Why watching chimpanzees in Uganda is one of the best summer adventure experiences in Africa.
Undoubtedly, chimpanzees get a lot of scientific researchers’ attention but much less with summer adventure travelers than the endangered mountain gorillas. Nonetheless, the thrill of tracking our snobbish cousins in the middle of an ancient rainforest jungle is one of the most endearing adventures on the African continent. And, a chimp permit costs a fraction of what you would pay to see our giant cousin apes, the mountain gorillas.
These intelligent, curious, noisy, and social apes live in small communities in equatorial Africa, with about 172,700 to 299,700 individuals thought to be living in protected rainforests. Uganda harbors almost 5000 of these chimps with a couple of troops habituated for tourism. Observing a troop of habituated chimpanzees in their natural habitat is one of Africa’s top bucket list experiences that any adventurer shouldn’t miss.
One of the best places to see these chimpanzees in the wild is in Kibale National Park in western Uganda, home to five habituated groups within easy walking distance.
Understanding Africa’s Chimpanzees in Uganda
Chimpanzees are part of the great ape family, which includes humans, gorillas, and orangutans. They are known for their intelligence, curiosity, social behavior, and loud vocalizations. Chimpanzees live in groups ranging from ten to over 100 individuals, sharing and protecting their home range from intruders. They exhibit complex behavior patterns, including problem-solving, tool-making, and even the use of medicinal plants.
Chimpanzees have significant genetic similarities to humans, with over 98 percent of their genetic code being the same. This fact has led many people to visit central Africa, specifically Uganda, to see these chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Research by Jane Goodall has contributed to a comprehensive study that identified significant cultural variations in chimpanzee communities, providing insight into our ancestors’ lives.
These intelligent primates have been observed using tools, nest-building, and engaging in courtship rituals. They also have unique social structures, including grooming, which helps remove ticks, dead skin, and dirt from their hair while also creating and maintaining social bonds. Male chimps tend to spend more time together and groom each other, while females give their young a lot of attention and help each other with babysitting chores.
Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Park is an exhilarating experience, as you get to observe these fascinating primates up close and witness their intricate social structures.
Tracking Kibale National Park’s Chimpanzee Troops
Located in the shadows of the Rwenzoris, western Uganda, Kibale National Park beams with an enchanting combination of scenic landscape scenery and forest creatures. Kibale has the highest concentration of primates in Africa; 13 primate species make it home but the most prominent is the 1500 chimpanzees swinging its canopy.
Visitors can track any of the five habituated troops and spend an hour or the entire day following their energetic antics. The best chimpanzee tracking excursions in Uganda happen twice daily from the Kanyanchu visitor center in Kibale.
At a Kanyanchu, expert local guides escort small groups to meet one of the most enthralling chimpanzee troops of about 120 individuals. Early morning excursions set off at bout 8:00 and typically last about four hours, and all you need to join the party is a tracking permit. With a regular chimpanzee trekking permit ($200 per person), visitors can spend up to one hour observing the chimps.
Alternatively, visitors can spend the entire day walking with and observing wild chimps undergoing the habituation process on a Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX) for a permit price of $250 per person. The habituation experience is a recommended way to see chimpanzees in wild Uganda and spend more time with them.
However, the habituation experience is physically demanding; prepare for a fair bit of fast-walking in the jungle with unmarked and sometimes damp trails. Kibale chimpanzees are boisterous and move fast, only stopping for a few minutes to listen out for enemies, breathe, feed, a socialize; the rewards during these moments are always worth the sweat.
What to expect from the chimpanzee tracking experience
Most trekking adventures to see chimpanzees in Uganda are the half-day chimpanzee tracking excursion, which provides ample time to search for the elusive apes and witness them in their natural habitat. The adventure usually starts early in the morning with a briefing at the visitor center, where visitors receive some basic information about the chimpanzees and the ground rules they must follow during the experience. Visitors are required to maintain a distance of 10 meters from the chimpanzees for their own safety as well as the safety of the primates. This is because chimpanzees are susceptible to contagious human diseases and, despite being habituated, they are still wild animals. Guides with extensive knowledge of the primates accompany visitors on the excursion to provide relevant information and ensure they stay within the guidelines.
After the briefing, visitors are divided into small groups and assigned local guides and armed rangers before setting out into the jungle to find the chimpanzees. The guides lead the way through dense vegetation, over streams and dead tree stumps, and under low bushes while tracking any signs of chimpanzee activity, such as broken twigs and loud hoots. The sound of the hoots serves as a cue for visitors that they are about to encounter their evolutionary cousins.
As visitors approach the chimpanzees, they will be surrounded by the familiar black-furred primates who are utterly unfazed by the tourists’ presence. The chimpanzees can be observed feeding on fruit in the treetops or on the ground, grooming each other, mothers breastfeeding their young, and males jostling for political leadership. Although they are spread out in small groups, visitors will surely encounter them in their natural habitat. So, it is important to stay alert and move to a rewarding position to fully appreciate the experience.
The chimpanzee encounter
No Youtube or National Geographic documentary can prepare you for your first, up-close, wild chimpanzee encounter. Being a few feet away from wild apes will trigger an instant burst of adrenaline that washes your entire body like a winter fever.
The thrill of a trek to see chimpanzees in Uganda, the almost-human intelligence of the great apes, with their antics, expressions, and interactions, will captivate your innermost empathy for the living beasts.
They glance right back at you with their very dark sclerae, and paler irises strikingly similar to our own. Even their poses for photography will make you wonder if they’re putting on a show or making the best of your presence.
One shouldn’t even begin to compare the chimpanzee experience with trekking gorillas in the mountains. Coming face-to-face with a wild chimpanzee is a breathlessly exhilarating experience that arguably beats the gorilla trekking adventure hands down. Consider that Kibale Forest terrain is much simpler to navigate. The woods are less dense, chimpanzee troops are easier to find, and the price is significantly lower.
All good reasons to consider chimpanzee trekking in Uganda right at the top of your bucket-list summer adventures in Africa.
Chimpanzee conservation programs in Uganda
The chimpanzee is one of the most extensively studied great apes by Jane Goodall and others for over 50 years at some sites. These studies give us a glimpse through a window into our own beginnings and help biomedical research understand various diseases that result in substantial morbidity and mortality.
Research stations that continue to study chimpanzees in Uganda include The Budongo Conservation Forest Station (BCFS) in Budongo Forest Reserve, the Makerere University Biological Field Station (MUBFS) in Kibale National Park, and the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Much of what we know about chimpanzee biology comes from these research stations and those in Tanzania (Gombe and Mahale).
These studies are expensive, let alone protecting the chimps, and their habitats requires bucketloads of funds. Chimpanzee tracking is the most significant source of funds put back into chimpanzee conservation programs in Uganda, especially by creating jobs for guides and sources of income for communities around protected forest reserves.
Like any wilderness experience in Africa, the guides and rangers will make or break the chimpanzee tracking experience. Fortunately, Uganda Wildlife Authority employs the best of the bunch.
The chimpanzee forest rangers are the lucky few, coming from local communities around the protected forests, that get to spend every day out in nature, helping to protect the country’s precious ecosystem and sharing their passion with other wildlife lovers. They are highly knowledgeable about conservation, have great people skills, and speak excellent English. They are the most dedicated and interesting people you will meet anywhere on safari.
Booking a chimpanzee tracking safari
Kibale National Park may be the best place to see chimpanzees in Uganda, but it’s not the only place. You can see chimps in Kyambura Gorge close to Queen Elizabeth National Park and smaller forest reserves around Murchison Falls National Park. Kibale has the largest population, which means sightings are more than 92% guaranteed.
Nkuringo Safaris Ltd organizes all-inclusive tailor-made chimpanzee tracking adventures in Kibale, combining the trip with gorilla trekking adventures in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our guests usually spend seven days and USD 950 on trekking permits between the two destinations for an immersive jungle experience.
Nkuringo will book your permits, accommodation with meals, organize your transport between places, and manage your entire journey from start to end. Our local experts make the planning process seamless with open communication and sharing up-date and relevant information during the planning.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free quote at no obligation.