rwanda is also fully equipped when it comes to social, cultural and historical experiences. These include city tours around the capital Kigali, which is considered to be the cleanest city in Africa. Here tourists can visit the Kigali genocide memorial, several market centres, among other spots depending on their choice. Other tours experiences non-wildlife experiences in Rwanda include historical tours, coffee and tea tours, cycling, caving, kayaking, festivals and events, cricket, fashion and style, among others.

Explore Rwanda in a 7 days safari

7 Days Rwanda safari

Enjoy the best of Rwanda and explore everything The Land of A Thousand Hills has to offer in this 7 days Rwanda safari. This tour introduces you to some of the best experiences a traveller can enjoy in Rwanda including gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking, game viewing, birding and cultural encounters. The 7 days Rwanda safari is a comprehensive tour traversing all the major 3 national parks in the country leaving travellers with a maximum Rwanda experience.

What does the tour entail?

Chimpanzee tracking in Nyugwe National Park

Canopy walk in Nyungwe National Park

Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park

Golden monkey tracking in Volcanoes National Park

Cultural tour around Volcanoes National Park

Game viewing in Akagera National Park

Trip details

Day 1: Transfer to Nyungwe National Park

elly the monkey boy

Depart from your hotel in Kigali in the morning with a tour guide and head southwest to Nyungwe National Park. The Park is a rich wildlife home in Rwanda with 13 species of primates, 275 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, 85 mammal species, as well as 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species. You may opt for some enroute cultural and historical experiences including visiting the King’s Palace at Nyanza, Butale National Museum, and Murambi Genocide Museum. While at Nyungwe, enjoy dinner and overnight at your lodge as you prepare for the chimpanzee tracking encounter the following morning.

Day 2: Chimpanzee tracking and canopy walk

ellie the monkey boy

Early in the morning, you will be transferred to Kyamudongo forest for briefing before embarking on the amazing chimpanzee tracking experience. Meet and interact with our cousins in the wild with whom we share 98% of our DNA. For a full hour you will be in their company while observing their amazing behaviour including how they feed, play and communicate with each other. You notice a close resemblance between their character and that of humans. After this breathtaking encounter, return to your lodge for lunch and relaxation. In the afternoon, enjoy a canopy walk over Nyungwe forest along a high suspension bridge with magnificent views of the surrounding valleys, forests, a waterfall and a variety of bird species. In the evening, return to your lodge for dinner and overnight.

Day 3: Transfer to Volcanoes National Park

In the morning, you will head northwards to Volcanoes National Park for more breathtaking primate experiences. After reaching in the afternoon, relax at your lodge or you can opt for a simple community walk before having dinner and overnight at your lodge.

Day 4: Gorilla trekking and cultural experience

ellie the monkey boy

Leave your lodge early in the morning with packed lunch and head to the park headquarters for a briefing about gorilla trekking. After briefing, head into the jungle searching for your allocated gorilla group guided by experienced park rangers. Gorillas, just like chimpanzees share 98% of the human DNA and you will quickly notice this upon reaching your allocated family. You will be amazed by the human-like behaviour exhibited by these gentle giants as they foliage, play and rest in your presence. in addition to taking pictures and videos of these primates, the magical hour spent in the company of gorillas leaves you with lifetime memories about these endangered primates. After returning from the gorilla trekking encounter, in the evening you may you go for an amazing cultural experience at Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village which is also known as ‘the gorilla guardian village.’ While here, you will learn amazing Rwandan traditions and culture as well as enjoying thrilling performances of of the Rwandan traditional music accompanied by energetic and contagious dance. Return to your lodge for dinner and overnight later in the evening.

Day 5: Golden monkey tracking and transfer to Kigali

ellie the monkey boy

Still at Volcanoes National Park, meet another amazing and rare primate species of the golden monkeys early in the morning. Watch these beautiful primates and take their photos and they play and roam their habitat for another thrilling primate experience. On return, transfer to Kigali as you prepare for a game drive experience at Akagera National Park the following day.

Day 6: Transfer to Akagera National park


Early in the morning, head east to Akagera National Park where you will reach early enough to catch up with an afternoon game drive and an evening boat cruise. Akagera is Rwanda’s single savanna park offering game drive experiences to visitors. The park is home to the Africa ‘big five’ which include lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino as well as a variety of other smaller game species. Take a short game drive to see some of these species in the afternoon and later enjoy a relaxing boat cruise on Lake Ihema. Expect to see some water-loving animals like hippos, crocks and a variety of aquatic birds.

Day 7: Game drive and transfer back to Kigali

ellie the monkey boy

Get up early to catch up with some early grazers in the park for a very rewarding morning drive. Expect to see a variety of game on this drive including elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, warthog, antelopes, among others. After concluding your experience, exit the park and transfer back to Kigali to prepare for your departure flight.

Interested in this safari? Contact a trusted local tour agent for inquiries and assistance in arranging your trip.

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