Tracking Uganda’s Chimpanzee Troops
Tracking chimpanzees through the tall, tangled scrubs and primeval trees that carpet western Uganda’s rainforest demands a machete, heavy boots, thick trousers, a ridiculous hat to keep the thorns out of your head, patience, and a sense of humor. Such dramatic encounters are exceptional, but even on a slow day, tracking chimpanzees is thrilling. The tracking entourage set off across the forest floor at 0800 and, about half an hour later, reach the treetop nests that the chimpanzee community had built the previous night. Spend the next hour watching them feed, play, laugh, hug, kiss, and fornicate. The male chimps fight, slap hollow buttress roots, and chase each other, jostling for a seat at the top of the hierarchy.
You’ll find them by following a trail of knuckle prints, dung, and half-digested fruit – not forgetting the racket – and observe them from a distance, avoiding loud noise, sudden movement, standing, shaking branches, and worst of all, staring. However, tempting to gaze into the eyes of a creature that shares 98.4 percent of our DNA will change everything you thought and felt about primates.
We tailor every chimpanzee tracking safari in Uganda to your travel demands. Most of our chimp trips are a connection to Gorilla trekking in the mountainous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and wildlife game drives in the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park. Uganda offers the best inland-safari experiences without crossing borders.
Where To Track Chimpanzees
Although there are an estimated 300,000 chimpanzees left in Africa’s equatorial forests, observing them in their natural habitat is a rare treat. One of the best places to do so is Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda, home to five habituated groups within easy walking distance from the Kanyanchu trailhead.
Kibale Forest is home to around 1500 chimpanzees living in 13 communities. Of these, various groups have been successfully habituated; some for scientific study and others, such as the Kanyanchu group, are used for tracking. Tracking a chimpanzee group occurs in the mornings and afternoons and typically lasts 3-4 hours with up to one hour spent with the chimps. Non-residents, foreign residents, or east African citizens respectively pay US$200/$150/Ush150,000 per person for a chimpanzee tracking permit.
Kyambura Gorge, located in the far eastern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, is one of Uganda’s most impressive wildlife forest jungle. The 300ft deep “Valley of The Apes” gorge is surrounded by the beautiful savannah and craters of Queen Elizabeth National Park, with the Rwenzori Mountains as a brooding backdrop. While the chances of seeing chimps here are lower than in Kibale, the incredible scenery is just as much part of the attraction. Trekking down through the vines and giant fig trees (less conventional than tiring) will make you feel like you’re in an underground forest.
Made of two eco-tourism sites, Kaniyo Pabidi and Busingiro, Budongo forest is an excellent chimpanzee tracking experience for trekkers interested in tracking that is more challenging than in Kibale Forest. The best site for chimps tracking in Kaniyo Pabidi, en route to Murchison Falls and part of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area. The other site, Busingiro, is home to the Royal Mile, one of the country’s top bird-watching tracks.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
If an hour isn’t enough for you, then Uganda’s chimp parks also offer a chimpanzee habituation experience, where you’ll spend a full day following a chimps community currently undergoing a six-year habituation process. You’ll need to be prepared for a fair bit of brisk walking – chimps can move fast – but it will be worth it for the rewards of a more intimate encounter.
When they sense your intrusion, non habituated chimps would have disappeared into the forest jungle long before you could see them. But the habituation process, which takes at least six years, carefully reassures the chimps that humans do not pose a threat. Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX) in Kibale Forest, considerably a much entertaining excursion that chimpanzee tracking costs USD 250 for both foreign nonresidents and East African residents and Ush 250,000 for East African nationals. Budongo issues 8 CHEX permits at USD 230.
The chimp habituation experience is more intense and takes a full day, nest to nest, from when the chimps get up in the morning and leave their nest to when they make their nest again for the night. As the communities you track are wilder, you can’t get as close, the chimps are more skittish, and sighting chances are lower. It’s a long day, too – some people bailout in the afternoon to go and get a beer. It’s ideal for primate nuts, but if you want to see chimps, choose to track them for a morning or afternoon.
Best Time For Chimps Tracking
Although chimpanzee tracking is a year-round activity, the best time for a chimp trekking trip is during the region’s two dry seasons: January and February and June to September. There are fewer rains during the dry season, the trails are more comfortable to navigate, and you’re sure your itinerary will not be interrupted by a downpour. You should also note that during this time, everyone else will be thinking of traveling to see chimpanzees, which makes accommodation expensive, and privacy hard to secure.
The wet seasons from September to November and March to May usually pull in fewer crowds, accommodation is cheaper, and it’s easier to process both a chimp permit and gorilla trekking permit. But chimpanzee tracking during the wet season would mean you endure the unfriendly experience of torrential rains, impassable trails, and difficult photography. Some travelers choose the wet season for the experience and price tag on safaris.
Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. Even when considered the rainy season, April and May is a great time to visit Uganda and the Gorillas. The views are stunning, and it rains mostly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.
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Please make sure you have your facemask on when in contact with animals, especially the endangered creatures. Without a negative PCR Covid Test, you’ll not be allowed into the country. You’ll spend most of your time in open spaces away from human crowds, with that there’s minimal to no infections of the COVID virus.
Flexible booking terms
Your booking can be extended up to 12 months ahead with no extra fees, in case of any emergency (based on accommodation availability). Reservations are accepted after we receive a 30% deposit on the trip and the full payment for gorilla tracking and chimp tracking permits for each tour participant. For more details on our booking terms, please read our Terms and Conditions.