Up close and personal with chimpanzees

It may sound really random to you, but I have always wanted to see chimpanzees in the wild. Growing up, I was inspired by Jane Goodall, a badass ecologist who conducted groundbreaking research on chimpanzees by living in the field in Tanzania and watching their behavior. She immersed herself into the chimp’s habitat and studied their complex society and was the first to record use of tools by the chimpanzees. I actually got to see her give a talk at an IUCN conference in Hawaii and she was so inspiring and I loved her passion for conservation. When researching things to do in Uganda and I saw chimp trekking as an option I knew I absolutely had to incorporate that into my trip.

We departed Murchison Falls National Park early in the morning, making a stop at the lookout of Murchison Falls and getting up close to this extremely powerful waterfall, actually when I googled it I found out it is the most powerful waterfall in the world, which makes sense because there was so much water flowing it was crazy. 

After the falls we began our drive to Kibale Park, the primate capital of the world. We had a lunch before the park at a lovely pizza place where we ate outside on their deck and listened to yet another thunderstorm, it was cozy and perfect and our lunch was delicious. Then we moved on to check in to our hotel. This was not only my favorite hotel of the trip, but maybe my favorite hotel I have ever stayed at. It is called Isunga Lodge, and it is owned by a Scottish people who decided to quit their jobs back home and move to Uganda. They had three super cute dogs, and they were vegetarian meaning the food offered there was out of this world good. We stayed for two nights there, and stayed in the cutest cottage with simple and cute African decorations. The cottages are on a hill, meaning they are extremely private, but also means that we got a good workout.

Our lovely cottage

The dining area was open-air, and had the most beautiful view of Kibale Park below. We had our yummy welcome drips as we took in the views. There was a huge tree near the seating area that was filled with weaver birds that were building their nests, it was so cool to see up close. Since we had some time this afternoon we decided to get massages, which were only $15 for a half and hour and it was so good! At night they lit a campfire that we sat next to, and the food was outstanding. The first night we had paneer with their homegrown tomatoes and veggies with a side of chapati, some amazing fried veggie pakora as an appetizer, and a decadent chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. It was fabulous 10/10 recommend this place.

Weaver bird

The next morning we left early and headed to the chimpanzee ranger station where we signed in and waited for our briefing. The rangers split us up into small grounds of 2 or 3, and assigned us our guides. We got back into our car and drove a small distance to the start of our trek. Chimpanzees don’t stay in one place, meaning you never know how far you have to look to find them. The day before the groups had to hike quite a distance to find them, so we came prepared with loads of water, insect spray, and snacks. We were put in a group with a Floridian woman named Sheryl who was solo-traveling Uganda. She travels every year which is really inspiring and I hope I can follow in her footsteps and continue following my passion of exploring the world. Anyways, the three of us started our hike and within five minutes we heard really loud calls in the woods, which soon learned were the chimpanzees.

In no time at all we came up to our first chimps. We also lucked out because we saw so many on the first floor instead of up on the trees. We saw a total of around 13 individuals, some of which walked right past us with no care in the world. They were habituated to humans, so they weren’t freaked out by our presence. The highlight for me is how they communicate, they are super loud and screech and bang out the chimps to tell eachother where they are. It was so cool to watch up close that it made me emotional and I cried like a baby.

The happiest humans in the world

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with emotion when I see amazing natural wonders, and I hope with all my heart that my future children can someday return here and get to experience this. Humans are negatively impacting so many animal populations worldwide, but it seems that Uganda really understands the importance of conservation and sees how much money ecotourism can bring in, so the chimp population has increased. I recently read a paper summarizing the Kibale chimps population over the past 30 years, and they stated that chimpanzees have thrived despite habitat degradation, and that there has been an increased birth rate over time, suggesting improved feeding conditions. But worldwide, chimpanzees are considered endangered, numbers decreasing due to habitat loss and fragmentation, killing for meat, and the pet trade.

We learned that all chimps are born with a pink face, but when they grow up their skin color can change, some stay pinkish while others get black. They are also extremely strong and can hunt large animals like antelopes and other monkeys, especially colobus monkeys. Also, humans and chimpanzees share 95 to 98 percent of the same DNA, which blows my mind how closely related we are.

Check out this chimps foot, it uses its big toe like a thumb to grab branches

We stayed with the chimps for about an hour, staying pretty close the whole time. As we were leaving the other groups who didn’t find the chimps yet passed us to go watch them, so we definitely lucked out to find them first and so close. After the trekking, we returned to the Isunga Lodge for an incredible bean burrito and a pineapple dessert. Then we did an afternoon guided walk around the Bigodi Wetland where we saw even more monkeys, load of birds, and beautiful plants. The walk was a few hours long, then we returned to the hotel for an incredible dinner and we went to bed pretty early since I was exhausted from a fun and exciting day.

Beautiful swamp walk

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