Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda

In Uganda, visitors pay up to 700 USD to spend one hour in the presence of endangered mountain gorillas, the country’s most famous wild residents. Yet, for a fraction of the cost, did you know you can spend an entire day observing chimpanzee families in their natural habitat?

You can track them for an hour (similar to gorilla tracking) for 200 USD, but there’s another, more intimate and immersive option. For 250 USD, the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX) takes you on a fascinating adventure in small groups with our closest living relatives through Kibale Forest National Park from the break of dawn until 7:00pm — or until your feet say so.

It’s a unique, all-day trek and there’s no telling where the chimpanzees will lead you. Their movements are unpredictable —whether it’s uphill, downhill or on even ground, you follow the agile group, sometimes at challenging speeds through dense vegetation, for rare, up-close encounters.

Kibale, a tropical forest of varying altitudes in southern Uganda, is home to 1,500 chimps, the highest concentration in Uganda, as well as the most diverse (13 species in total) and densest population of primates in East Africa. Vervet monkeys, olive baboons and red colobus monkeys are also found in these woodlands, making the forest a primate-lover’s dream. And, with 350 species of birdlife, Kibale will satisfy bird enthusiasts too.

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What You Should Know:

  • The best time for chimpanzee trekking in Uganda is during the low-season months of March, April, May and November when there are fewer tourists, but keep in mind this is also the rainy season.
  • CHEX permits must be booked in advance (the earlier, the better).
  • To prevent transmitting human-borne diseases to the chimps, anyone who is ill (with the flu, for example) is not allowed in the park.
  • A day pack will be required to carry your lunch. (I recommend placing it in a plastic bag in case the food leaks through the paper bag.)
  • The weather is unpredictable, so rainproof gear, including boots with strong traction, is recommended, especially during the low/rainy season when the slopes are muddy. If needed, a heavy-duty rainproof poncho can be rented for 10,000 USh.
  • Don’t forget insect repellent!
  • The foliage can be prickly — a long-sleeved shirt and long pants will protect your skin.
  • Wear hiking gaiters or tuck your pants into your socks/boots to prevent ants from climbing up your legs.
  • With respect to photography, chimpanzees can be challenging to shoot in the dense, shaded forest. Add to that their tree-top lounging habits and swift movements, and you’ll fumble with your camera if you’re not prepared. Use a telephoto lens and increase your ISO to capture sharp images of them in action.

The essence of Chimpanzee trekking

Set off into spectacular Kyabura Gorge, one of the best places in Uganda to spot chimpanzees. Experience the thrill of catching up with the unruly chimps as the forest comes alive with their noisy calls. Conquer the challenging terrain, descending into the steep gorge and crossing the natural log bridges over the rushing river as you keep an eye out for the chimpanzees in the canopy above. Spend two to three hours looking for and enjoying the loveable apes in the company of an expert ranger. Chimpanzee trekking is available year-round, but requires a degree of agility and fitness.

This incredible Kyambura Gorge experience is about so much more than just exploring and discovering chimpanzees at home in their the natural habitat. You will learn about the fascinating ecosystems of Kyambura Gorge’s atmospheric “underground” rainforest, chimp and monkey ecology, diverse vegetation types, and identifying colourful birds and patterns of their behaviour.

In this abundant lush habitat, clasped among the steep slopes of the Kyambura Gorge, resides an assortment of primates including distinguished chimpanzees, the black & white Colobus monkeys, olive baboons and cheeky red-tailed monkeys. Make sure you have your camera ready to snap stunning pictures of these beautiful, human-like creatures in the wild.

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Chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda

Listen as you trek through the forest and you may hear the frenzied hooting of excited chimpanzees well before you catch sight of them swinging swiftly through the trees. Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives sharing 98% of human DNA. Adult males weigh between 35 & 70 kilograms and reach heights of over 3 metres with a life expectancy of 40 years although those in captivity have been known to live up to 60 years. Chimpanzees are sociable, intelligent and communicative. They have the ability to utilize tools including rocks for crushing nuts, emptying pods and using sticks to fish out termites from holes.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is located in the South West corner of Rwanda and is one of the last remaining mountain rain-forest habitats. Blessed with a huge biodiversity the forest is popular with bird watches with over 200 different bird species and 10 different species of primates including little over 500 chimpanzees. These are the last of the Rwandan chimpanzee population. Whilst sightings of the chimpanzees are never guaranteed, other primates may be spotted on your trek including the Colobus monkeys which move in unusually large groups, Silver, Blue, Owl faced, Red Tailed, Crowned and Vervet monkeys, Olive baboons, and Grey-cheeked mangabe.

The forests are also home to vast butterfly and bird-life and a rich plant bio-diversity and Cyamudongo Forest is home to rare plant species which are not found in the Nyungwe National Park such as a new purple orchid which was discovered in 2008. Visitors staying in the Nyungwe properties may trek the chimpanzees in Cyamudongo Forest which is a dense rain forest covering an area of 4km² and is situated between Gisakura and Rusizi. Guided by National Park Wildlife Rangers and a team of trackers who follow the chimps daily and are experts in their movements and behaviour, you will be led through the rain forest accompanied by a porter with the sounds of the birds and wildlife all around you.

Tracking chimpanzees is a little more difficult than tracking gorillas because they move faster and are often high up in the trees, therefore sightings are not guaranteed. The dense rain-forest also prevents the chimps from spending time on the ground so sightings are likely to be in the trees at a distance, however it is not uncommon for chimps to cross the path of visitors since they are required to use the same paths for movement as humans.

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