Uganda is richly blessed and among the countries you can add onto your travel bucket list if you’re looking for a memorable safari experience. Among what to expect while on a safari to this country what many refer to as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ is a chance to get close and see the chimpanzees in their natural habitat.
Uganda is definitely the best place in the world to do such an activity as it has over 5000 individuals of chimpanzees found within its boundaries. Chimpanzee tracking involves heading into the deep forests with the help of well-trained rangers who follow trails that were designed by habituated families of chimpanzees and on spotting them, you will be given upto an hour to observe these species and take as many photos as you want.
Chimpanzees are more like humans because they share 98.7% of human DNA and adjust accordingly like us to adapt to changes in the environment.
Where to go for chimpanzee tracking in Uganda
Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda is mainly done in three areas of Kibale Forest National Park, Murchison falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. However, Kibale is considered to be the best as it harbors the highest concentration of these species. Unlike gorillas, chimpanzees are fun once you get in contact with them. They live in larger groups of 10-70 members and very active. There’s always a fight within the communities on who’s to be the next Alpha unlike gorillas that are always comfortable in one place feeding and farting.
Chimpanzees feed on fruits, seeds, tree leaves, honey, insects and meat sometimes from fellow primates and other species. These species weigh upto 70kgs for a healthy male and females usually weigh upto 50kgs. Their life expectancy is between 30 years to 60 years in the wild.
Kibale National Park
Situated in the western part of Uganda in Kabarole district, Kibale National Park which can also be referred to as the ‘primate capital’ is home to over 1495 species of these endangered species which accounts for almost 30% of the overall population of chimpanzees in Uganda. Apart from chimpanzees, you will also be able to see other primate species like bush babies, red Columbus mangabeys, L’Hoersts monkeys, baboons, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys and very many others.
Other wildlife species you can’t afford to miss out while in Kibale National Park include bush pigs, elephants, buffaloes, antelope species, sitatungas, common warthogs, bird species like western tinkerbird, African grey parrot and more, African leopards, otters and several other wild species.
Chances of seeing chimpanzees during the trek are 95% and departing into the deep forests in search of these species usually starts at 08:00hrs and 14:00hrs for the second excursion however, the morning excursion is the busiest with many itineraries combining it with an afternoon walk in the Bigodi wetland sanctuary.
Chimpanzee habituation can also be done in Kibale National Park where your given a full day habituation experience with one of the chimpanzee communities but its more costly compared to chimpanzee tracking with both permits for the activities going for $220 and $150 respectively.
Permits can be got from the Uganda wildlife authority offices and you’re advised to book one or two prior to your visit in Uganda. However, at Vizuri Africa Safaris we help arrange and purchase the permits on your behalf but at a cheaper commission to cover the administrative costs involved.
Kalinzu forest found in western Uganda and outside the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth National Park, is arguably the second-best place after Kibale where you do chimpanzee tracking. The forest acts as a haven to about 300 individuals of chimpanzees but out of these, 70 individuals are habituated and available to travelers for tracking. Visitors within Queen Elizabeth National Park usually opt for Kyambura gorge which is also home chimpanzees but chances of seeing chimpanzees in Kalinzu forest are much more that is 60% compared to Kyambura.
Apart from Chimpanzees, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and other species that inhabit the forest like primates, butterflies, moths, over 410 species of birds and others.
Chimpanzee trekking in this particular forest is managed by the Uganda forestry authority and to go chimpanzee particularly in this place, you will need a chimpanzee trekking permit which costs $35.
Situated in the south of Murchison falls National Park, Budongo forest is yet another place in Uganda you can do chimpanzee tracking. Unlike Kyambura gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, chances of seeing these relatives of man are 80%.
The forest has over 800 individuals of chimpanzees but out of that number about 100 chimpanzees have been habituated and made available for tracking.
Trekking begins early in the morning at 7:00am and you will be led into the forest by a well-trained ranger. Contact with mans closest relative can be made after 30mins or sometimes a full day depending on the location where the chimpanzees are.
Full day excursion for travelers interested in spending the entire day with the species is also available. To go chimpanzee trekking in Budongo, you will need a permit which is provided for by the National forestry Authority. The permits costs $85.
Kyambura Gorge, Queen Elizabeth National Park
This is yet another exciting and comfortable place to do chimpanzee tracking. Kyambura gorge is located within the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth National Park and its 100m deep and 16km long with a thick underground forest that does harbour a number of primate species, birds, butterflies, chimpanzees and many other species.
The chimpanzee population within Kyabura is of about 30 individuals but that has not stopped travelers to always come to this place to observe the chimps. The advantage of tracking chimps in Kyambura is that it gives you a full safari experience as you can pair it with other activities done within Queen Elizabeth National Park like birding, game drives, boat cruise among others.
While in Kyambura, you will also get the opportunity to see other primates and mammals as they drink water and cool off their bodies around water reserves. Its also close to the world’s leading gorilla sanctuary – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that hosts almost half of the worlds population of mountain gorillas.
Unlike other areas, chances of getting to see chimpanzees in Kyambura are far less compared to Kalinzu and Kibale. This is because they tend to move deep into the underground forest making it harder for travelers to find them. A chimpanzee tracking permit in Kyambura gorge costs $50.
Semuliki wildlife reserve
Located between the border of Uganda and DRC, Semuliki also does offer travelers a chance to see the relatives of man as they roam around the tree branches and within the park. Its estimated that the park is home to over 260 individuals and these chimpanzees are under extensive study by Indiana University.
However, chances of seeing these species are less compared to other chimpanzee tracking destinations in Uganda since they always move from the dry forest in search of food to far ends of the forest. Chimpanzees in Semuliki are unique as they have been found to limp on two legs just as humans do.
Located within the waters of Lake Victoria, Ngamba is a small forested island that was put in place to protect the endangered species of chimpanzees that are rescued from across the country. While here, you will be able to see these species from a raised platform with your family and friends.
Best time to go chimpanzee tracking in Uganda
Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda is an all- year round success however the best time to come and see them in their natural habitat is between the months of June to September and December to February. This is simply because the country is receiving less or no rainfall that would hinder your safari.
During the wet season, tracks within parks are slippery and muddy. However, during the dry season, it’s the reverse as the trails are less slippery and dry which increases the chances of seeing chimpanzees.
From June to September, its considered to be the peak season in Uganda and here the country is receiving a number of tourists coming in for different safaris. It’s this time that the cost of accommodation is a bit high to match up with the demand. If you prefer a less crowded season with affordable and less expensive accommodation options and permits, then you can opt for the wet season which is during the months of March to May and October to November.
How difficult is Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda?
Unlike gorillas, chimpanzees live in the lowland areas that make access to them not as tenuous as it is to trek gorillas. However, you need to physically fit to go and see these species in the wild as they tend to move fast onto tree branches and you will need to cope up with them.
In some scenarios, chimpanzees tend to move deep into the forests moving away from their initial location. Still you will need to be physically strong to do the trekking.
During the wet season, tracks within the forests are slippery and muddy which also does require one to be physically strong to do the trekking.
Guidelines, rules and regulations to follow while close and during chimpanzee tracking in Uganda
You’re expected to observe a distance of 8 – 12m between you and the chimpanzees.
Someone suffering from flue, diarrhea and any other illness is not allowed to go for chimpanzee tracking.
You have to be 15 years and above to track chimpanzees.
Flash photography is not allowed.
Follow instructions from the guides before doing anything else.
You are not expected to eat while in close proximity with the chimpanzees as they may come and grab it away from you.
You’re not allowed to smoke on tracking chimpanzees.
You are expected to keep your voice low while tracking chimpanzee