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A Different Great Ape: Visiting the Chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda

In addition to trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) to see the infamous mountain gorillas, we also went chimpanzee tracking in Uganda's Kibale National Park.

Unless you get bored of animals really easily (and if that's you, I question why you would be on a trip like this in the first place), the chimpanzees are totally worth a stop. Don't be afraid that they aren't as interesting as the gorillas, or that the two experiences will be too similar: they aren't. First, chimp tracking is much easier (a stroll in the forest, really) than hiking to see the gorillas. And it usually takes less time–we hiked easily 2.5 hours or more to see one of the gorilla groups, and the chimps were a leisurely 45 minutes from drop-off. Second, chimps and gorillas are completely different characters, with different social networks, behaviors, mannerisms, etc. And they are a blast to watch.

For example, did you know that chimps nest each night? They are nesters! Each night they create a nest in the trees, and in the morning they "de-nest", and spend a lot of their day on the ground, only to return to the treetops to build a new nest for the next night. They also utilize tools, like sticks for poking out those delicious termites from their holes.

The chimpanzees, like the gorillas, need to be habituated so that we, the humans, can view them in the wild without the chimpanzees scampering away. Habituation isn't just to please tourists; it's used so that researchers can get to know, monitor, and study the population, health, and behaviors of the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees, we were told, are habituated with a single person, who follows them for between 8-12 hours a day, almost every day, for 4-5 years. For many months, they may only be sighted through binoculars. Gradually the chimps grow accustomed to the non-threatening presence of the human, and allow them to move closer and closer. Chimpanzees take longer to habituate than other primates, in part because they do not routinely come together in a single group. After one person is permitted by the chimps to draw closer, the tracker brings a companion so that the animals slowly become used to multiple humans. Eventually, the groups are habituated enough for visitors to come to Kibale and accompany a guide to the tracker familiar with the chimps; these groups have typically been habituated for more than 5-6 years, and usually much longer. The trackers (who have worked to habituate the chimps) know these groups like family–who is pregnant, who is fighting, who wants to be leader next; it's really incredible.

You definitely can get by without gloves, trekking poles, or hiking boots for a visit to see the chimpanzees. Do be aware there are ticks, though, and gators are still a good idea. Of course I wore my infamous bug jacket: the bugs, I thought, were significantly more annoying with the chimps than with the gorillas, but I think this is highly dependent on the weather and season. And..if you are sick, you won't be allowed to see the chimps for their own safety. Human diseases are a serious threat to all primate populations. I don't care if it ruins your holiday, don't sacrifice their health by being selfish. Now removing myself from my soapbox…

I found the chimps harder to photograph than the gorillas, as they are much more animated. If you are going to visit either of these animals, I'd definitely suggest worrying about photos 50% of the time, and spending the other 50% of the time just enjoying. The great apes are absolutely incredible animals.

We stayed approximately an hour away from Kigali, near beautiful tea plantations and right on one of the crater lakes (Lake Nyinambuga) at Ndali Lodge. It was a beautiful area, and I'd definitely recommend the accommodations–they were beautiful, clean, and delightfully unique.

Do you want to visit the chimpanzees? Or have you already? Please chime in below!


Profile photo of Heather Allen

Hi, I'm Heather! I'm a part-time traveler with a love for Africa, warthogs, archaeological sites, carry-ons, and studying disease outbreaks. Err on the side of luxury travel, and always want to look somewhat fashionable while been totally comfortable. With just a short amount of time to travel each year, I try to make the most of it! Beaches, cities, jungles, and the bush--I enjoy it all. Always planning the next trip, exploring the near, and destination lusting.

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