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Hanging Out With Uganda's Chimpanzee's
Eyes trained on the forest canopy, the hunters slipped with speed and agility across the forest floor. Although communication was kept to a minimum everyone seemed certain of their role in the hunt. Occasionally one of the party turned and shot a glance back at me, sweating and stumbling over branches and roots, far behind. Suddenly, a squeal of alarm reverberated through the forest. A docile group of beautiful colobus monkeys with coats the envy of a cat walk model had spotted the approaching hunting party. As the colobus started to flee pandemonium broke out on the forest floor. The hunters raced ahead, some hauled themselves up the trees and others gave chase from ground level. Screams and barks drowned out the bird song and deafened the insects. Things moved so fast over the next two minutes that I was unsure of what was happening and then calm returned to the forest. The colobus had escaped and the frustrated hunters returned to the more leisurely pursuit of grooming one and other. It was just another morning for the chimpanzee’s of Uganda’s Kibale Forest National Park.
Uganda’s biggest tourist draw is of course the mountain gorillas but these aren’t the country’s only great apes. Human-kinds closest relative, the chimpanzee, is found in a number of different areas of Uganda. Some of these groups have been habituated to human contact in the same way as the gorillas and although their generally more energetic lifestyle, as well as their more unpredictable nature, makes them slightly less approachable than the mountain gorillas there’s no-doubt that time spent with the chimpanzees is one of life’s great experiences. At Kibale Forest National Park visitors can join daily chimp tracking walks into the forest. These normally last around three hours with a maximum of one hour spent with the chimps. Or, for those who want a more in-depth, and personal (group size is strictly limited), immersion, you can do as I did and arrive at the parks visitor centre in the pre-dawn gloom to set out on the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience. This guarantees a full day with the chimps; tracking them as they crash through the undergrowth or swing through the tree tops, dozing as they doze and, if you’re very lucky, feeling your heart race in excitement as the apparently playful chimps turn determined killers on the hunt for colobus monkeys.
Kibale Forest might be the most popular place in Uganda in which to view chimpanzees but it’s far from the only option. For the full chimp experience check out these other parks and reserves:
Budongo Forest Reserve The Budongo Forest Reserve, up in the northwest of Uganda, is often overlooked by tourists but yet its dark and dense forests are considered one of the better places in Uganda to play eye-spy with chimpanzees. Two to four hour chimpanzee tracking trips (although you only get to spend one-hour with the chimps) run daily and, as at Kibale Forest, between October and June, two visitors a day are allowed to spend the entire day with the chimps.
Queen Elizabeth National Park The gold tinted savannah grasslands and tangled forests of the Queen Elizabeth National Park (www.queenelizabethnationalpark.com) are best-known for their tree climbing lions and the hundreds of hippos that wallow in the waters of the Kazinga Channel. Not so well-known is the parks population of chimpanzees who frolic about the 100m deep Kyambura Gorge. Although the chimps are habituated to human visitors there’s no guarantee that they’ll show up for the party. However, when they do, the low visitor numbers means you’ll probably have them much to yourself.
Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve Snug against the Congolese border the diverse Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve offers quieter, and less certain, chimpanzee encounters than nearby Kibale forest. However, the lighter forest cover here means that sightings tend to be clearer and the chimps here also frequently venture out into open savannah where they are more likely to walk upright. If you’re lucky enough to witness this then you’ll really feel as if you’re watching animal evolving into man.
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary Okay so it’s hardly a genuine chimpanzee wilderness encounter, but if time is limited and you’re confined to the Kampala region then this Lake Victoria island (www.ngambaisland.org), a short way south of the capital, is home to around forty orphaned or rescued chimps.
This piece was published by Lonely Planet on their website in August 2013. For the original article click here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/uganda/travel-tips-and-articles/77804