Often referred to as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda boasts diverse landscapes ranging from dry savannahs in the North to Lake Victoria, and lush tropical rainforests. Neighbouring Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, this beautiful, complex country is also home to thousands of gorillas and chimpanzees.
Kibale National Park alone is home to over 1,200 members scattered across 20 families, making it one of the most densely inhabited chimpanzee havens. Spotting them however, is far from easy. We join travel enthusiasts Riccardo Zennaro and Linda Jonsson as they trek several hours through dense, humid forests in search of these elusive primates.
At Papaya Lodge the alarm goes off at 3.45 AM. Outside, Africa sleeps and there is no noise except the faraway crickets and the last drops of rain falling from the roof after the end of a long night downpour. The smell of rain and kerosene lamps fills the air. In the very far distance, the Rwenzori Mountains on the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo are visible thanks to the rising moon. The roads leading to Kibale National Park are deserted and muddy as they twist and turn through small villages.
At 6 AM the park rangers are yet to arrive so there is enough time to prepare for the hike. The leader of the trek explains that chimpanzees share about 97% of their DNA with humans which makes them our closest relative. He goes on to tell the hikers that chimps usually spend their days collecting and eating food and taking care of their family members through grooming. Chimpanzees build their beds high off the ground and change the location of the beds every day to avoid predators, such as leopards.
Kibale offers a habituation experience which is a trek with a smaller group to locate chimps that are yet to be familiarized with humans. With some luck, one can spend up to two hours in very close proximity to the chimpanzees.
On the other hand, chimpanzees may also decide to stay far up in the trees for hours which makes them difficult to spot. In that case, one must be very patient and hope that they eventually come down in search for water and food. When this happens, the chimps may literally walk right in front of you, a unique experience that makes the long hours and sweat worth it.
The morning flies by quickly and despite the rainy season the sky only remains cloudy with just a few drops of rain. Although it is only 12 PM it feels like late afternoon already. After hours of intense walking through the forest, it is time to bid farewell to this beautiful, pristine environment and its chimpanzees. A certificate is signed by the local authorities and handed over to the visitors who one by one, slowly walk back to the main gate, tired but happy about this incredible Ugandan adventure.
The trip to Kibale National Park took place in April 2022. Many thanks to Ancient Africa Safaris, in particular to Henry and Godwin.