It was a chilly morning at Rweetera Safari Camp as we set off for our journey to Kibale National Park for the chimpanzee tracking experience. It took us roughly 15 minutes on a clear and well tarmacked road before reaching the park information centre for briefing.
I was so amazed at the sight of the large number of tourists awaiting to start this amazing adventure as well on this same day. A thought ran through my mind, 'this is definitely a good sign for Uganda's tourism.
Kibale National Park, commonly known as 'THE PRIMATE OF THE WORLD' is located in Western Uganda roughly 30km from Fort Portal city covering 766sq km. A tremendous total of 1450 chimpanzees have been registered and it is believed to have the highest concentration of chimps making it the right spot for your chimpanzee tracking experience. The park is also a home to various monkey species, over 350 bird species, 250+ species of butterflies, 21 species of reptiles and 71 species of mammals have been registered. According to the guide's briefing, chimpanzees live in communities with each having a dominate male and the park is estimated to have between 13-15 communities.
Inclusively, chimpanzee tracking has guidelines to follow which include; no use of flash photography as it interferes with the sight of chimps, no mimicking the chimp vocalization because you may mimic an aggressive call, no having snacks in the forest unless authorized by the guide, keeping a distance of at least 5-8 meters from the animals if found on the ground to avoid disease transmission.
After the briefing, everyone was placed into a group with a guide armed with an AK47 and we happened to be 5 in our group. Something that caught my attention was the guide allocated to my group. The guide was actually female who told us about her 10 years’ experience in the game. It is pretty cool to see a lady take up such a task and being good at it.
Anxiously, we drove off to the starting point when finally the astounding feeling of actually sharing the same air as the wild set in and it was so vivid to my mind. Silence gripped our world as we penetrated the forest. The only sound that could be heard was the cry of the fallen parched leaves that lay awestruck pondering about the weight of the human bodies that had evaded their space. At the start, it seemed like a walk through nature, running through monumental trees that covered the park, this experience even became more interesting as we trekked on. The guide kept giving updates about everything for instance the trees with fruits that act as a good source of food to the chimps. The park has almost 350 tree species, some rising to over 55m and over 200 years old.
Just a few minutes into the walk, a grunt of the chimpanzee was heard which led us right to a mother up in the trees holding onto its baby that fed gracefully. A nice camera with perfect lenses was a must have to capture this breathtaking scene due to towering trees. Without even minding our presence, the chimps continued to feed on the fruits that were appetizing. After a while, this refine chimp modeled down the tree and disappeared right before our eyes.
We embarked onto our search once again and this time we were assured of finding a hard time with these chimps. Being a dry season, the chimps are always on tree tops feeding silently so as not to attract others as this would mean sharing the little food available (some can be greedy like humans since they are our close cousins). We swiftly drifted through the forest, maneuvered through the valleys, our only support being the small tree branches on the sides. The small thorns delighted in lancing through our clothes and at times our flesh. Oh, this bitter sweet pain. The radio calls between the guides made the tracking easier as one would inform the other of where to locate the chimps.
Almost 2 hours into the walk, few breaks to gallop water, we eventually came across a group of over 20 other tourists smilingly gazing at a tree with their binoculars and cameras in action. On getting close to the tree our eyes were star struck by the glimpse of over 8 chimpanzees at different angles either coupled up or solo. Some of the chimps were eating fruits, others scratching each other which is a sign of love and some slept peacefully. At a point where they wanted to ease themselves, these chimps threw down whatever weights they had hidden inside the body followed by streams of yellow-like rain which got some of us unaware and drenched. Trust me you wouldn’t want to wear this cologne that the chimpanzees gave out at zero cost.
We spent an hour observing these fine mammals as they swung on tree branches like kindergarten kids out on a lunch break. Nothing could possibly explain the smile on most of the faces of the tourists as it felt like having view of something out of this world. As we prepared to vacate the Chimpanzee “premises”, the chimps started coming down the trees as if not wanting us to go. We hurriedly but quietly walked with the chimps and swaggered with them to the 'no human beings past this point’. We had to say goodbye with a lot of difficulty after 3 hours of unforgettable memories. We surely made a promise to come back and spend more time doing the chimpanzee habituation.
If you would like to do chimpanzee spotting or explore other tourist destinations in Uganda, Shaka Tours & Travel UG can arrange that for you.