Uganda, Chimpanzee Trek
As this title would suggest, I was definitely not born to be someone to scale the tallest mountains or have the ability to endlessly walk for hours or even enjoy a casual stroll through a forest to spot a family of chimps in their natural habitat but trek is exactly what I did, and my style was far from anything Sir Edmund Hillary would be proud of. Saying this though it was well worth every near fall and the blisters on my toes. I have seen many a chimp in a rescue sanctuary and have had the chance to care for some rescued ones along the way too but I have not had the pleasure or the privilege to see them in their natural habitat, that was until the other day. I was very luckily granted a permit by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to try my luck and see if I could in fact cross off spotting wild chimps from my endless list of animals to see outside of a zoo or the safety of a wildlife sanctuary.
I, along with 4 other fellow travellers who have been with us since Livingstone and Emily the tour leader were given the opportunity to spend some time watching a family of these amazing apes in their forest of the Kyambura Gorge in The Queen Elizabeth National Park of Uganda. The day started off as an early start for us to get there with ample time to have a bite to eat and prepare ourselves before setting off on a 2 hour trek down in to the gorge then along the floor to where we were hopefully going to spot the chimps. It isn’t always guaranteed to see them as they are wild animals and do move about more than we imagine so I for one was keeping my fingers and toes crossed for the chance to catch a glimpse of them.
Our guide Nelson met us at the reception and after signing in and checking that we were all wearing the right gear. We headed to the top of the gorge which would be our starting point. Nelson gave us a briefing about what to expect and a little bit about the history of the chimps and the problems that they are facing today with caring for the chimps and ensuring their survival. Once we were full of knowledge and as prepared as we could be we headed down in to the gorge. The going wasn’t exactly a walk in the park but with the aid of a handy walking stick and the help and guidance of my fellow group members we all managed to get down to the bottom in one piece and with only a couple of us stumbling along the way.
The jungle at the bottom was beautiful and the views on the way down were breathtaking, already making this trip to Uganda worthwhile and with the added element of possibly seeing a chimp I wondered to myself why it had taken me so long to get myself to Uganda to do this. When we were in a small clearing in the gorge floor, Nelson gave us a bit more of a briefing about the vegetation and the signs to look out for. We couldn’t just rely on Nelson’s eyes; we too had become chimp spotters to increase our chances. Every sound and crack of a branch became a possible sign so all of us where on high alert. As well as the chimps we were also on the lookout for other species of monkey that call the forest home too. A family of Black and White Colobus monkeys were out and about so we had a chance to watch them for a bit as well. After a water break and Colobus watching we continued onwards still on the lookout for the creatures that we came to see. The signs were everywhere and I was certain that the chimps were just round the corner. Along the way we saw lots of fresh chimp droppings and the fruit that was dropped from the trees, these were sure signs that they were about.
Nelson then left us on one of the fallen tree bridges to head up to a view point to see if he could spot them and to make sure we were heading in the right direction. After some time he came back and took us to where he thought they may be. As these chimps are wild we can’t track them with any of the wildlife tracking technologies available today, we have to use the natural signs and signals and keep our fingers crossed. I for one was enjoying spotting the animals this way. I feel that if we use modern technology it is in a way cheating and can become very invasive for the animals too. The idea is to see them in their natural habitat and to experience their real behaviour. If we knew where they were at all times the excitement would be far less and the experience would be completely different.
As we were drawing closer and closer to the end point in the gorge I was quite sad that it seemed that it wasn’t going to be our day. The rest of the group seemed a little disheartened too however we were in a beautiful place and we were all enjoying the adventure so our mood didn’t stay somber for long. Not far from the exit we all started hearing a noise similar to big water droplets dropping on to the ground, I could tell by the smile and almost relief on Nelson’s face that we hit the jackpot. We had indeed found the chimps. They were a little difficult to spot at first but when you sat down and really concentrated the chimps were everywhere. We sat and watched the mothers with their babies swinging from the trees and foraging for their evening meal before heading back to their nests for the night.
Lying on the ground looking in to the trees watching the chimps was an enthralling experience and one I would gladly do time and time again. That very moment was well worth it and I soon forgot about the sore feet and sweatiness. Chimps are magnificent creatures, each with their own personalities. The babies of the group were adorable and watching them learn and play under the watchful eyes of their mothers and aunts provided us with some great entertainment, far better than anything a TV could provide. We were with the family for some time, long enough for us to really enjoy them but just enough time so as to not stress out the animals either. The information from Nelson was really great and it made the group on a whole appreciate the experience so much more. These animals are always under threat from predators and poachers and us as humans encroaching on their land. It is a pleasure to see locals like Nelson have so much care and desire to want to save them and do what he can to protect this family of apes. Being given the chance to see them and hear what Uganda is doing to help them will remain as a highlight for me for some time. We all left the chimps on their way to their nests with very happy faces and many memories and photos to boot.
It was a really great day spent in Uganda and one that I would recommend to everyone. We are now currently on our way to another town in Uganda in the hopes that we can also have a once in a lifetime chance to see the Gorillas in Bwindi National Park. I have heard many great things about this experience and am very much looking forward to our trek. My fingers and toes are still crossed but I can safely say it is going to be another fantastic day in this beautiful country.