Kibale National Park located in Southern Uganda and has the highest diversity and concentration of primates in Africa. It is home to a large number of endangered chimpanzees, as well as the red colobus monkey (status: Endangered) and the rare L’Hoest’s monkey (Vulnerable). If you are a bird lover you can find approximately 350 species of birdlife. So keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife that is hidden around every corner.
Excited and energized to start the day we filled our bellies with protein, collected our packed lunch from our lodge and met our driver. We did not have any established expectations. We assumed the trek would be a good warm-up for our upcoming Gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Our driver dropped us at our meeting point around 7:45 am, we signed in and listened to the safety brief. With each word that was spoken, the anticipation built. We would soon come face to face with Chimpanzees in their natural habitat. One of the important directions was to keep a responsible distance between yourself and the wildlife. No flash photography under any circumstances, speak quietly and as little as possible. Of course, definitely no eating near the Chimpanzees. A close primate relative to modern humans Chimpanzees share 97.8% of their DNA genome with us. In the primate family tree Chimpanzees and their species “cousin,” the Bonobo are situated on the closest evolutionary branch to us. Over time they learn to adapt to their environment and have even developed tools for survival.
We were grouped into a team of 6 trekkers with a Uganda Wildlife Authority Ranger, named Africano.
About ½ hour in we spot 2 chimpanzees high up in the trees, it was quite hard to see them and even more difficult to photograph them. As we sauntered through the dense forest, scanning for tell-tale signs like expert trackers, Africano observed fresh scat (aka, poop) ears scanning for noises and eyes peeled for fresh tracks. Then, he remembered where he found the chimps the previous day (that certainly sped things up). One hour in and we spotted a female and baby, it is fascinating how human-like they appear. Their interactions with one another are so familiar, you can almost make sense of their unspoken communication.
Chimpanzees move quickly and set a demanding pace. You have to be fleet-footed if you want any chance of seeing them. You could hear them as their callings echoed through the trees. We did our best and kept up with Africano until we hit the mother load. We counted 15 Chimpanzees in fig trees feasting on the fresh fruit.
We were captivated by how they played with each other, such a large family with its own dynamics and deep relationships. They were completely in their element and our presence did not seem to concern them. What a priceless experience we felt very lucky and hoped the moment wouldn’t end. Our cameras clicked, lenses and shutter worked their magic, we knew would have a mountain of photos to sort through. We made sure we took the time to put our cameras down and just watch in awe, soaking it in and revelling at the moment. They came close to us, I guess no one told them it was against the rule. Moosh had the pleasure of a very close encounter that will stay with her forever.
The hour disappeared very quick. It did not feel like enough time we hoped we had captured the perfect photo. We knew the experience would be with us forever. With such rich memories…the perfect photo is less important.
Chimpanzees, unfortunately, are facing extinction due to human conflict, poaching and mobile phones. Yes, you heard that right mobile phones. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been afflicted by war and civil unrest funded in large part by the demand and mining of columbite–tantalites. Coltan (as it is called) is a mineral used in electronics like mobile phones and batteries for electric cars. So next time you want the latest phone, just give a thought to the Chimpanzees. You can recycle your old mobile phones with various charities around the world:
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