Chimpanzees and Bush Elephants!
I’ve recently come back from a marvellous trip to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. Here’s part of my recollections of my journey that completely exceeded all expectations.
No Uganda safari holiday is worth its salt if you don’t go and see the chimpanzees in Uganda (other primates are available too). After spending the first night in Entebbe to freshen up and catch up on emails I travelled across to Kibale National Park.
The highlight of my first few days in Uganda was an early morning forest trek in search of the Chimpanzees. Kibale Forest National Park is a beautiful, evergreen, tropical forest and is the place to see Chimpanzees along with 13 other primate species. There are roughly 1500 chimpanzees in Kibale National Park. It had rained the previous night and our ranger guide did warn us that they don’t like to come down from their nests when it’s wet on the forest floor, so my hopes were ‘dampened’ somewhat. Nevertheless, the small group of 6 marched on through the forest, walking past and under trees that are over 200 years old!
I could hear them, not too far in the distance, their chatter carrying through the forest in ways that we, as distant cousins, would think were shrieks of anger. Reminiscent of many households around the world with teenagers I thought! Our guide assured the group it was completely normal, it was just their very expressive way of communicating. The nests of the Chimps are way up high in the in the forest canopy, so when walking through the forest you are constantly looking up then down, so you don’t trip up over a vine or a tree root, then looking back up to try and get a glimpse of the chimpanzees.
Now that’s all well and good but I forgot to mention that in the briefing meeting prior to starting out the head ranger did warn us that there are a number of bush elephants in the forest! Okay, the forest covers a very big area, I thought. The chances of seeing a bush elephant in the 795km2 park wouldn’t be that high, I thought! So we’re are all looking up to see the chimps when one of our group looked to the left of us and standing 20 metres away, camouflaged very well, was a bush elephant! In a split second I saw two tusks and a red head and trunk!
You’ve got 2 options in this situation.
- stand still and hope you’re down wind of it
- walk away slowly from the elephant.
Our ranger chose the third option! She said “run”! I didn’t need to be told twice. I never knew I could run so fast in my hiking boots! It was all very exciting. In all honesty the bush was very thick and the elephant probably wouldn’t have done anything but I wasn’t about to find out if it was friendly!
After catching our breath, waiting a while to make sure we weren’t followed (I had visions of the elephant tip-toeing behind a tree and shouting boo, just my warped sense of humour), we continued on the journey through the forest.
I could hear them again (listen above), they were very chatty. The sun was out and the dappled sunlight was streaming through the trees. We stood under the trees where the nests were built. You definitely know you’re in the right place as every now and again you’d hear a thud on the floor, then another. The chimps were throwing fruit from their nests on to us. A little bit of sport, they were probably laughing as they saw us hopping out of the way of the soft projectiles!
Slowly, after waiting patiently, a few of the chimps descended from their nests to see what all the fuss was about. It was an exciting moment; finally I would see my first wild Chimps. I couldn’t wait. One elder statesman sat on an old trunk and surveyed his audience. His piercing brown eyes looking at me, I suddenly felt as though I was being judged. Did he like what he saw? Fortunately he didn’t stare for long; otherwise I would have got a complex! He was joined by a few more of the gang, checking us all out. A familiar call from another member took them back up a tree to see what was going on. You could see how they communicate with their group, witnessing their facial movements and their calls was so interesting. Observing their movement along the tree trunks and branches and their obvious dexterity and skill made me think I must try yoga or something when I get home!
Their strength evident in the ease by which they climbed back up the tree and vines. I was lucky to see a few more of the family come down for a visit. The Chimps all varied in ages. We learnt that one of the groups’ high ranking males had broken his arm when he was young, the ranger told me how he had survived and thrived. It was a story that David Attenborough could have made a programme out of!
It was truly a wonderful experience to see these wild creatures close up. All in all I was with them for just over an hour but you can also go on a Chimpanzee Habituation Experience which lasts all day. You spend time with a group who are getting used to the presence of humans and really learning a great deal about the Chimps, how to identify them and how they live and survive. It’s well worth the extra to really get close to them and come back with a camera full of images!
It was the quickest hour of my life so far but the walk back to the vehicle was taken up with tales of escaping wild elephants and the wonderful sightings of Chimpanzees in their natural habitat. It was a once in a lifetime morning!
I find out, through the rest of the trip, that Uganda is full of “once in a lifetime’s”.
I would highly recommend Uganda for your next African adventure.
If you would like to experience the Chimpanzees and the other beautiful and amazing experiences of Uganda please call us on 01342 302555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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