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Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda – The Best Place for Chimp Trekking Safaris in East Africa

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda  The Best Place for Chimp Trekking Safaris in East Africa

Kibale Forest Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris – through the Primate Capital of East Africa

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Have you ever seen chimpanzees??? If no, then look no further.... Uganda has a little bit for everyone depending on the interest. Kibale National Park is the best place to be for chimpanzee tracking with over 1500 chimps found here and of course many other primate species. Kibale (pronounced: Chibale) National Park - the Primate Capital of East Africa – is about 5 hours from Kampala in the beautiful west of the country adjacent to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The forest is about 40 minutes from the neighboring Fort Portal town. Kibale Forest is Premier destination in East Africa for Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris with a Sighting Success Rate of nearly 100%. The Disney film Chimps was been recorded here.

Kibale Forest Chimpanzee Trekking Safaris  through the Primate Capital of East AfricaThe Kibale forest was gazetted in 1991 and the chimps began to be habituated in 1993. It takes 2-3 years of someone visiting them every day from 8am to 6pm for them to become used to humans.This Tropical Rainforest - has the world's most dense population of primates - 13 different species found here making the forest worth a visit. Kibale Forest is also home to forest buffaloes and forest elephants, leopards which are rarely seen, pangolins, creatures of the night and other mammals.

Chimpanzee tracking here is twice a day – morning starting at 8.00am and afternoon starting at 2pm. If you are planning to go for the morning trekking however, spending the night before within or near the forest advisable. Trekking the chimpanzees here requires preplanning and securing a tracking permit from the UWA’s Kampala based Central reservations office is mandatory. Although it’s possible for travellers to independently book permits through the UWA, it’s recommended that you book though a local tour operator.

Effective July 1 2020, Chimpanzee tracking permits cost: $200 USD for foreign non-residents, $150 USD for residents and 150,000 UGX for East African citizens. Since Uganda receives a lot of visitors many of whom combine gorilla and chimp trekking in their trip, many of these are also interested in the cheaper - $700 Uganda gorilla permit since the Rwanda one cost $1500. Having said that, regardless of when you are planning to travel - if you have specific dates prior booking of even over is recommended. Short notice bookings of even less than a few weeks may of course be possible but a lot of flexibility is required. Chimp trekking here is not allowed to those under 15 years old.

Kanyancu Visitor Center - Kibale National ParkThe chimp treks start at the Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger station - Kanyanchu Centre - and this where visitors meet for registration, pre-track briefing and orientation. The UWA takes small groups of not more than 6 people plus of course the rangers and porters if requested by any of trackers. The search for the amazing human like creatures starts with your experienced, armed and knowledgeable guide starts. A ranger leads you through the thick forest.

How do we find chimps? The rangers/guides know where the chimps were in the morning (or yesterday – if it’s a morning hike) and so the tracking starts there - follow their tracks and listen for them. As you trek through the forest the ranger makes pauses to explain things to you, point out animals, intently hearing nothing you continue and again listen for the chimps. You won’t know the right direction to take until hearing their pant hooting sound and screaming which keeps getting louder and louder as you move closer. In intervals of a couple minutes, the entire forest may erupt into chimp screeches.

Also, the rangers split up the tracking groups to increase the chances of finding the chimps, and when one team finds them, they contact the other over radio. Once you find them, even though the chimps act really crazy, they don’t seem to mind your presence one bit and will tolerate you walking and running through the jungle with them – Of course, that is only if they decide to come out and get on the ground. You follow, gawk and take snaps for an hour then go. This is because the chimps you are tracking have already gone through habituation process and have gotten accustomed to humans. Chimpanzee Habituation is a 2 or so year process conducted by a team of researchers here. You can join the researchers’ effort by participating in the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience by signing up for the 4-hour chimpanzee experience where you spend four hours observing the chimps after finding them. It used to be an all-day experience but was reduced to 4 hours.

butterfly on a chimpanzee trekk in kibale forestIs it possible that you won’t find them? Yes, but very unlikely. [Note: this is why you should read your disclosure carefully – you are not guaranteed to see them but the UWA does make every effort to ensure that you do.

Why do the rangers carry guns? The guns are for the rangers shoot in the air if an animal becomes aggressive. Some forest elephants are aggressive and a shot in the air will scare them away - so no shooting animals here.

The terrain is mildly undulating and the vegetation far less dense. The hiking itself is not difficult but can be anywhere from under 5 to 3 hours before you find the chimps here – total time can be four hours of walking up and down moderate hills. There is some steepness going up and down the hills but this is generally no more than 5-10 minutes at a time.

If you have a heavy camera and perhaps other items, you might consider the help of a porter, which makes things easier even though the terrain is less demanding. The tracking experience is also entirely different from gorillas, and for the unprepared, can be somewhat frustrating. The things you need to pack are the same as those for the gorilla trek except you may not need to take your lunch with you.

safari ants at kibale forest park - chimpanze trekkingWhat to bring: It is a rainforest – this means that while it is supremely beautiful it is also wet, dark, and dank. You will need a good pair of hiking rubber boots – even simple rain boots will do an excellent job. You will be hiking in the mud – and pretty squiggly mud at that – especially between March-May and September-November. You will want a rain coat and you will need at least one litre of water per person. Tuck your trousers into your socks so that the safari ants don’t find their way up your legs – a deeply unpleasant and may ruin you experience.

If you are into photography, it’s advisable you go for the morning trek, since the light is much better (in the afternoon if you are lucky and find them quickly it's OK but otherwise the light might get lesser and lesser if you don't find them quickly enough). Also, you may consider a zoom minimum of 300 mm. because the chimpanzees tend to move on the highest branches of trees at least 25 meters from the ground. Besides the chimps, being in this very nice forest is also a truly enjoyable experience and your guide teaches you interesting things on birdlife, primates, insects or plants. Always listen to the guides and keep 8m distance from the chimps.

Lastly, experiences are different – the best way to approach any trekking expedition is to go in hoping for the best but managing expectations. While other travellers might have had one of those magical chimp family encounters, yours may be a little less than perfect then allow yourself to be a bit disappointed but also reminded yourself of how grateful you are to be here in the first place. Not everyone has the opportunity to even attempt to trek in Africa so to have that ability in the first place is special.

Please Note:

  • Effective July 1, 2020, the prices for Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale Forest increases from $150 to $200
  • Chimpanzee Habituation Experience increases in from $200 to $250.
  • All Safari trips booked for July 2020 and after will reflect the price increase.
  • Chimpanzee Trekking & Chimpanzee Habituation Experience are not allowed to those under 12 years of age

Should we wish to have any further details concerning chimpanzee trekking, a particular concern or question you might have – please feel free to contact us.

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By Jesse Tom Kitanywa