CHIMPANZEE TRACKING IN KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
Overview: Kibale National Park, 795km2 wide located in western Uganda. The park, with characteristics of lowland rainforest, woodland, bush, grasslands, and wetland vegetation, touches into Kamwenge, Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Bunyangabu, and Kasese Districts. The terrain of the forest starts from a minimum of 1,100m above sea level in the south, rising to 1,590m in the north, was gazetted forestry reserve in 1932 and then turned national park in 1993. Kibale forest has a moist temperate climate with an average day temperature of 270C /810F and the night at 250C/ 590F and 1,800mm average annual rainfall. The dry seasons Dec-Feb June and July while Mar-May receives mild rains. The period Aug-Nov receives the highest amounts of rainfall with heavy storms sometimes raining on for some days. The mean annual temperature of areas around the Kibale forest is 240 Celsius. These pleasant weather and climatic conditions suitably support no less than 350 luxuriant plant and tree species with favorable conditions for thriving and survival of huge wildlife presence. Kibale National Park is home to different mammal species; notably 13 primate species, in excess of 320 bird species, reptiles, insects amongst many others. Kibale National Park has a huge worldwide reputation because of high population of chimpanzees, chimpanzee tracking, and habituation safaris and expeditions.
CHIMPANZEE (Pan troglodytes) is an ape resident in the wilderness sharing 98.7% DNA with humankind’s closest relative in the wilderness. Chimpanzees’ body is covered in black hairs save for the face, hands, toes, and hindquarters. Chimpanzees have long arms and legs with five fingers and toes. Thumbs separated from other fingers and toes help in grasping and holding onto items, using tools, and stabilizing movement. Chimpanzees naturally walk on both legs and arms; knuckle-walking. Occasionally chimpanzees hold items in their hands and walk only on their legs when carrying, transporting, delivering, or transferring them.
Behaviors Chimpanzees are social mammals and live in communities sometimes reaching 250 members under command of an alpha male. They split up into smaller groups in the mornings to access survival resources with ease. The alpha male is an authoritarian. He ensures security to community members, discipline in the group, direction and course of movement, feeding and watering areas and controls routine activities. The alpha male enjoys privileges of mating and feeding rights. Chimpanzees leave their nests at daybreak, search and move to areas with plenty of food. They take siesta at noon, engage battle drills and mock fights, play games, guard, sentry and patrols, curdling and grooming. They feed one last time close to evening, and make nests around sunset for the night. They are very quiet and inactive in the night except if there is any threat largely by predator, thunderstorms or wild bush fire.
Chimpanzees are omnivores with huge options for diet. Fruits, plants, fresh vegetation, shoots, barks, rhizomes, root tubers, nuts, eggs, insects, grasses, form main diet. Chimpanzees hunt in groups, capture and feed on small antelopes, reptiles, birds, monkeys, rodents besides capturing fish in shallow streams, swamps and ponds of water. Chimpanzee preferred natural habitat is rainforest with plenty of trees that ensure reliable fruit supply though they easily adapt and seasonally inhabit woodland, grasslands and visit wetlands for survival resources.
Threats Chimpanzees are categorized Endangered with average 180,000-300,000 only individuals remaining on the globe; 800 only individuals estimated in Budongo Forest Reserve. Chimpanzees may live up to 35 years old in their natural habitat. Predators for chimpanzees in the wilderness include leopards, lions, and crocodiles. Diseases, bush fire, droughts are other natural threats to chimpanzees. Humankind remains the greatest threat to chimpanzee life survival; illegal international wildlife traffickers, capture for zoos, cinema, pets and scientific research. Some indigenous community members trade in chimpanzee body parts for rituals and ceremonies, hunt chimpanzees for game meat, set bush fires that destroy their habitat while others poison, lay traps and kill chimpanzees that encroach on their farmlands. Chimpanzees contract human diseases and unnatural behaviors through uncontrolled human interactions, careless disposal of human waste, littering amongst others.
Comparing chimpanzees with humankind
- Humankind and chimpanzees have 98.7 DNA resemblances. Chimpanzee can do most of the things humans beings do though at a slower pace.
- Chimpanzees like humankind have similar dental number and structure like human beings; molars, premolars, incisors and canines
- Chimpanzees use tools to achieve their objective. They dip long sticks into water bodies to estimate depths, they use stones to crack hard nuts or sticks to scoop ants from anthill or honey from beehives.
- Like human beings, chimpanzees are highly social mammals that live in groups of related extended families. Each member in the family plays some role depending on age, gender and ability.
- Female chimpanzees often birth one baby (twins are possible) at an average 2 year interval. The baby is hairless at birth and solely dependent on mother suckling on mammary glands and warmth. Female chimpanzees take turns in caring for infants.
- Chimpanzees have same number and make use of senses like human beings. They have forward-looking face, have color vision, detest poison by scent and have acute sense of hearing.
- Chimpanzees have a high sense of intelligence, awareness and thinking capacity. They have smaller brain size than human but memorize yearly events and trends. They plan course of action based on previous events.
- Chimpanzees have similar body structure; bones, muscles as human beings.
- Life and survival of entire chimpanzee family is possible if every individual is alive, alert and able to pass on message to others if they detect threat. Chimpanzees plan group course of activity sometimes days into the future
- Chimpanzees use gestures and body gestures similar to human beings to communicate. They shake hands, hug, kiss, whistle, hold hands, cuddle, extend hand to make request and many others
- Chimpanzee, like human beings, show emotions depending on conditions on ground; they celebrate, feel joyful and show excitement for achievements like bumper fruiting season, heavy meals or birthing of babies. They show signs of gloom, empathy, sadness or take revenge when faced with danger; sickness of individuals, bush fire, injuries to individuals,
- Chimpanzees largely walk on both legs and arms; knuckle walking. However, sometimes chimpanzees hold, transfer, carry items in hands and walk on legs only.
Chimpanzee tracking; thrilling outdoor activity that involves entourages of adventurers and travelers exploring forests and wilderness with forest rangers, porters and escorts on the lookout of families of habituated chimpanzees.
Best tracking time: trends of chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Park are directly related to weather and climatic conditions of the time. Note; a combination of factors; season, altitude, strong winds, vegetation and plant cover, large water bodies, human activities, tropical sun, position along the equator line amongst others, determine weather and climatic conditions at a time. Therefore, temperatures may burn hot in rainy season or rain for a few days in dry season.
Dry Season: December, January and February are the driest months of the year. June and July average daily temperatures range between 150C/590F in morning and 270C /810F afternoon, early morning are most favorite times for chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Park. Chimpanzee tracking is very competitive during the dry season. The chimpanzee tracking permits and safari camps get fully booked. Chimpanzees move deeper into the forests in search of food.
Rain Season: March, April and May are typical rain seasons characterized by rains with brief breaks that may go on for some days. August, September, October, and November receive the highest amount of rainfall. The weather is very wet most of the time, raindrops for streams, rivulets, pools of mud, flood trails, and sometimes wash off footbridges. Vegetation mushrooms, there is plenty of fresh food and chimpanzees move nearest to trail systems. Visitor bookings reduce; safari camps offer promotional rates and fees for chimpanzee tracking permits discount.
Guidelines Some guidelines for smooth, safe, and successful chimpanzee tracking expedition in Kibale National Park:
- Procure tracking permit through trusted travel agency. The permit specifies names, travel agency, date and time/ shift of tracking, residence status, fee paid amongst others
- Assemble at Kanyanchu visitor centre along Fort Portal- Kamwenge Road on the date and time of tracking an hour to tracking time
- Chimpanzee tracking has 2 shifts 8am and 15pm. Assemble to respective shift an hour before start of exercise.
- Chimpanzee habituation starts from 7am to 6pm gives visitors entire day experiences with chimpanzees
- Declare health status, confirm booking and make final preparations
- Chimpanzee tracking is restricted to individuals above 15 years
- Rangers form groups of 6 visitors each and assign forest ranger guide, escorts and porters
- Carry lunch box and 2litres of drinking water / non alcoholic drinks
- Chimpanzee tracking is group activity. Keep together in the forest.
- Keep voices down, pay attention to the forest guides
- Don’t eat, drink or smoke close to chimps
- Maintain proper hygiene. Do not spit in the forest. Request permission for calls of nature
- Do not litter in the park. Bin any non recyclable item in gazetted places
- Visitor spend one hour or less interacting with chimpanzees depending on conditions on the ground
- Estimate and limit 8m distance between chimpanzees as health precaution
- Deactivate flash and loud clicks in camera for it irritates chimpanzee
- Deactivate GPS on electronics before venturing into forest
- Do not mimic chimpanzees, show body gestures or make abrupt body shifts. Chimpanzees make violent reactions if they feel uncomfortable or threatened
- Use appropriate dressing that suits climatic conditions at the time of tracking chimpanzees.
- Chimpanzee tracking is averagely 4 hours exercise. Endeavor to carry only necessities into the forest. Make use of porters at a small fee to enjoy the entire expedition
How to dress up No one has ever failed to complete the chimpanzee tracking expedition because of bad dressing. However, pre-planned dress code may ease the chimpanzee tracking expedition and give the adventurers astounding wilderness experiences. Major points to bear in mind for dressing code; weather and climatic conditions (rainfall, tropical sun), plant and vegetation cover (some plants are thorny, poisonous, have a nauseating smell) other resident wildlife species (biting, stinging, and crawling insects, charging buffalos) in the forest and natural terrain of the forest (rivers and streams, steep hills and slopes, marshy areas and swamps). Pack sets of clothes that suit the above environmental conditions and circumstances.
- Face masks
- Long sleeved safari shirts, blouses, jumpers and tops preferably in dull colors
- Safari trousers in Khaki, jeans or track suits in dull colors
- Water proof hiking boots, rubber boots
- Light Rain gear, poncho
- Warm clothing; light in dull colors
- Strong stockings
- Elderly and disabled visitors may need a walking stick; can improvise on site
- Hand garden gloves
- Head gear; round hat, cap, head scarf
- Sun glasses appropriate in dry season
- May need changing clothes in any color, design for onward safaris
What to carry; What adventurers pack for chimpanzee tracking safaris may give the expedition great experiences. Look into making maximum use of available opportunities to make the expedition extremely exciting.
- Back pack
- Rechargeable camera batteries
- Phone charger
- Food box
- Water bottle
- Simple personal first aid items
- Field guide book, note book, pencil, pen, eraser
- Strong rechargeable flash light
Accommodation; Primate Lodge; an upscale safari camp is a stone throw to Kanyanchu visitor Centre. It is an ideal base to launch or rewind, relax and rejuvenate chimpanzee-tracking expedition in Kibale National Park. Multiple safari camps and lodges litter the forest edges in neighborhood areas of Bigodi, Nkingo, and Isunga. Kibale forest camp, Kibale safari lodge, Rweteera safari park, Isunga lodge, Kibale guest cottages, Crater safari lodge, Nkuruba nature reserve, Chimpanzee forest guesthouse, Chimpundu Safari Lodge. Fort Portal City and Kamwenge town are with all categories of urban accommodation are a little distance close. Kyaninga Safari Lodge, Mountains of the Moon, Ndali Lodge, Aramaga Safari Camp and a few others offer highly commendable safari camp experiences and are within easy reach.
Accessibility: Easiest travel to Kibale national park and Kanyanchu visitor center 320km / 4 hours’ drive from Kampala is through Mityana and Mubende. Fort Portal city in the foothills of Ruwenzori Mountains is the nearest recognizable urban center. Travelers in western Uganda can access Kanyanchu through Mbarara, Ibanda, and Kamwenge or Mbarara, Kasese, Fort Portal route. Travelers from northern Uganda get to Masindi, Hoima, Kyenjojo, Fort Portal route. Airfields in Kasese and Fort Portal towns allow private charter flights.
Other tourism activities close to Kibale National Park
Forest walk; Kibale forest is home to other wildlife species besides chimpanzees; 15 other primate species, beautiful butterflies, various tree species, and plants amongst others. The forest is so beautiful to adventurers’ keen eyes, raising curiosity and temptation for exploration. There are opportunities for both brief walks taking a few hours or long trek walks that take a few days.
Birds; Kibale forest hosts more than 320 bird species inclusive of unique Albertine rift endemic species; blue headed sunbird, red-faced woodland warbler, collared apalis, dusky crimson wing, Black capped apalis, purple-breasted sunbird amongst others. Kibale forest is an Important Birding Area and an ideal destination for bird watching expeditions for travelers on tour of Uganda.
Community tour; the Batoro and Bakiga are indigenous communities surrounding Kibale forest. The lifestyles, dressings, homestead set up, rituals and ceremonies, traditional foodstuffs, hand tools, art and crafts amongst others of the neighborhood communities are tourist attractions in their own way. Travelers visit indigenous communities to share unique life experiences.
Bigodi wildlife sanctuary is wetland with swamp vegetation on the edges of Kibale forest. The swamp hosts a variety of beautiful wildlife species rarely spotted on chimpanzee tracking expedition in the forest. The walk in the sanctuary is an opportunity to meet up, interact and share life experiences with communities in the neighborhood.
Crater and tea estate tour the Kasenda area close to Kibale forest experienced great volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The area has a lot beautiful craters, crater lakes and other land features of volcanic activity. The tea estate tour gives travelers an opportunity to get tea planting, care, harvesting and processing experiences.
The Royal Palace tour; Kibale National Park is located in Toro Kingdom. The kingdom has a cultural King who administers traditional and cultural roles. A tour to the King’s palace at Harukoto gives visitors a closer look into the traditional lifestyles of the Batoro people.
Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru; is a land feature formed by tectonic and volcanic forces. The caves have important cultural significance to the indigenous Batoro people.