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.
Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris
Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing an amazing 98.7% of our DNA. It has often been said that the single major difference between humans and chimpanzees is that unlike us, they do not speak. Otherwise, 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.
A primate is a member of the group of mammals, which includes humans, monkeys, and apes. There are more than 300 species of primates on Earth of which apes and monkeys are usually confused for one another. There are two types of apes, great apes and lesser apes, with the primary difference being their general size. There are two types of lesser apes, gibbons and siamangs which are both found in South East Asia and there are four types of great apes: Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Bonobos found in Africa as well as Orangutans found in South East Asia. Apes are humanity’s closest living relatives sharing around 98 per cent of their DNA with humans.
Chimpanzees like us, chimps are highly social animals, care for their offspring for years and can live to be over 50. In fact, chimpanzees are our closest cousins; we share about 98 per cent of our genes. Chimpanzees spend most of their days in the treetops. When they do come down to earth, chimps usually travel on all fours, though they can walk on their legs like humans for as far as a mile. They use sticks to fish termites out of mounds and bunches of leaves to sop up drinking water.
Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris - Useful Information
Good to Know
- Habituation Experience permits must be booked well in advance
- To protect the chimpanzees, trekkers that are ill are not permitted on these experiences
- Permit fees for chimpanzee trekking vary at the different National Parks and Reserves
- Permits are not issued to anyone below 16yrs
When to do it
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.
Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris & Habituation Activites
Chimpanzees 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 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.
Chimpanzee trekking is traditionally done in two daily sessions that offer trekkers different but equally enchanting encounters; at dawn when trekkers can watch them rise from their nests to hunt, forage and feed, and in the afternoon when the primates 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, 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.
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.
Chimpanzee habituation is a fascinating and deeply satisfying experience, 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 behaviours 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