Uganda has got dense and lush tropical forests that home primates among which include Chimpanzee. Guided nature walks through the forest to track this incredibile mammal , said by scientist to be the closest living relative to human sharing 99% of DNA, also offer you chance to encounter a variety of primate species like the vervet monkey, l’hoest monkey, blue monkey, black and white colobus monkey, red tailed monkey baboon plus wide range of bird and plant species.
Chimpanzees live in community, and a fully grown male can measure up to 1.7 meters high and can weight up to 70 kg. They use their arms for climbing up the trees and use their four legs while walking on the ground. These primates communicate by using vocalization, hand gesture and facial expressions, they make their beds in trees by bending branches into a nest, and day by day they shift to other areas for making new nests.
The different areas where you can track the chimps are Budongo Forest in Murchinson Falls National Park, Kyambura Gorge and Kalinzu Forest in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Kibale Forest National Park (If you have only a short layover in Kampala, you can meet the chimps also at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary ). The guided tracking safari through the forest offers you a remarkable viewing of these primates as they leave their nest heading out to copulate, feed, breastfeed, hunt and display. Usually the safari starts early in the morning and can last 3-4 hrs, it depends on the area they are settling at the moment. During my 2 trips around Uganda i tracked the chimps through Budongo Forest and Kalinzu Forest. The paths were not challenging and mostly flat and above all the chance to meet the chimps was very high in these two parks. I could see a group of 6-8 primates both times in a very good way, but remember that they usually keep moving a bit in the deep vegetation so it’s not so easy to take nice pictures.
Budongo Forest Reserve: located in Murchinson falls National park, it said to be among the best chimpanzee habitats in Uganda with 600 individuals and about 100 are habituated for tracking at Kaniyo Pabidi, the area where the activities are mainly done. It boasts of a high biodiversity of 24 species of small animals 9 of which are primates, more then 300 species of birds and around 450 species of trees and shrubs.
Kibale Forest National park: it stands in west-central Uganda just east of the Rwenzori Mountains dubbed the legendary mountain of the moon, near the town of Fort Portal. The 766 km² park that ranges between 1100 and 1600m in elevation is renowned for its diverse primate species and the moist evergreen eco – system. The park features 70 species of mammals, 13 primate species and more than 350 bird species. Here, several community of chimps have been habituated for chimpanzee tracking and human interaction.
Kyambura Game Reserve: best know as Kyambura Gorge, it’s a part the the famous Queen Elizabeth National park, and hosts its unique variety of wildlife, including chimpanzees. The area is an important water source for many animals and is surrounded by savanna, but is generally noted for its high concentration of primate life located in the gorge. Kyambura is the only place in Queen Elizabeth NP where you can see habituated chimpanzees and other types of primates including red-tailed monkey, black-and-white colobus, baboons and vervet monkeys. The park is also known for its variety of avian species including various falcons, the blue-headed bee-eater, and the African Finfoot. With no doubts is the most challenging place where to meet the chimps because you have to descent into the gorge and , to be honest, it’s not to easy to spot the chimpanzees since it is a large area that the chimps move through, and it is split into areas by rivers. Anyways tracking the Chimps here is a very wild experience since you can also bump into elephants, hippos and…lions ( the rangers carry a weapon ‘’just in case’’ to scary the animals).
Kalinzu Forest Reserve: Located 50 minutes drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park, along the road Kasese-Mbarara, is a natural eco-system covering 399 km² at an altitude of about 1400 meters and is known for its 414 species of trees and shrubs such Prunus African Ficus and Parinari among the many. The reserve boasts Chimpanzees and variety of primate species like the black billed turacos, l’hoest monkeys, blue monkey, black and white colobus monkey, red tailed monkey and baboons. The forest features more than 350 bird species like the sun birds, white and black casket, cuckoos plus the Great Blue Turaco, it also hosts 97 moths species, reptiles, 262 butterflies and flowers. Kalinzu is the best alternative to Chimpanzee Trekking in Kyambura Gorge with possibilities of spotting chimps being high.
Ngamba Island chimps Sanctuary: It’s 40 km from Kampala, and 23 km south west of Entebbe town. It’s a nice place where to spend time watching chimpanzees as they play and interact with each other. Ngamba Island is part of the Koome group of Islands located on Lake Victoria, the Sanctuary was established in 1988 and is currently home to 49 orphaned chimpanzees rescued from the illegal pet and bushmeat trade. More information about reservation, prices and activities at : https://ngambaisland.org/
About the trekking: After a short briefing with the rangers you will be guided through the forest looking for the chimps. You cannot set out on your own into the forests. The rangers know how to follow the clues that lead to tracking down the chimps, and they also provide important information on other life of the forest. Also, the faces of these guides are known to the chimps as they have been seen on numerous tracking visits and some of the rangers were part of the habituation process. The time to get the primates is always different, it depends on the area the are settling ( I walked for 1 hr both times ). After getting the group, you have the chance to observe them for 1 hour before going back.
How to book: during the high season it’s better to book in advance because just a few people a day can get the permit. It can be booked direct from Uganda wildlife authority (UWA) a responsible government body for tourism and wildlife conservation in Uganda. Alternatively, you can book the permit through any tour operator who offers chimpanzee trekking safaris. Usually the track safari starts early in the morning and in some parks they also arrange it in the afternoon. The other option, at your own risk, is to go straight to the Park information center and try to book it ( go there very early in the morning if you want to book for the same day ).
Prices: Kibale permit is the most expensive and it costs 150$, Budongo Forest costs 90$, Kyambura Gorge costs 50$ and Kalinzu Forest is 40$. I suggest you Budongo or Kalinzu.