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Chimpanzee Trekking in Rwanda

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing an amazing 98.7% of our DNA. Much like humans they live in complex societies, can solve complicated problems, make and use tools, engage in elaborate interactions and communicate through a consistent range of sounds and gestures.They are extremely raucous animals that usually announce their arrival with a cacophony of whooping and hollering as they swing through the treetops. However, they can be very elusive when they want to be, so trained ranger guides, well acquainted with the forest 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.

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The Chimpanzee Trekking Experience

In Nyungwe, about 500 chimpanzees live high in the forest canopy alongside other primate species of which two chimpanzee communities are fully habituated and can be tracked off the beaten track, through dense rainforest. Chimpanzee trekking starts at dawn when trekkers can watch them rise from their nests to hunt, forage and feed, before settling down to nap, groom each other and play. Sessions are limited to no more than 8 people, for no longer than a couple of hours, 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

Chimpanzee Families

Chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe forest can be done from one of 3 starting points Uwinka, Kitabi and Gisakura. This is where the Park Rangers are met before driving to the trek starting point within the forest. Chimpanzees stay in a different nest every night, trackers head out in the forest ahead of the trekking group to look for the chimps and communicate back to the rangers and tourists. The tourist Chimpanzee Trekking group can only spend only 1 hour with the Chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National park, this is to ensure that the Chimpanzees don’t get too accustomed to human contact and to limit Forest degradation. Chimpanzees are more animated than Gorillas and communicate by way of deafening screams, the loud hoots and booming hitting of the tree bark and the buttress. The Chimpanzees live in large families of between 30 to 60 individuals but it is rare to see a group of this size all together, it is more common to see smaller groups of between 4 to 6 Chimpanzees playing and foraging for food.

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What to wear Gorilla Trekking

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

Useful Information

The Dry season from mid-December – February and June – September is ideal because navigation through the thick vegetation that lines the steep slopes of Mgahinga and Bwindi is much easier.

Gorilla trekking can also be done in the wet season from March-May and October – mid-December but the journey is significantly harder and requires stronger resolve on the part of the trekkers.

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, even in the dry season.

  • Only 160 permits in Bwindi each day, for a maximum of 8 trekkers per gorilla family

  • Trekking and Habituation Experience permits must be booked well in advance through a registered safari operator

  • To protect the gorillas, trekkers that are ill are not permitted on these experiences

  • Permits are not issued to anyone below 16yrs

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