Uganda is home to various species of primates which have made the country very attractive to primate lovers. There is no doubt that mountain gorilla in Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park and the Mgahinga National Park attract more visitors to Uganda per year than any other primate specie. Interest in chimpanzees may not be as high as that shown to mountain gorillas among visitors to Uganda, but chimpanzee trekking has often proven to be as exciting as gorilla trekking – even more adventurous.
Along with mountain gorillas, Chimpanzees are included among the critically endangered species in the Red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact chimpanzees have already disappeared from four countries in Africa. Only 21 countries from the original 25 still have chimpanzees living in the wild. According to several researchers, if strict conservation measures are not put in place, 10 more countries run the risk of losing out on these primates in the next 20 or so years. The main threats to wild chimpanzees come from humans. They face death and injuries from snares meant for other animals. In some countries of Central Africa, they are hunted for food by some certain tribes. This habit has spread to countries like Uganda through immigration and the recent refugee crisis. Other threats include diseases and habitat loss resulting from growing human populations.
About Chimpanzees in Uganda
Uganda is known to house the eastern chimpanzee, a subspecies that are found in the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, DR Congo and Burundi. Chimpanzees share over 98% DNA with humans. Unlike many other primates, chimpanzees are highly intelligent. They are known to use rocks to crack nuts, fetch termites out of holes by using sticks and mold their nests by simply bending tree branches. Chimpanzees live in clans with different cultures and lifestyles that are passed from generation to generation. Chimpanzees organize themselves in families and groups of between 30 to 100 members. They can live for up to 40 to 65. Their diet is made up of mainly ripe fruits, seeds, flowers, leaves but will not hesitate to feed on meat from other primates like Colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, young baboons or antelopes and young goats. An adult male weighs about 70kg while the female between 25-55kg. They mature sexually between the ages of 9 and 12 and give birth every 3 to 4 years. Chimpanzees are able to take care of their infants for up to 3 years when they reach maturity.
Where to find Chimpanzees in Uganda
Uganda is a country blessed with numerous tourism resources. There are several primate species that are distributed in all parts of the country but especially in the country’s national parks. These include golden monkeys, Mountain Gorillas, L’Hoest’s monkeys, colobus monkeys, baboons, Chimpanzees to mention but a few.
Uganda currently has an estimated 5000 Chimpanzees with habituated groups found in Budongo Forest, Kabale National Park and the Kyambura Gorge. Wild chimpanzees that are not open to visitors can be sighted in Bwindi impenetrable National Park, Maramagambo forest, Kalinzu forest, Bigodi wetland sanctuary and Buniga forest. Let’s look at some of the places where habituated chimpanzees can be spotted in Uganda:
Kyambura Gorge: Located within Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern part of Uganda and within the Western Rift Valley, Kyambura Gorge is one of the most popular sites for Chimpanzee trekking. With permits costing $50, Kyambura Gorge has one community of chimpanzee comprising of about 12 members. Eight permits are issued each day and trekking usually lasts up to 3 hours. The migration of the chimpanzee clan deep into the forest found in the gorge coupled by rough terrains make chimpanzee trekking here unreliable and more strenuous compared to other chimpanzee trekking areas.
Kibale Forest National Park: Kibale Forest National Park is located in Kamwenge and Kabarole districts which are about 5 hours drive from Kampala. The park is a home to several bird and primate species along with other wildlife animals such as Elephants, Buffaloes and the Uganda Kob among many other attractions. Kibale Forest National Park is considered to be the best Chimpanzee tracking area in Uganda due to its flat terrain and large number of Chimpanzees available for tracking (more than 1500). Two of the three habituated groups of chimpanzees in this forest are open for normal one hour chimpanzee viewing at a cost of USD 150 per permit every day. Besides normal chimpanzee trekking, Chimpanzee Habituation experience has rapidly become one of the most attractive activities in this area. The third habituated chimpanzee group has been reserved for the chimpanzee habituation experience.
Budondo Forest: Budongo forest is located in Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda. Chimpanzee trekking is done within Kanio Pabidi where habituated chimpanzee groups are found. This is the nearest chimpanzee trekking site taking only 4 hours of driving from the capital Kampala. Chimpanzee trekking permits here cost $80. Visitors can combine chimpanzee trekking with other tourist attractions like visiting the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary, going for game drives and a boat cruise along the Nile.
Chimpanzee habituation experience in Uganda
What does chimpanzee habituation mean? Chimpanzee habituation is a gradual step by step process that involves making wild chimpanzee used to humans in their usual areas of habitat. Wild Chimpanzees, like any other wild primates are naturally shy and will move away once they sense human presence. The chimpanzee habituation process usually takes at least 3 years before the chimp community is open to tourism.
The Chimpanzee habituation experience is a new tourism package introduced by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Chimpanzee habituation experience in Uganda is done at Kibale Forest National park. The Chimpanzee habituation experience is one of the most amazing wildlife experiences you can have. You get the chance to spend the whole day with the chimpanzees unlike with normal trekking that gives you just one hour with the chimpanzees. This experience costs more and goes for USD220 for foreigners and USD 70 for East Africans.
Chimpanzee habituation experience usually starts as early as 6:30am after a briefing by the Uganda Wildlife Authority officials. Visitors then head out to the forest in the company of researchers, trackers and rangers. A maximum of four people are allowed to take part in the habituation process. This great experience does not only involve recreation and photo shooting sessions. It is a highly educative moment that gives you in depth understanding of the way of life of these wonderful primates. You will learn about their social way of life, how they communicate, how they interact with one another and of course their playful nature.
Habituation experience in Kibale does not only stop at watching chimpanzee. You will also get a chance to spot other primates like L’Hoest’s Monkey, the Blue Monkey, Colobus Monkey and the Central African Monkey among others. You will enjoy watching over 300 species of birds and encounter mammals like warthogs, Bushbucks, Buffalo, the giant Forest Hogs, lions, leopards, Elephants, and many more that roam the Park.
How to book a chimpanzee habituation experience permit
You can either book Chimpanzee Habituation experience permits directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority head offices in Kampala or contact your tour operator on how to get one. Due to high demand for Chimpanzee Habituation experience permits, it’s always advisable to book your permit at least 3 months prior to your visit.
Chimpanzee habituation rules and regulations
The rules and regulations to be followed by visitors booked for the Chimpanzee habituation experience include:
- Having a minimum age of 12 years.
- Staying 8 meters away from the chimpanzees because they are not yet fully used to humans around them.
- Keeping away from using flash photography as they can be intimidating to these primates.
- Not smoking or eating around the chimpanzees.
- Not taking part in the activity when suffering from common cold, flue, diarrhea or any other transferable diseases. Chimpanzees, just like Gorillas have low or no immunity to these illnesses.
- Following what you were told by the rangers during the briefing.
Packing List for the Chimpanzee habituation Experience
Long sleeve shirts and trousers: These will protect you from rough thickets and biting insects. Layering helps you adjust to the ever changing weather conditions. Don’t forget a rain jacket just in case it rains.
Shoes: These should be comfortable enough and ground gripping.
Hat and sunglasses: These will help guard you against the hot afternoon sun and any rains.
Snacks and drinking water: The Chimpanzee habituation experience takes the whole day. It’s recommended that you carry some energy giving food and drinking water.
Insect repellent: These help protect against the irritating bites from insects that also carry disease causing bacteria.
Camera and binoculars: In order not to miss out on any exciting moment and to keep lasting memories of the Habituation experience, bringing a camera and binoculars is a must. Carry extra SD cards and portable rechargeable batteries for the camera.
Water proof backpack: These are important for keeping your digital devices such as smart phones, camera, iPads, and other valuable properties from rain and dust.