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A Chimpanzee Resting In The Bush Of Kibale National Forest, Uganda

Uganda: Kibale National Park

Today, we did not have such an early start as we were not due at the Kibale Ranger station until 8 am, so for once we had a leisurely breakfast.

Once we did reach the Ranger station things were a lot more chaotic. There were lots of people milling around trying to register for their chimpanzee treks, both guides and their clients. Uganda’s tourist industry has been around for many years but their processes for handling mass tourism is still lacking organization. So, it took a while before we were checked in after which we were shuffled into a room, for what we thought was a briefing. It turned out to be a ruse to entertain the visitors whilst everybody got registered! All of us sat in the room in expectation, watching a National Geographic film on controlling red fire ants in Texas with a trojan fly. Eventually, everybody was checked in and a level of calm returned to the proceedings. A group of about ten of us were introduced to our Ranger guide, Jessica. Next up was to get to the starting point of our trek, which involved getting back into our vehicles and driving. Unfortunately, some idiot driver had parked his large coach in the car park, despite everyone trying to get him to park in an area a little further away, which had blocked everyone in. After a bit of manoeuvring, we all escaped and were on our way.


We drove about 2km before reaching the start point. We now started our search for chimpanzees, or as Jessica described them our cousins. It was the dry season, and the figs, which are the chimpanzee’s main food source, were in short supply. During this season the large communities break up into smaller groups. Also, during the main fruiting season the chimpanzees call to each other in the forest to alert others when they find a haul of figs. This does not happen outside of the season. Both these factors make tracking chimpanzees much harder. Luckily for us, we had not gone far before we came across a group of 15 or so chimpanzees high up in the canopy of a fig tree. This tree had some fruit remaining and they were happily munching away and dropping things down on us as we stared upwards. Occasionally, they also urinated, which was not quite so pleasant! After a few minutes Jessica pointed out a male chimpanzee who was sitting about 12-foot up in a tree – we had a perfect view to take photographs. This male has been exiled from the group after he had challenged the dominant male, hence he was sitting alone. The consequence of his action was a broken arm – from which he has recovered – but he was still an outcast.

After everyone had taken all the photos they needed, Jessica asked us to turn our attention to the chimpanzees in the canopy. This seemed to piss off our chimpanzee friend who started to shake the tree violently, then leapt to the ground and charged over towards where we were standing. He seemed happier when we started to give him attention again – at least for a while. Jessica told us he was going to charge and for us to stand still. Nothing much happened for a few more minutes – then she warned us again. This time it did happen. Karen was standing at the end of our group, which is exactly where this chimpanzee headed – she was terrified and whilst she tried to video the charge – most of what she caught was the trunk of the tree. How do you top that? Anyway, we stopped for a little longer watching the rest of the troop – and as we were about to leave the whole troop came down from the canopy, so we got some great opportunities to photograph more chimpanzees. Our time was done, and we had to return to the Ranger station. To get back we had to walk through the rainforest, so it was a perfect opportunity to learn more about the plants and trees growing in the forest. After about an hour we arrived back – just in time for lunch!

The indignant male ostracized from his troop
A thoughtful look
A chimpanzee staring skywards toward his fellow chimps in the trees above
Scratching an itch
Chimpanzees grooming one another

COMMUNITY TOUR

Our afternoon activity was a community walk so we were offered the chance to eat our packed lunch at the centre where the walk departed from. We had just unpacked our lunch when there was a commotion from behind one of the other buildings in the compound. A man appeared with a snake dangling from a stick, everyone else gathered around but kept their distance, especially when the snake dropped to the ground. We of course had to go across and check out what was going on. The snake was about 3-feet long and thin with a diamond pattern on the back – which is never a good sign. No one recognised the snake, but we later discovered it was probably some type of cobra! After the excitement had died down, we ate lunch. It was now time for the community walk, which we were very excited about. Our guide introduced himself as Messi (how the mighty have fallen) and he had with him a young lady who was training to be a guide. The tour we were on is run by the community of Bigoto, and the funds raised from these tours go back into the village and to the local school. 

The community centre for tours in Bigodi
Not quite sure what type of snake this is

We first headed along a trail that runs beside the rainforest, where we got to see some of the local wildlife (although this was not a wildlife tour). This path took to the edge of a cornfield where a young man stood on guard protecting the crops from marauding monkeys, who seeming love corn. From here we turned into a field where many crops were growing including coffee, bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados and vanilla. The soil is very fertile, so most things seem to grow well in Uganda. Most farming in Uganda is subsistence farming done on small plots like the one we were walking through. 

As we moved out of the crop field we were taken to a small house and introduced to the ‘Banana Man’. Here we learned about taking the juice of a banana (I didn’t even know this was possible) by mixing bananas with grass. The basic extracted juice was I believe called ‘Vey’ – or something like that. It tasted pretty good. Using this juice and mixing it with black tea, a fermented drink can be made called ‘Tonto’. We tried some and it had a slightly acidic taste and reminded us of kombucha. Finally, he showed how ripened bananas, heated in a kiln, can be mixed with sorghum flour, fermented and distilled to make a banana ‘gin’, locally called Waragi. Of course, we had to try some! It was so good we had to buy some, which came cleverly disguised in a plastic water bottle.

After the banana man, we went to see two ladies taking dried coffee beans and grinding them into coffee powder. We were then served cups of very strong coffee in the cheapest plastic cups, a great antidote to drinking the banana gin!

After the banana man, we went to see two ladies taking dried coffee beans and grinding them into coffee powder. We were then served cups of very strong coffee in the cheapest plastic cups, a great antidote to drinking the banana gin!

I think the plying of the gin was to weaken our resolve to spend money. So, when we were taken to our next stop, the local school, we were ripe for the picking. We had overrun our time on other parts of the tour so sadly we could only do a quick hit and run. As we were introduced to the headmaster, who was quite young, hoards of children of all ages gathered around us with big smiling faces. Some of the youngest children hung lovingly onto the legs of the headmaster as he introduced us to his school, and we asked loads of questions – we learned about the programmes that the school ran. Karen was particularly interested, of course, in the special needs children – or vulnerable children as they are referred to in Uganda. He said that could not easily accommodate them as they had no specialist facilities – including the toilets which they shared with the other children. These children had to crawl across the unhygienic floors of the toilet – horrible! Suddenly, there was a commotion. Two children were carrying a big heavy desk and somehow a small boy hit his head and blood was pouring out of it. Some other teachers appeared, and he was taken away. We had hoped to see some of the classrooms and teaching in action, but we had run out of time – so were we guided towards the headmaster’s office. As we moved to his office we went through a small room, which was full of teachers having their lunch. This was the staff room. Then to the headmaster’s office, which was tiny, about 10-foot square, and very basic. There was a small desk, a bench with slats and no cushions and a cardboard box which served as his filing cabinet. He continued to tell us about the school – this is where the donation request had come into the conversation. We were joined in the office by two young boys who could have been no more than four years old. As the head continued talking these young boys charged around the small office, dipping into the filing box and removing files, which they tried to pass through the barred window to the children outside, who I had already started a conversation with. Chaos! Anyway, we paid our donation, which was written dutifully down in a book – Karen offered to look into raising funding for a toilet for the special needs children and we were on our way to the final stop on the tour. As we left the school, we had more questions for Messi about what we had seen. Apparently, the children come from all around – up to 10km away. Children have to walk to school, so they might have to walk 20km a day just to attend. Education is not free in Uganda – parents have to pay. There appear to be some scholarships, but many children do not get any education. As for special needs children, there is a stigma in Uganda culture, where parents as ashamed to have children with disability. So, they are often hidden away out of sight – you rarely see a disabled person in public in Uganda! We asked about giving pencils and papers to the headmaster to give to the children – but Messi said that we should give directly to the children as the headmaster would likely hoard the materials … good to know. 

As we wandered down the road, we were met by our driver Mugabi. We all bundled into the car and headed to see some ladies who were working on crafts, such as baskets and mats, which they sold to tourists. We explained we had no room for souvenirs, but we respectfully looked over their work. After this, the group of ladies danced and sang for the two of us whilst we sat on little chairs. We made up the entire audience, which felt extremely odd and awkward. Again, we explained about the lack of room in our suitcase and instead made a donation to them and headed out. It was time to say goodbye to Messi and his trainee and head back to Turaco Treetops for dinner.

In summary …

Kibale is one of the best places to go chimpanzee trekking. We had a marvellous experience but like all safaris and nature tours, nothing can be guaranteed. 

About Kibale National Park

Located in western Uganda, 5 hours from Kampala, Kibale Forest National Park covers 795km2 and is predominantly covered in a tropical rain forest. It is one of the best safari destinations in Africa for chimpanzee trekking safaris and has the highest number and diversity of primates in East Africa. There are 13 species of primates including chimpanzees: around 1500 call Kibale home. At the park’s northern tip, Kibale’s highest point stands 1590m above sea level.

Planning your visit to Kibale

The park can easily be accessed easily by air and road. From Kampala to Murchison Falls it is about 4h 30 mins via Kampala – Masindi route (282 km) or 5h 30min via Kampala-Hoima. There are also charter flights from kajjansi Entebbe to chobe airstrip.

Address:Fort Portal, Uganda
Website:https://www.kibalenationalparks.com/
Telephone:T: 256 778 190371
Hours:8.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m

Best time to visit Kibale National Park

Kibale is open for chimpanzee trekking throughout the year. December to February and the months of June and July are the driest months and are therefore the best times for this activity. Walking the trails is easier at these times and the overall experience tends to be more enjoyable.

Best Time December to February and June to July

(Trails are dry, so it makes tracking chimps easier)

High Season June to September

Uganda is busier as it is the most favourable time for gorilla trekking

Low Season March, April, May, October and November

Some camps and lodges are closed)

Best Weather June to July and December to February

Worst Weather April, May and September to November. A lot of rain makes the forest trails slippery, and travel becomes difficult

December to February & June to July –Dry Seasons

  • Dry trails make it easier to track chimps
  • Better chance for a dry hour spent with the chimps
  • The days are lovely and sunny
  • The views aren’t that great as the sky is hazy

March to May & August to November –Wet Seasons

  • Great time for birders
  • The views are spectacular when the clouds lift
  • Rain can make the forest trails challenging
  • Rain might interfere with the experience when watching and photographing the chimps

Turaco Treetops

There are many lodges and places to stay around Kibale We were booked into the Turaco Treetops. The lodge offers en-suite chalets with a large comfortable bedroom. One of our favourite features was the large balcony where you can look out into the rainforest – and if you are very lucky spot primates including chimpanzees.

The drinks here are very reasonable. Whilst we are vegan usually we decided that in Africa it would be almost impossible to stick to a strict vegan diet for our 6-month tour. Turaco Treetops had a vegetarian option at meal times – which was very good (we had a lot of Indian-style dishes!)

The airy bedroom
The bathroom
The spacious balcony of our room at Turaco Treetops

The lodge is small and intimate so you will not feel overcrowded here. From the bar and dining area, you get spectacular views of the rainforest and surrounding hills – a perfect place to relax and enjoy a sundowner or two!

There is also a pool to relax by and a small lounge by the pool.

You can get wi-fi (which as you might expect is not great – no streaming Netflix here!) in the Lodge building and by the pool.

Sunset from the lodge building

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