East Africa Safari – episode 1- Chimpanzees
Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay in this post but I’m still recovering from our very busy trip to Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. I thought it might be the easiest to take this trip in sequence to try to convey the feel of the whole trip. I’ve already given you a taste with last week’s photo challenge but lets go back to the beginning. We flew from San Diego to London on the 28th of December and spent a lovely couple of days in London (despite the weather) getting over some jet lag. On 2 January we flew direct from London to Entebbe, Uganda arriving late at night. We got up for an early breakfast on the 3rd and reunited with our very good friends and neighbors, Katherine and Mike (who had taken an earlier flight to Uganda) to proceed to our first safari destination, the Kibale National Park – home of Chimpanzees! We boarded our 6:00AM flight to Kasese to begin our adventure. We were met by our guide and new friend Isaac who would show us around both Uganda and Rwanda for the week. Isaac turned out to be an incredible source of information on all aspects of the countries and places we would visit – as well as a great guide for our wildlife “game drives”. After a few hours driving (on some pretty rough roads) we arrived in Kibale and stretched our legs with a nice walk around one of the many of the volcanic crater lakes in the area. We had chosen to stay at the Primates Lodge right at the edge of the park to be close to the wildlife and to allow a very early start to our day with the Chimpanzees. It is a lovely luxury tent based lodge and we enjoyed the sights of monkeys in the trees and the many exotic sounds of the jungle at night. After an early breakfast (a theme for the entire trip) we met our guide from the Uganda Wildlife Authority at 6:00AM. I should explain that there are two ways to see the Chimpanzees at Kibale – a Chimpanzee trek or the Chimpanzee habituation experience. If you go on the first, you are limited to an hour with the Chimps while the second lets you spend the entire day with the Chimps in a controlled effort to allow them to become used to seeing human beings in their environment. We opted for the full day as we wanted to see how they spent their time. We walked into the forest and started to listen for the chimps distinctive calls – which started coming right on schedule to let us know where they were. We took a relatively short hike and then saw maybe 20-30 chimps in the top of a nearby, very tall, tree. I had barely gotten my camera ready when they started to move. In this case, they moved very quickly both in the trees and on the ground. We followed them through various trails in the jungle only catching an occasional glimpse of a chimp behind. We were all wondering if this was going to be the model for the day — the pace they set was exhausting! Luckily, they finally started climbing a nearby tree and began feeding on the fruit above us. As I started to try to take some distant photos of the chimps overhead, an amazing thing happened – we looked down the path that we had just walked down and there was a whole family of chimpanzees walking towards us – mothers, fathers, babies, the whole family. This procession continued for a long time as dozens of chimps walked up to us and then joined their friends in the trees above. It was a fabulous experience and gave us a chance to watch the behavior of all members of the family.
After having the Chimps all to ourselves for a couple of hours, other larger groups of people started to appear for their hour with the chimps. We allowed them to take the lead as we followed the chimps as they only had limited time to see them. This didn’t turn out to be a hardship for anyone as we were all soon surrounded by chimps from every direction. It seems anywhere we looked, there were chimps sitting, eating, or moving around – all within a few yards of us intruders.
After a short while the hour trekkers left and we had the chimps to ourselves again. They seemed more relaxed with less people around and our guide took the opportunity to introduce us to a “very special chimp” who was extremely comfortable with us. He sat with us and then rolled over on his back with legs in the air to indicate his comfort level. We spent a nice time with him until the chimps started moving again.
This time they moved toward the main road and the entrance to the park. They approached the road cautiously and sat listening for traffic before coming out onto the side of the road. Then we were all astounded when they each, in turn, looked both ways before crossing the road! This act alone convinced us that these close relatives of ours were smarter than many of their human descendants.
After crossing the road, our guide told us that this was unusual as they had entered another family’s domain. He thought they were using us as a “buffer” with this resident group. The chimps appeared to be settling down again, so we joined them, had a little lunch, and took a quick nap surrounded by sleeping chimps in all directions – priceless!
After nap time, we followed our friends back across the road (after looking both ways) and followed them through some dense forest again. The afternoon hour trekkers came and went and we had some more alone time with the group. We finally all decided that we were exhausted after spending a wonderful ten hours with the Chimps and decided to return to our lodge for a rest, dinner, and some rumination about the marvelous things that we had witnessed during the day. We felt closer than ever to our “relatives” – and incredibly fortunate to have shared a day with them at “their place”.