The youngsters swing clumsily between treetops, while below, the juvenile male chimpanzees chase one another on the forest bed. Their mothers sit furiously grooming each other, watching as this inter-familial tussle plays out.
Unlike more sedate and enchanting mountain gorilla treks, finding and moving amongst chimpanzees is fast-paced, raucous and dramatic. At a moment’s notice, the alpha raises a call to arms. All able males rally to the hunt, leading to a chase followed by a potentially merciless end for another smaller primate or forest antelope.
Considered the primate capital of Africa, Uganda is the best place to see chimpanzees on the continent. With over 5,000 of our closest living relatives spread its forested parks, many consider the chance to witness the wide-ranging behaviours of these fascinating animals to be as unmissable as the mountain gorillas.
The easiest time to track chimpanzees is usually during the dry seasons, from mid-December to February and June to August where trekking is less strenuous. However, for those with sufficient determination and sense of adventure, chimps are easily located year-round.
There are four main areas where habituated chimps can be found:
Kibale Forest National Park
The Kibale Forest in western Uganda is undeniably the champion of chimp viewing destinations. The park has one of the highest diversity and concentration of primates in Africa with several well-studied, habituated communities of common chimpanzee, as well as several species of central African monkey including the Uganda mangabey, the Ugandan red colobus and the L’Hoest’s monkey. Other primates that are found in the park include the black-and-white colobus and the blue monkey. It contains a diverse array of landscapes including both lowland and montane forests as well as one of the last remaining expanses pre-montane forest. It is the only place in Africa to offer a ‘habituation experience’ where you spend the whole day with researchers profiling new families and their behaviours.
Budongo Forest Reserve
The Budongo Forest Reserve is situated in north-west Uganda. Located in a moist, semi-deciduous tropical rainforest at the top of the Albertine Rift, it forms part of the largest wildlife conservation area in Uganda – Murchison Falls National Park. The area has incredible biodiversity that includes several primate species like Chimpanzees, Blue monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, Vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and Olive baboons. Enjoying five different forest ecozones – including the largest mahogany trees in East Africa – as well as a multitude of streams and rivers, it’s no surprise that Budongo is Uganda’s prime bird watching destination too.
Forming part of the savannah-dominated Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Kyambura Gorge is renowned for its single family of chimps. The gorge sits approximately 1 km across at its broadest point and about 100 meters deep. The steep slopes, formed by the disorderly waters of the thunderous River Kyambura, are sheltered by verdant riverine canopy so thick that it feels like being underground when trekking here. The chimps are extremely well habituated and the high density of primates, birds and other wildlife makes for an extremely rewarding wildlife experience.
Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve:
Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve is another great spot for Ugandan Chimpanzee tracking, as well as being home to an award-winning tented lodge. Snug against the Albertine rift, a visit here offers quieter, though less certain, chimp encounters than the areas listed above. However, due to the lighter forest cover, sightings tend to be clearer with chimps here frequently venturing out into open savannah. For a multi-faceted trekking experience, we recommend combining a stay here with some time at Kibale Forest or Kyambura Gorge.