Often heard long before they are sighted, over 5000 of man’s closest relatives are believed to live within Uganda’s forests. There are habituated communities in a number of parks and reserves, where clients are able to spend an hour in their company.
Their distinctive cries can be heard through the forest, heightening anticipation of the encounter and leading trackers to their whereabouts. With smaller groups splintered away from a larger community, its usual to encounter anything from a solitary individual to around10 or 12 chimpanzees as they rest, forage or fornicate. It's usual for the chimps to be fairly mobile, so even when they are found it's likely that they will continue to move through the undergrowth or up in the canopy.
Chimpanzee tracking is a year-round activity. Although the drier months can make walking in the forests easier, given the nature of the terrain it is recommended that guests have sturdy footwear and gaiters.
For those looking to have an extended encounter, there is the opportunity to join the Chimpanzee Habituation Project at Kibale, whereby guests join researchers and can stay with the apes from nesting to nesting, following their behaviours throughout the full day. Permits are limited but cost just $200. The various locations where chimpanzee encounters can be experienced are detailed below.
Kibale remains Uganda’s premier chimpanzee tracking destination, with a total population of 1450 chimpanzees and over 120 in the main habituated community the success rate of seeing these primates is virtually guaranteed. The chimp tracking departs daily from the Kanyanchu Visitors Centre at 08h00 and 14h00, with a walk through the forest usually lasting about 3 hours depending on the success of locating the apes. The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience is an opportunity to join researchers who spend time with the apes on a daily basis, carrying out behavioural observations whilst allowing the chimpanzees to become accustomed to the presence of humans. Unlike the standard track, the experience is intended to allow guests to observe the apes’ morning routine of rising from their nests through to their settling for the night; this usually lasts from approximately 06h30 – 19h00.
Established as a sanctuary to home orphaned individuals, clients can take a day excursion from Entebbe to the 50ha Ngamba Island, with facilities that provide the best available care for captive chimpanzees. Although not a natural encounter, visitors are afforded photographic opportunities as visits coincide with the 11h00 and 14h30 feeding sessions (supplementary to the chimpanzees own foraging.) All proceeds from tourist visits go directly to the maintenance of the sanctuary and its projects. It is also possible for visitors to book the Care Giver for a Day experience – an encounter only available to those overnighting at the Sanctuary’s accommodation and subject to strict vaccination requirements.
This forest reserve is an extension of the Maramagambo Forest of QENP, and the chimpanzee tracking available at Kalinzu is gaining popularity with budget-conscious travellers as no national park fees apply. The reserve has approximately 300 – 400 chimpanzees and a community of 40 has been habituated for touristic tracking. Unlike the tracking excursions in the national parks, there is no fixed departure times, although morning activities are recommended and can last up to 4 hours.
There is currently a research project underway within the Semliki Reserve and guests staying at the property on the reserve are able to visit the research station and discuss work being carried out with the resident researchers.
The southeastern section of QENP is dominated by the Maramagambo Forest and Kyambura Gorge, home to the only habituated chimpanzees within QENP. The isolated Kyambura Gorge is a 100-meter deep,16km long forested ravine carved in the otherwise flat savannah plains. The confines of the gorge mean that locating the apes by sound can be relatively easy and there is a fair chance of seeing them. The primates tend to jump between the branches that span the river and so guests tracking these animals require a level of agility and fitness to cope with the steep banks and natural log bridges spanning the river.
Guests travelling to Murchison Falls National Park, may wish to stop at the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, an extension of the larger Budongo Forest south of the Park. The area supports the densest population of chimpanzees in Uganda and there are two habituated communities, each with approximately 90 chimpanzees, however sightings are not as reliable as at Kibale.
Guests tracking the apes are occasionally rewarded by the sound of chimpanzees drumming the buttressed giant mahoganies – a manner in which the dispersed apes communicate with each other.
Outposts Travel Africa can tailormake your holiday to Uganda. If you are interested in encountering primates, simply contact us and we'll put together an itinerary to suit you.