Kibale Forest – What to Expect and How to Prepare to See The Chimps

by Sandy Salle on November 7, 2017

Amy Green, our Client Experience Director, recently visited Kibale Forest in Uganda for an African Safari tour.  We hope you get inspired to dream big with Amy’s account of the day.

I woke up, eager to go on my first animal ‘tracking’ experience.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was also a little nervous.  Venturing off into the woods in search of wild animals…were we nuts?  But the excitement far outweighed the trepidation, so off we went.

We were staying at Primate Lodge, located within Kibale Forest – ‘World Primate Capital’, just a short drive to the headquarters.  After ensuring we had sturdy shoes, rain gear, fully charged cameras and plenty of water we were ready to go.   At headquarters our fabulous guide, Eric, helped us check in and prepare for a short briefing.   A national park ranger told us what we could expect on the trek and went through safety precautions, both for us and the chimps.    It is vital visitors are healthy, so as not to introduce any illnesses to the chimps. We were instructed to stay at least 8 meters away, no flash photography, stay together as a group and follow the directions of our ranger/guide at all times.   Check…and off we went for a short drive to our starting point.

The biggest surprise for me was the landscape. I’m not sure what I expected of a ‘jungle’ in Africa, but I could have gotten out of the truck and been in North Carolina!  The forest felt just like the trails we love to wander at home!  The hike was not at all strenuous, with only slight hills, but well-worn trails.  It’s a rain forest so the trails were a bit muddy and at times slick.  The hiking boots were a must.   As we wandered along with our trek guide, Bosco, it was hard to concentrate on the bits he was telling us about the vegetation and sounds all around. We had one thing in mind…find the chimps.  After a while we found what we were after. There were several chimps high up in the trees, quietly grooming each other:  3 males in one tree and a mother and 3 young in another.   The weather was dreary with lots of clouds, so lighting wasn’t ideal, and they were so high up it was hard to get a good picture.  We stayed and watched awhile with some researchers who were patiently observing.  Bosco told them to radio him if they came down out of the trees, and we were going to go wander about a bit.

Yes, it’s best to follow the guy in charge, who does this every day.  He knows what he’s doing.  Not 5 minutes after wandering off he stopped, shushed us and pointed…2 older male chimps were coming up the trail.  These old bachelors were who he was looking for.  Bosco told us, ‘They’re going to run. Are you up for running with them?’.  Well, of course, that’s what we’re here for, right? They were fast!  Occasionally stopping to call out to each other  and beat on the roots of giant fig trees, all to say to others around, ‘We’re over here, come join the fun!’.

We couldn’t believe how far we traveled so quickly.  We finally caught up to these males, resting on a huge fallen tree as if they’d been there all day.  One of the males seemed to have a thorn or something in his foot as he kept picking at it with his teeth.

It was amazing to stand there watching them watch us.  They weren’t in the least bit concerned by our presence.  We had our fill of watching, moving around the space to find the best photo vantage point, eventually leaving them to enjoy the quiet of the forest as we made our way back to headquarters.

Eric was waiting eagerly, all smiles as he’d already heard by radio we’d had a successful trek and ‘run’ through the forest.

Quick tips for a successful chimpanzee trek:

  • Light rain gear is a must – it’s the rain forest!
  • Sturdy hiking boots/shoes with soles with good grip for muddy trails
  • Long sleeves, long pants and a hat – for protection from snags in the jungle
  • Fully charged camera with plenty of space on your memory card (no flash photography)
  • Water and a few snacks in a day bag – the hike can take several hours, so you want to be prepared
  • Be patient! The guide’s goal is for you to have a successful trek, but these are wild animals.
  • Take loads of pictures & video, but do also stop and ‘be in the moment’. Soak it all in.

Are you looking to create memories for a lifetime?  Give us a call at 1-800-940-9344 or email us at hoainfo@hillsofafrica.com – we’d love to hear from you.

Have you been to Uganda?  Share with us in the comments your highlights and tips.

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