Chimpanzee Trekking and Habituation
Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda
Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda is one of the top experiences to do whilst on safari. This is because there is a concerted drive towards the conservation of approximately 5,000 chimpanzees that inhabit the country. Kibale Forest has the highest population with about 1,500 followed by Budongo Forest with about 650. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, about 250 chimpanzees live in the Kyambura Gorge and on Ngamba Island Sanctuary, 49 orphaned and rescued chimpanzees undergoing rehabilitation. The Kalinzu Forest Reserve in the Maramagambo Forest, one of Uganda’s biggest forests was recently gazetted and it too has chimpanzees.
In 2020 George Owoyesigire was nominated for a Tusk Conservation award for the community conservation projects he as pioneered in Kibale Forest National Park, he was also part of the team to first carry out Chimpanzee Habituation.
The Chimpanzee Trekking Experience
Chimpanzees can be very elusive when they want to be, so trained ranger guides, well acquainted with the forests and the characteristic calls of the chimps, are required to lead treks and locate them. Habituated chimpanzees are much easier to locate and easier to observe because they have been accustomed over time, to the presence of humans.
Chimpanzees normally feed & forage in the morning after which they are more relaxed and often come down from the trees to the ground to escape the heat. On the ground, the chimpanzees are generally less mobile and can be observed grooming each other, playing, napping and even mating.
Chimpanzee trekking sessions are limited to no more than 8 people, to mitigate degradation of the natural habitat. Because chimpanzees can be quite mobile, swinging from tree to tree, it is not always easy to keep up with them, so some level of fitness is required on the part of trekkers.
The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
Habituation is the process by which wild animals become accustomed to the presence of humans. With chimpanzees, this can take up to two years in which time they are visited and observed daily, by no more than 4 humans in very close proximity.
The Chimpanzee Habituation experience is a fascinating one, especially for first-time chimpanzee encounters. Unlike traditional trekking, habituation is a full-day experience that starts before sunrise, in time to catch the chimpanzees as they rise from their nests. The rest of the day is spent keeping up with the chimpanzees as they traverse the forest skilfully swinging through the trees or walking on the ground. It doesn’t really matter what the chimpanzees get up to because, in such close proximity, trekkers will be enchanted by their natural behaviour as they feed, hunt, rest, play, groom each other and even copulate.
While on habituation experiences, trekkers have ample time to really observe and capture these amazing animals whose interactions so closely mimic our own. The habituation experience ends just before sunset when the chimpanzees select a spot and build new nests for the night
1. Shirts made of a material that dries quickly or wick away moisture.
2. A fleece layer for when you stop for a rest just in case you begin to cool down and for evenings as it can get quite chilly in Bwindi.
3. A third rain layer just in case rains. (a cheap poncho will do)
4. Long pants, also made of a synthetic material. The length of the pants are important as this will help with the combat stinging nettle plants and red ants.
5. Waterproof pants to wear on top of regular pants is optional
6. Boots that fit above the ankle are crucial as you might encounter ankle-deep mud at certain points, and even knee-deep mud that will attempt to suck the boots right off your feet!
7. Gaiters (are garments worn over the shoe and lower pants leg. They are worn over your boots that go up to the knee). These are optional and are based on personal preference as well as the type of boots and trousers you choose to wear.
8. Smart Wool socks
9. All clothing should be neutral coloured, loose-fitting and relaxed clothing.
10. Sunscreen and moisturising cream 11. Sunglasses with neck strap
12. Insect repellent with DEET, please note that DEET can affect man-made fibres and plastics.
13. Daypack / small rucksack
14. Bush hat with a brim for sun protection
15. Binoculars – Optional
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary was established in 1998 as a project of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife trust to provide a home for orphaned chimpanzees and chimpanzees that are rescued from illegal poaching activity. The sanctuary currently cares for 49 chimpanzees that have been rescued from within Uganda, and as far as The Democratic Republic of Congo.
The island is made up almost predominantly of thick forest with small gaps of grassland, with an acre of cleared land that houses the camp quarters and chimpanzee feeding area. Ngamba Island is also a habitat for over 120 bird species and has healthy populations of otters, monitor lizards and fruit bats. Only a limited number of visitors are permitted on the two boat trips that depart from Entebbe daily, for 3-hour expeditions on the island.
Where to Chimpanzees in Uganda
Trekking through dense rainforests tracking down chimpanzees is much easier on trekkers in the dry season from mid-December – February and June – September.
However, the rainy seasons from March-May and October – mid-December are less crowded and present a little extra adventure for travellers.
Of course, the beautiful Ugandan weather dictates how it goes in the end, so it is not uncommon at all for heavy rain to fall on occasion in the dry season.