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Chimpanzees, scientifically called Pan troglodytes are one of the four “great apes”. Other great apes are: gorillas, bonobos and orangutans. They share 95 to 98 percent of the DNA with humans. This make them more biologically closely related to humans than gorillas are to humans. They are distributed across the forest zone of Africa from Guinea to western Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Among the East African Countries, wild chimpanzees are found only in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda (in Kenya, they are only in captivity). It is estimated that there are between 172,000 – 300,000 wild chimpanzees remaining in the 21 African countries.
Anatomically, chimpanzees are between 3 to 41/2 feet tall standing bipedal, weighing between 25 – 50 Kgs. They can live up to 50 years (wild), 60 years (captive). They are quadrupedal animals with a thickset body with long arms, short legs and no tail, with much body covered with long black hair. The face, ears, fingers and toes are however bare. Their long hands enable them to grip firmly and pick up objects. They are both arboreal and terrestrial, spending much of their daytime on the ground, however, most of their feeding and sleeping are on trees. They build nests high up in trees to rest in during midday and sleep in at night. They live in groups called troops of about 30 to 80 individuals, but higher or fewer numbers in a group is possible.
The chimpanzee diet consists of up to 80 different plant foods, feeding mainly on fruits and leaves, but sometimes on buds and blossoms. Other diets can be derived from hunting and feeding on many kinds of insects, small mammals like bushbuck or monkeys.
The female chimpanzee has an estrus cycle of about 34 to 35 days, during which, the skin on her bottom becomes pink, swollen and bare. Females have a gestation period of about 8 months, giving birth to one baby, which clings tightly to her breast. The chimpanzee infant will suckle and sleep with its mother until about 3 years of age. Infant chimpanzees have a white tail tuft that disappears after their childhood. When a mother dies, her orphaned offspring may be unable to survive. But older siblings often adopt their orphaned brothers or sisters, and occasionally infants are adopted by chimps not related to them. Sexual maturity is reached between 8 and 10 years.
Uganda provides the greatest opportunities for tracking Chimpanzees in East African region. You can do chimpanzee tracking in various parts of the country. The country is home to over 5000 chimpanzees in protected and unprotected areas. The Chimpanzee tracking areas described here are habituated, meaning that they are used to humans and will go about their days while you are near them. Meanwhile you can see chimpanzees in zoos or sanctuaries, there is nothing like seeing the chimpanzees in their natural habitat in the wild. There are also chimpanzees in Bwindi (not habituated) and other degraded forest fragments on private land across western Uganda. The increasing demand for tourism and research is leading to more groups of chimpanzees being habituated. The table below gives a basic guideline to Research and tourism sites with habituated chimpanzees in the Albertine Rift, Western Uganda (Please note that chimpanzees habituated for research only are meant for research not tourism. You can’t see this as a tourist).
|Site||Number of chimpanzees||Purpose of habituation|
|Sonso (Budongo forest)||80||Research|
|Waibira (Budongo forest)||78||Research|
|Kaniyo-Pabidi (Budongo forest)||100||Tourism|
|Kasokwa (Budongo forest)||16||Research|
|Kanyawara (Kibale forest)||50||Research|
|Kanyanchu (Kibale forest)||120||Tourism|
|Ngogo (Kibale forest)||150||Research|
|Sebitoli (Kibale forest)||80-100||Research/tourism|
|Toro-Semuliki (Toro-Semuliki WLR)||60||Research/tourism|
|Kalinzu S-Group (Kibale forest)||25||Tourism|
|Kalinzu M-group (Kibale forest)||70-80||Research|
|Kyambura Gorge (QENP)||19||Tourism|
Please, note that the minimum age for chimpanzee tracking in Uganda is 15 years.
The five main Chimpanzee destinations in their Natural habitats in Uganda:
There are also opportunities for chimpanzees in zoos and sanctuaries. These are found in:
Kibale Forest is the leading Chimpanzee destination in East Africa. The jungle rainforest is a home to about 30% of the Chimpanzee population in Uganda. The recent census of Chimpanzees in Kibale forest puts it at about 1500. In addition to Chimpanzees, there are also twelve other different species of primates. Literally, it is referred to as the Worlds Capital City of Primates. You can not only see privates while tracking chimpanzees, there are also various mammalian species including forest elephants, forest buffaloes, both local and exotic birds, several butterfly species, mammals. While tracking Chimpanzees, you can see at least 5 of the 13 primate species in Kibale Forest. If you want to spend more time with Chimpanzees, you can do Chimpanzee habituation experience, meaning you can be with Chimpanzees for the whole day. If you go to Kibale, please don’t miss Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary. This is a large wetland where you can also see various primate species, countless butterflies and birds, mammals and much more.
In terms of accommodation, don’t worry. There are great choices of lodging from budget to luxury, serving exotic and local foods. If you want to track Chimpanzees, scroll no more because this is where you must be. The area is only 4 hours from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.
Budongo Forest Reserve, is located in Northwestern part of Uganda. The forest, located in a moist, semi-deciduous tropical rain forest at the top of the Albertine Rift. The forest is part of the largest wildlife conservation area in Uganda – Murchison Falls National Park. The area has incredible biodiversity that includes several primate species like Chimpanzees, Blue monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, Vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and Olive baboons. The chimpanzee tracking, done in an area called Kaniyo – Pabidi, is a two to four hour tacking, but you only have one hour in their company of Chimpanzees.
When traveling from Kampala, it will take you 3 to 4 hours to be in the area. If you are interested to track chimpanzees here, you can start from Kampala in the sunrise, arrive in Budongo forest and do some nature walk, birding take lunch and do Chimpanzee tracking later in the afternoon. After tracking chimpanzees, you can continue to Muchison Fall National Park, or drive back to Kampala the same day. If you feel like relaxing, you can stay at Budongo Eco Lodge where you will enjoy great food and fantastic cottages. Budongo forest will offer you more than Chimpanzee tracking. Here, you can do nature walk, birding and watching the beautiful butterflies that keeps beautifying the forest. One would also love to see some of the famous trees like Mahogany, Ironwood and various Fruit trees in the area.
Kyambura Gorge is located in Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is one of the 10 national parks, located in the South-Western Uganda. This park forms part of a larger trans-boundary ecosystem that includes Kibale and Rwenzori Mountains National Parks in Uganda and the Park National des Virungas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The area is a gold-tinted savannah grassland, with beautiful forests in some parts. The Chimpanzee tracking can be done in the beautiful gorge which is about 100m-deep. One may refer to Kyambura Gorge as the hidden jewels of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The gorge is part of the great Albertine Rift, having thick forest at the bottom commonly known as the underground forest. You can combine chimpanzee tracking with other wildlife and birds of Queen Elizabeth Park. It should also be noted that the area is pretty close Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. In this way, you can do both Chimpanzee and gorilla trekking in one visit to Uganda. Chimpanzee tracking is a three to four-hour experience, but you will only spend one hour with them.
As you travel to Bwindi through Ishasha, please keep your head up, you might add some wildlife such as tree climbing lions. Additionally, you will not miss seeing Elephants, Uganda Kobs, Buffalos and Topis found on the sweeping Ishasha Plains of Queen Elizabeth Park. Don’t get worried off accommodation because they are too many, fitting your budget.
Kalinzu forest, also located in Southwestern Uganda is a typical African forest you have to explore. Many researchers have labelled Kalinzu forest as the forest with the greatest Chimpanzee population density. You can access Kalinzu forest from Queen Elizabeth Park in a 2-hour drive. You can do Chimpanzee tracking, nature walk and birding in Kalinzu forest. The chimpanzees in Kalinzu have been habituated by Japanese Researchers. There are two groups of habituated chimpanzee, one for tourism and the other for research
Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve is another great spot for Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda. Wildlife reserve is along with the greater Semliki National Park. Snug against the DRC border, the diverse Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve offers quieter, and less certain, chimp encounters than nearby Kibale, Kyambura gorge and Kalinzu forest. These chimpanzees have been habituated and studied for many years by Indiana University researchers from. Because of the lighter forest cover me, sightings tend to be clearer. The Chimpanzees here frequently venture out into open savannah, where they are more likely to walk upright (not that common, but if you are lucky enough, you will observe). Currently, the Chimpanzee tracking here offers one of the lowest price chimpanzee tracking experiences in Uganda. Because of its proximity to other Chimpanzee sites, one can easily track Chimpanzees in Kibale Forest – Toro – Wildlife Reserve, Kyambura Gorge and finally Kalinzu Forest in just a few days.
This is hardly a genuine wilderness encounter, but if time is limited and you’re confined to the capital Kampala, you can visit here. The Island is part of the greater Koome group of islands in Lake Victoria, located approximately 23 km South-East of Entebbe. The island is approximately 100 acres, 98 acres of it is forested with a trail system. It is home to 48 orphaned chimps rescued from various places in Uganda. The Island also provides an excellent secondary forest habitat for other wildlife species, including Egyptian fruit bats), African fish eagle, Nile monitor lizards, among others
Again, this is also hardly a genuine wilderness encounter as Ngamba Island. Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), formally known as Entebbe Zoo, is in Entebbe, Uganda. The centre was founded in the 1952 to accommodate and care for the confiscated, injured and orphaned wildlife in Uganda. Currently, it is a centre where wildlife education is combined with leisure. A number of both captive and free ranging primates are found here. There are about 40 captive chimpanzees here.