Chimpanzees range across tropical Africa, inhabiting dense rainforest and dry savannah woodland from West Africa to Uganda and Tanzania in the east. If you have ever dreamed about being in the jungles of Africa, crashing through the forests to see the most amazing animals, then chimpanzee trekking in Uganda should be on your list.
The common chimpanzee, along with the pygmy chimpanzee or bonobo, is the closest living relative of humans. Much like us, these highly intelligent and resourceful primates have incredibly complex and sophisticated social structures that have fascinated scientists for decades. Many studies have shown they are altruistic, plan for the future and have a grasp of basic numeracy.
They live in hierarchical social groups of up to 150 individuals, held together by the strong bonds between male chimpanzees. Smaller, lower-ranking males will form coalitions, working together to depose a stronger male. Disputes within groups are normally non-violent, but rival groups are known to engage in organised warfare and other violent behaviour formerly ascribed to humans alone.
All four subspecies of common chimpanzee have been observed using tools and they will often modify items they find, in order to make foraging easier.
Chimpanzees have a complex ‘cognitive map’ of their territory. They use this to repeatedly locate their favourite food sources. Chimps are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. The majority of their diet is plant-based, but they supplement this with insects, eggs, honey and meat.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority offers two experiences when it comes to the chimpanzees. You can do the regular tracking, where you find the chimps and stay with them for one hour, or you can do the slightly more demanding (cost as well as physically) and do the “habituation” which is basically the same thing except you follow a troop of chimps around for the entire day.
When to go Chimpanzee Trekking
Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda is offered all 365 days per year. However, it is certainly much easier to track and get through the forest during the dry seasons. The rainy season makes it much more slippery and there are more bugs. According to Benson, January through March and June and July are the best months to go.
Where to go for chimpanzee trekking
Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda is offered at two places, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale National Park. The latter is the one we went to and highly recommended by everyone. When we were in Queen Elizabeth, they even told us Kibale was better for chimps.
Chimp Tracking Permit – One hour with the chimpanzees in a group of about eight is US$150
Chimp Habituation Permit – You have a whole day to follow the chimpanzees around. Group size is six. US$220
It is a good idea to have your permit before you go to Kibale, especially during the high season since the UWA only allows a certain number of people to do each activity per day. We went in the low season and it was possible to just go to the park and pay for it that day. Every lodge in the area will also assist you in getting the permits, so inquire with them as soon as you book and you should have no trouble at all.
What to bring:
- Appropriate clothing (see our packing list) and shoes
- Garden gloves, gaiters
- Lunch and lots of water
- Good camera with a long lens. When the chimps are in the trees the smaller cameras won’t do much good.