Chimpanzee tracking takes place all year round in both Uganda and Rwanda. However the best time to track chimpanzee is during the rainy season despite the mud. During the dry season, chimpanzee like to move deeper into the forests looking for food. During the rainy season, the forests are green and full of fruit reducing the mobility of the chimpanzee communities. Visitors can easily locate them without having to trek for long distance. It is always recommended that visitors book their chimpanzee tracking permits months in advance. There is a limit to how many people can track a particular chimpanzee community each day and this depends entirely on which place you go tracking in Uganda or Rwanda. However in most cases, it’s 6 people per community in a single session.
Chimpanzee tracking usually starts in the morning with briefing from a guide. Visitors cannot go out to the forest by themselves and must be led by a park guide or ranger. The rangers know where to find the chimp communities by following clues left behind. Moreover, habituated chimpanzee can identify the familiar faces of the guides which make them reassured. In most of the chimpanzee tracking parks and reserves, there are two sessions of tracking – in the morning and afternoon. The chimps are more active during the morning session as they head out feeding and hunting. In the afternoon, many of the members are resting and grooming each other as they try to find shelter to avoid the suns heat.
While on a chimpanzee trekking session, expect to be escorted by armed rangers/guards. The rangers scare off other wild animals like Buffaloes and elephants that may pose a danger to visitors by shooting in the air. The guides may also start by looking for them around the area that they built their last night nest. Tracking chimpanzee can go on for hours depending on the season and which park you are going to. However getting their exact location isn’t difficult like mountain gorillas that are relatively quiet with occasional barks from the dominant male. Chimpanzees are very stubborn, unruly and noisy. Trackers locate them by their hoots and loud barks. Once you locate a community, prepare to continue following them for a long time through hills, dense forest and vegetation – often at high speed. Be careful of falling fruit and urine from the chimps. The chimps may take a while before descending from the trees and settling down on the ground – be patient. Once they are on the ground, you will get several opportunities to take good photos and observe their individual behavior and character well.
Chimpanzee habituation Experience in Uganda
Chimpanzee habituation is the process of allowing wild Chimpanzee get used or accustomed to human presence around them through, prolonged/continuous and sustained visits led by experienced researchers and park guides/wardens. According to information from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the habituation process can take up to two years before the chimpanzees completely get used to people around them. Wild chimpanzee will flee away or treat humans suspiciously. The price for chimpanzee habituation experience is only slightly higher than normal chimpanzee habituation experience and hence provides better value for money. Unfortunately chimpanzee habituation experience is currently not possible in Rwanda. In East Africa, It can only be done in Uganda and Tanzania.
Unlike normal chimpanzee trekking, during chimpanzee habituation experience, visitors spend the whole day following these amazing creatures. Chimpanzee Habituation Experience is more demanding and visitors are involved in all habituation related activities unlike the 4 hour trekking where visitors remain distant. Visitors must wake before the break of dawn to meet the guides and go looking for the chimpanzees before they leave nests. In this way, you will be able to watch them wake up and prepare for the day’s activities like feeding, resting, taking care of their young, protecting their territories and finally building their nests on top of trees. Lunch is usually provided because the experience goes on for the whole day. By the end of the experience, you should be familiar with all the individuals including their body markings and personalities. The exercise ends once the chimps go into their nests for the night.
Comparing chimpanzee tracking and gorilla trekking
There are similarities and differences in the experiences of tracking these two great apes. One thing to first note is that Mountain gorillas are only found Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo while Chimpanzee communities can be found in a sizeable number of countries in East, Central and West Africa.
gorilla trekking is far more organized than chimpanzee trekking and hence the chances of seeing mountain gorillas are very high – Almost guaranteed. That cannot be said of chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees live in relatively flatter terrain while mountain gorillas live in mountainous areas and slopes which can be stressful.
Chimpanzees spend most of their time on tree tops while gorillas spend their time on the ground.
Chimpanzees are mobile and always on the move requiring trackers to follow them constantly and at high pace whereas mountain gorillas tend to relax on the ground in a forest clearing – This can actually be exciting and adventurous for many.
The constant movements and habit of swinging from tree to tree makes it harder to take good photos of chimps.
Chimpanzees are very noisy during tracking while mountain gorillas usually feed and play quietly.
Finding the Chimpanzee community doesn’t take as long as locating a gorilla group.
Chimpanzee trekking can be done in two sessions per day – In the morning and afternoon. Gorilla tracking can only be arranged for one session in a day.
Chimpanzees live in large communities that frequently breakup into smaller parties to go looking for scarce food before getting back together again. Trackers often split up to follow these splinter groups which can lead to confusion if the chimps lead them back to the main group. Mountain gorillas live in a relatively stable group with plenty of food.
There is a one hour limit to how much time you can spend watching a mountain gorilla group. However visitors can spend more time with a chimpanzee community depending on which place and country they choose to go tracking.
Only 8 people can see a gorilla family in a day while 6 people can see a chimpanzee community in two daily shifts.
Chimpanzee trekking is similar to gorilla tracking in that you need permits to take part in the activity. However gorilla permits cost much more than chimpanzee permits
There is an age limit requirement for visitors planning to take part in both chimpanzee and gorilla trekking – Usually 15 years and above.
For both experiences, you are advised to move with suitable clothing (boots, gloves, long shirts, rain jackets) and might require hiring a porter.
Rules and Regulations for chimpanzee tracking
Just like with mountain gorillas, tracking chimpanzee requires following some rules. You need to know the following.
- Book your chimpanzee trekking permit in advance especially during the peak seasons.
- Children aren’t allowed to track chimpanzee.
- Do not litter the forest while tracking chimpanzee.
- It is not recommended to track chimpanzee while suffering from flue and diarrhea. Chimps are susceptible to human diseases.
- Keep a distance of about 8 meters while near the Chimpanzees.
- Do not eat while near the chimpanzees. They may come and grab it from you violently.
- Do not talk too loud, make fun of or try to intimidate/provoke chimpanzees.
- Taking photos using flash is not allowed.
- Always follow instructions from the forest guides.
- Try to visit the bathroom before heading out for trekking.
- Do not head out tracking without a guide.
- Smoking while tracking chimps isn’t allowed.
- There is a limit to how many people can track a chimpanzee community in a day.
Gear and equipment for chimpanzee trekking
Chimpanzee trekking requires careful planning with your tour company beforehand in order to make it a comfortable, memorable and stress-free event. To that end, you will need to think about bringing along the following:-
- Suitable Shoes: with good grip that is good for navigating through muddy terrain and steep areas.
- The right clothing: Long sleeved clothes that can help protect you from sharp thickets. Plan for the unpredictable weather and a rain jacket just in case.
- Packed snack and drinking water: This is just in case you get hungry or thirsty along the way.
- Binoculars: You don’t want to miss some of the details. These mighty apes love swinging from tree to tree.
- Insect repellent: Come with insect repellent.
- Camera and extra batteries: Taking photos of chimpanzees needs some preparation as they live in dense forest and are very quick in movement. Come with a good camera that has sharp lenses as the chimps live in long trees. Taking flash photos is prohibited.
- Binoculars: To spot the chimps and beautiful birds on top of the trees.
- Walking stick: Walking sticks will help you steadily navigate through steep and rough terrain.
- Porters: Porters can be hired from many of the parks and reserves to help carry heavy equipment and bags so that you concentrate on looking out for the chimps and other creatures.