Chimpanzee Tracking in Kibale National Park has been on my bucket list for over five years until last weekend.
A few weeks ago, l got an invitation from Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary to join them at a Conservation Media Camp in Kibale National park.
Led by Lilly Ajarova, the newly appointed Uganda Tourism Board Chief Executive Officer, we assembled at the briefing center of Kibale National Park.
There, we were told about the history of the park, as well as the ‘does and don’ts’ while tracking.
Godfrey Baryesiima, the Head of Tourism Department at Kibale National Park took us through the session saying that the park is 22 kilometers south east of the cleanest city in Uganda, Fort Portal town.
The park has 13 species of primates including 1500 chimpanzees and sits on 795 square kilometers.
It also has different kinds of mammals like African elephants and Buffalos, over 375 species of birds and contains one of the loveliest, most varied tracks of tropical forest in Uganda.
“Kibale National Park joins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the southern sector and Sebitoli in the North of Kibale,” Baryesiima said.
He also advised us to carry a bottle of drinking water, urged us not to litter the park and above all not to mimic the chimps at any point because we don’t know what they may be communicating to each other.
“While tracking chimpanzees, you must use all your senses to be able to track well; listen to chimp’s sound, see their droppings and look out for their nests,” he said.
The park only allows 36 people per shift of tracking. The 36 people are divided into six groups and each is given a Ranger.
“Those with cameras, do not use a flash light because it affects the eyes of the chimp which might force them to charge and attack you,” Baryesiima cautioned us.
Gordon Akampurira, dressed in a camouflaged army green outfit, walkie in one hand and AK 47 in the other introduced himself as our Ranger.
Asked why he carried a big riffle, he said might want to short in the air to scare off violent big animals.
Akampurira has worked as a ranger for five years but says he has had to use his gun twice.
While trekking up and down the forest for over 45 minutes, our ranger would get radio calls from his colleagues, asking if he had sighted the chimps.
Finally, we landed on a spot where the primates had spent the previous night. From here, we were told, they wouldn’t be far.
Suddenly, we could hear the chimps’ sound like they were performing at a concert. We are told that they were making their way to have lunch.
It was a group of over 40 chimps with their alpha male leading the way. This particular alpha male, according to the ranger is called Enfunzi meaning “orphan” because he lost his mother as a child.
The chimpanzees climbed up the hill as we followed them.
Out of the blue the hungry Chimps surrounded me. l quickly looked around to find my shield, which in this case was going to be the ranger, although he was a little distant from me.
l panicked and ran to him.
Little did l know that l was going to be caught up in the middle of a fight between two chimps that wanted to prove superiority to one another.
I held tight onto the ranger’s arm, and couldn’t let go.
“Hold me, don’t get scared, don’t move and if possible close your eyes,” the ranger told me.
At this moment, I was not even blinking. It was like l had an episode of a blackout in my brain, only to look down and notice we were standing in a path of red ants that were crawling up our shoes and legs.
I shake a bit but the ranger holds me tight and says, “don’t get scared”.
Meanwhile, the bigger chimp wins the fight and the other hits a tree in anger, which made a loud sound.
This took around five minutes but it felt like a whole hour.
When all the chimps climbed up the trees, that was when I jump up and quickly put off my shoes.
The ranger helps me get my shoes that I had thrown in different directions. He repeatedly told me “sorry” as I used all possible means to removed the ants off my legs.
The chimps were now up in the trees feeding and somersaulting from one tree to another which made dry leaves fall like rain; Paradise!
My eyes have turned red, my legs uncomfortable and am trying to put my shoes back on.
The Ranger makes the announcement that we are about to embark on our journey to the reception.
We start moving and mid way the ranger looks back with a smile and says “Are we lost” we all look at him and laugh at his joke because we don’t expect him to get lost in a forest he has worked in for five years.
Finally, we get back to the reception and he congratulates us and tells us the rates for visiting the park.
The park’s entrance fee for East Africans is 20,000 UGX and tourists from outside East Africa are charged 40 US Dollars.
For activities like Chimp Tracking, East Africans pay 100,000 UGX and 150 US Dollars for foreign tourists.
Chimp Habituation full-day costs 150,000 UGX for locals and 200 US Dollars for foreign tourists.