Encounter the Great Apes in Uganda

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Kibale Chimpanzee

In Uganda, gorilla trekking ranks among the absolute highlights of African travel. The highlight and focal point of many, is a visit to Uganda’s tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the extreme southwest. The excitement to first setting your eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is difficult to describe.

An encounter with Uganda gorillas

Set off on a once in a lifetime journey into the lush hills of Uganda to encounter mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild. You take time to observe chimpanzee with a primatologist in Kibale National Park and track the might gorillas in the forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Rolling eastward from the Albertine Rift Escarpment, the tangled forested slopes of Bwindi provide shelter to one of Africa’s most diverse mammalian faunas, including 45% of global mountain gorilla population. In Africa, mountain gorillas are found in two separate locations; the Virunga range of extinct volcanic mountain on the borders of the Democratic Republic of extinct volcanic mountain on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, while other are found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda.

In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, gorilla tourism started way back in 1993, when the Mubare group became the first family to be fully habituated to humans. Today the park is home around 1006 gorillas with 14 fully habituated families available for trekking. It’s more than a day’s drive from the capital Kampala or a quick flight to get to Bwindi Forest, but it’s worth it. Bwindi is a World Heritage Site with over 350 bird species and 200 kinds of butterflies and, thanks to income from gorilla trekking tours, its mountain gorilla population has grown by a third in recent years.

Main Park Activity

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking is the main park activity. It is an unforgettable, life-changing safari experience that can be done every day in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest. The day starts at the Uganda Wildlife Authority Park headquarters in one of Bwindi’s gorilla tracking sectors depending on which you allocated.

Briefing starts at 8:00am, you will get to know the essential dos and don’ts to follow while in the forest. 8 people are allowed to trek each gorilla family, staying for a maximum of 1 hour in their presence. Bwindi Forest is aptly named the ‘Impenetrable’ because it is thick, so pass path through dense vegetation and can be steep.

Take advantage of walking sticks offered at the start of a walk, this will be invaluable to help you keep your balance on steep hillsides. Once on the trail, don’t be afraid to ask for a few minutes whenever you feel tired. Drink plenty of water, and do carry some quick snacks such as biscuits or chocolate. The good news is that in 99% of cases, whatever exhaustion you might feel on the way up will vanish with the adrenalin charge that follows the first sighting of a silverback gorilla.

The gorillas habituated for tourism are in families based at different trailheads. So, when you choose to visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, so be sure to know which trailhead you are allocated before you book your hotel/ lodge in that location.

Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Forest

Now the park has set another new precedent creating an experience for visitors that involves tracking semi-habituated groups. The new experience is called the Gorilla Habituation Experience Gorilla. This is a teaching process for gorillas with an aim of getting them familiar with human presence in their jungle forests.

Gorilla habituation is a long process involving gorilla adaption and only done by gorilla researchers and well-experienced rangers who meet with the gorillas every single day to train and monitor their progress. The Habituation process involves giving names to each gorilla and training them to acknowledge these names, while closely observing their behaviours.

Chimpanzees Tour in Kibale National Park

Kibale National Park is Uganda’s premier destination to see and track the Chimpanzees. This Park protects 766km² of predominantly forested habitat that extends more than 50km south from the main Fort Portal-Kampala Road to the northeast border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Originally gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932, Kibale was upgraded to national park status and extended southward to form a contiguous block with the Queen Elizabeth National Park in 1993.

Chimpanzee Tracking

The trailhead for chimp tracking and main centre of tourist activity within the park is the Kanyanchu Visitors’ Centre. Walks leave Kanyanchu Visitor Centre at 08:00am, 11:00am and 14:00pm and last between 2-5 hours. Early arrival to allow for registration and briefing I recommend.

Our closest cousin, the chimpanzee, shares at least 94% of its DNA with humans. Sociable, communicative and intelligent, one of the chimp’s most astonishing traits is its ability to use tools such as rocks for smashing nuts, empty pods for scooping water and sticks for drawing termite from their nests. Contact time with chimpanzees is limited to one hour; group size is limited to six visitors; participants must be aged 16 or over. Advance booking is essential.

13 species can be sought and a good variety of diurnal monkeys invariable encountered, but the primates of this trail are the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees aside, Kanyanchu offers some superb forest birding and monkey viewing, with the community-run Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, only 5km away immediately outside the park boundary, being a particular highlight in this respect.

Chimpanzee Habituation Experience

This activity enables those who want to spend more time with chimpanzees. Chimpanzee Habituation Experience enables visitors to accompany researchers and habituators into the forest. The chimpanzee groups involved are less accustomed to human presence than those visited on the Primate walk and following and viewing them is both exciting and challenging.

Chimpanzee Habituation Experience is available on a full or half day on a daily basis and advance booking for this activity is required. Early visitors can watch chimps leaving their overnight nests between 6:00-6:30 am before feeding, copulating, hunting, breast feeding, resting, patrolling and displaying until it is time to build new nests around 7pm.

Besides chimpanzee tracking, Kibale National Park gives you an opportunity to do bird watching. It is a good add on to your Kibale National Park visit. Bird watching tours start at 7am at Kanyanchu. Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is located just outside the park and is home to 138 bird species which may be during guided walks along the boardwalk trail and viewing platforms. Rare species include the Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler, White-collared Olive back and Papyrus Canary.

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