The Perils of Chimpanzee Tracking, April 2005

Well I find myself in Kampala today – the capital city of Uganda.  But I’m not really a city person, so after raiding the English bookshop in town and grabbing a decent Ugandan latte I will be leaving the urban scene again tomorrow to travel to Sipi Falls – a magnificent waterfall in a forest at the base of Mt Elgon in Eastern Uganda, near the border with Kenya.  I got a tip that there’s some beautiful Scandinavian style cabins for $15 a night that overlook the falls – so I will celebrate my Birthday tomorrow in style (Ugandan style!).

I have spent the last couple of days in Kibale Forest National Park in South-Western Uganda tracking chimpanzees in my latest adventure.  The forest is an amazing place – you feel as if you are being swallowed by it as you step within its confines – dense liana, vines and mossy trees envelope you as you peer through filtered light from the canopy above.  There are about 1400 chimps in Kibale Forest, with a group of about 100 habituated to human contact.  Chimpanzees are amazingly complex social creatures, with constant powerplays, trickery and violence involved in maintaining the social status within the group.  Not hard to work out why they’re considered humans’ closest relatives!  We found small groups of them after 20 – 30 minutes’ walk through the forest – sitting high in the branches gorging themselves on figs.

Compared with the gorillas, the chimpanzees are incredibly animated – intermittent boisterous displays of leaping around with pant-hoots, whoops and yells ringing across the forest.  Most of the time we stood below, craning our necks to take in the action of these scheming apes in the foliage above. Often there would be inquisitive faces peering back at us, but at other times we were left to ponder what we had in common with the hairy black bottoms above us! There are some perils to chimpanzee tracking that I was unaware of – dodging half-eaten figs that are pegged at you from the treetops, and golden showers of chimpanzee urine that rain down from the canopy!! (read – hairy bottoms and large bladders!)  On both days that I followed the chimps the encounters would be ended by chimpanzee decree – suddenly one would descend from the lofty heights and the others would follow in quick succession, disappearing into the undergrowth and vanishing quickly into the forest!

So I have almost quenched my thirst for primate encounters and I am looking forward to crossing into Kenya in the next few days.  I will head straight to Nairobi as I’m itching to organize a safari to Northern Kenya. 

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