Chimpanzees and relaxation in Kibale
Chimp tracking is one of the most popular things to do in Kibale Forest National Park. Uganda Wildlife Authority arrange guided tours in the morning and afternoon, with limited numbers in each group. Before the tracking we had a general briefing with do’s and don’ts, including not bringing any food, and not trying to imitate their calls. We obeyed and kept quiet. You never know what you might say anyway… And I was happy my banana was waiting as a pre-lunch snack when we returned.
It had been raining quite heavily during the night and the morning, so we were afraid we would have to do the chimp tracking in pouring rain. And even more so after we learned that the chimps are not very fond of rain, and mainly stay up in the trees when the ground is wet.
Walking along the dirt road, we suddenly turned left into the woods. The wet green leafs were hanging down, and it sometimes felt like an expedition through a rough jungle.
We had only been out in the forest for about 10 minutes before we heard the characteristic roars from the treetops. Walking closer to the source, we saw two chimps high up above us. I was happy that we had even found any that fast, even though they were at quite a distance. So when one of them decided to climb down towards us, I was trembling with excitement. The large male took a quick look at our group before he decided to saunter on into the woods. We slowly followed him, zigzagging between the lush green trees.
After a short stroll, he found a thick overturned tree lying down on the forest floor. As it was way dryer than the wet leafs all over the ground, he found at peace and settled down. We gathered around trying to get the best angle for overlooking the black beauty, before we were allowed to spread out a bit. Numerous shots were taken by multiple cameras, and it seemed he enjoyed being in the spotlight. After enjoying some fruit for breakfast, he turned on his back to lay down to rest.
It almost felt like he was flirting with us, giving that cheeky “come join me in bed”-look you can see in bad movies. And when we thought it could not get any better, he slightly stuck his tongue out. His age 42 I could handle, but he was a little bit to furry for my taste…
We got curious to know more about Ssebo, and turned to our guide Africano (33) for his knowledge. We had already learned his name and age, and for location he was moving around every day making tree nests in the evenings. Getting to occupation it got even more interesting. Sseebo used to be the “vise president” of the group under the alpha male Magezi. However, in July 2016 the new alpha male Totti took over the lead after years of fights. So now Sseebo does what he likes, which apparently includes flirting with foreigners with cameras.
I must admit I was struggling to cut loose from this charmer, and as most people know the grass is not always greener on the other side, but we went on through the forest looking for some of the others of his group.
After passing elephant-self-protecting trees and hundreds of small mushrooms, we found a group of about 20 chimps up in a tree. Unlike Sseebo, they were shy and preferred to be up in the high. Or, shy would probably be an exaggeration; Two of the chimps had a “quickie” up between the leaves. On the other hand, the average sex among chimps last only 5 seconds, so I guess it was just quite ordinary.
The other chimps were minding their own business. Some were relaxing, the small babies were playing, and most of the others were eating. The main diet is fruits and leaves, but also dry wood for fiber and calcium. And apparently they occasionally hunt down monkeys and small antelopes.
While we were hanging around waiting for some of them to get down, Africano told us more facts about the chimpanzees.
The chimps make sleeping nests in the trees by dragging bushes together to form a platform. As they constantly move along, they have to make a new one every day. The children sleep together with their mothers until the mother has another baby. The oldest then make a small nest beside them. When the offspring is 8 years, they are independent.
When the female is 13, she can have babies, and then leaves her group to avoid inbreeding. An adult female can produce babies every 4-5 years. The chimps live in a sharing community, were all the females belong to all the men, so no jealousy there. The average age is 50 years, and when one of them die, the group hang around and mourn for three days before they move on.
Enough about the chimpanzees, let’s move on to Africano; When Kibale Forest became a National Park in 1993, the people that lived there had to move out to the nearby surroundings. Without getting any compensation. Africano’s family were among them, but despite the fact that they were forced to leave, he decided to study tourism and wildlife to be able to get back to work there. And he was not alone. The Kibale Forest National Park is a very popular place to work. For 20 available jobs, they get more than 1000 applications! To screen them, they have to go through different tests, both physical and written, and have to have a lot of knowledge about the wildlife. If you make it that far, you get to the interview. Respect!
Our time was up, and we had to make our way back without getting any more close encounters with the fascinating hairy creatures. I guess we lost against the wet ground this time, but we could still treasure the time we got with Sseebo.
After activities comes resting
Arriving at Crater Safari Lodge the night before had given me an instant feeling of happiness. Partly as it had been a very long drive from Murchison Falls National Park, but mainly because of the beautiful view in front of us. The pale yellow huts with thatched roofing blended nicely in with the nature and the calm Nyinabulitawa lake. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to a deluxe double room in the front row, directly overlooking the lake. After the chimp tracking, I was longing to get back to have lunch and relax for a bit at our giant terrace. I even had an after-lunch nap in the hammock.
Patches of land where crawling up the hills on the other side of the lake, mixed with banana trees and green grass.
Even though I could spend ages just looking at this view, we figured it would be nice to go for a walk around the area. Passing the local houses, curious kids came running towards us. Most of them were mainly interested in candy though, but since we did not have any, they wanted their photos taken instead.
Time had come to relax a bit again, and I soon found myself slowly swinging back and forth in the hammock yet again, enjoying the stunning beautiful view. This time with the sun shining in my face.
With the sun out, I got on my feet and ordered two ice-cold beers. Soaked in mosquito repellent, I crawled up in the deep outdoor sofa on the terrace, sitting quietly enjoying the scenery and the calming sounds of birds singing in the rain. The sun sadly did not stay for long…
As the darkness was approaching, an owl appeared out of nowhere, and sat on our fence. Soon another one joined the party. What an amazing feeling to have them only a few meters away!
Practical information about the chimpanzee track:
The price per person is 150USD, and it is wise to book in advance. Our driver Hassan had arranged for them and picked them up for us. As my travel companion was based in Kampala, she had given him money in advance to pay for them. As most people are not in that situation, you can contact Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The tours run twice a day; in the morning and in the afternoon
Where to stay:
We stayed in Crater Safari Lodge with full board. It included an a la carte breakfast, and a three course set menu with three choices of main dish for both lunch and dinner. If you are on the road during one of the meals, you can have food packed to go.
The food was tasty and the staff super friendly, but what made the most impression was the amazing location and view, and of course the perfect terrace. We ended up spending hours just sitting relaxing instead of doing any of the multiple activities they offer.
Prices including full board start from 265USD per person in a double room. See the Crater Safari Lodge website for other prices and services.
PS: If you are travelling with kids, they also have family cottages and provide babysitting.