Chimpanzee Trekking: A jungle experience in Uganda
Chimp trekking is one of the things that makes a Uganda safari unique. Not only is it incredibly special to be able to gorilla and chimp trek in one country but Kibale Forest is one of the best places not only in Uganda, but in the world, to see chimpanzees.
Kibale Forest National Park is home to more than 1,400 chimpanzees and the continent’s highest diversity and density of primates. Most of our safari travelers opt for one of the twice-daily, ranger-guided, chimpanzee trekking experience. But as rewarding as this experience is, you are limited to spending just one hour with the primates once the guide locates them to avoid provoking stress or transmitting human-borne diseases.
To help travelers learn more, and to increase the chances of better sightings for future visitors, the park is offering fit trekkers the chance to spend an entire day in the company with researchers studying a chimpanzee family undergoing habituation for tourism. Which has been famously referred to as Chimpanzee Habituation Experience.
A chimpanzee’s natural behavior is to run or climb as far from humans as possible (in the past, for a long time, local people hunted and ate wild chimps and stole their babies to sell as pets). It takes at least two years of constant daily observation to get a chimpanzee troop to feel comfortable enough with human presence for chimpanzee trekking safaris to succeed.
Chimpanzees share 98 per cent of human DNA and much of our behaviors, which is why observing these primates in the wild is so engaging: the Shakespearian politics of a dominant male and his sidekicks, infants playing, sibling rivalries and adolescent posturing, and the incredible athleticism of the great apes as they swing from tree branches or race effortlessly over terrain that would leave an Olympic marathoner panting.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX)
On Kibale Forest’s Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX), visitors trek with a researcher to watch chimps descend from their overnight nests between 6 and 6:30 a.m. You stay with the group all day, observing and photographing the chimps as they forage for fruit, copulate, hunt, breastfeed, rest, patrol, and display until it is time to build new nests in the canopy above the forest floor around 7 p.m.
The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience fee is $220, and the program, available to just four visitors per day who book ahead, runs November, and March through May. The trekking is arduous, because chimps can move quickly over uneven, densely vegetated terrain and steep muddy slopes.
In addition to waterproof shoes with good traction, bring rain gear, insect repellent, hiking gaiters to keep biting ants from crawling up your pants, and a walking stick.
Apart from the chance to spend much more time with the chimps than on a conventional chimpanzee trek, the day affords better opportunities to glimpse other primate species, such as the endangered red colobus and I’Hoest’s monkey.
Naturetrack Expeditions’ specialized primate-specific safaris, usually include park permits and accommodation conducted mostly in the months of April, May, and November, so that our travelers can also take advantage of Uganda Wildlife Authority’s discounts on mountain gorilla trekking permits.
Comparing Chimpanzee Trekking & Gorilla Trekking
Here is the most important fact in comparing chimp and gorilla trekking: chimps spend more time in trees. While gorillas eat and move through the forest on the floor, chimps spend a lot of their day moving through the trees. Watching them swing through the trees or build nests is fascinating but makes them harder to spot, harder to get good pictures of, and it can also make your neck hurt! Sometimes you just have to enjoy watching them and accept that your pictures won’t be amazing.
You’ll find that the chimps make more noise and are livelier than gorillas. You feel like you are in among the group, surrounded by them and it makes the whole chimpanzee habituation experience really exciting in a way that was quite different from the gorilla trekking experience.
The chimp trek is much flatter than the gorilla trek but the forests are quite dense. Because the trek isn’t as strenuous, you’ll have more time to appreciate the forest, to take in the birds and other monkeys that are around!
Like gorilla trekking, chimp trekking requires a permit and the total number of permits per day is restricted. In Kibale there can be a maximum of six guests per group. Unlike gorilla trekking because the treks are not as long, you can go either on a morning or afternoon visit to the chimps. Some people say it’s better to go in the morning because the chimps are sleepy in the afternoon and some people say it doesn’t matter. We went in the morning and they were definitely active!
Just like a gorilla trek you should wear sturdy shoes and layers, including rain gear. Bring gaiters if you have them or tuck your pants into your boots to hinder the safari ants! Gardening gloves to avoid stinging nettles are also a good idea.