Uganda is rightly known for its gorillas. Rightly because its gorillas, as accessed by way of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, are extraordinary, not only for themselves but also for the fact that they have survived decades of poaching and climate change. They are beautiful and critically endangered.
However, for me, Uganda is about its chimpanzees. Before visiting Uganda, I knew about the cleverness of chimpanzees. I knew that we humans share up to 98% of our DNA with them. I was aware of Jane Goodall’s work, seen umpteen documentaries and, in working for Journeys by Design, been involved in sending clients on specialist itineraries to the likes of Mahale, in western Tanzania. I had visited various parks in East Africa with healthy populations of chimpanzee.
All the same, I knew very little about what it is like to be up close to chimpanzees – day in day out, and for long periods. Then I visited Kibale National Park, Uganda, where I spent a week tracking habituated sections of its giant and growing population of chimpanzee. Based at the lovely Ndali Lodge, I explored both full and half day tracking options – though ended up opting for the former, such was the extent of my fascination.
First observations? My word, they’re loud – and incredibly sociable. They observe a seriously intricate range of rules and social niceties. The fact that they are habituated means they are both wild and yet relaxed in our company, making Kibale-based scientific findings an important contribution to our understanding of the chimpanzee. They move, and we are able to move with them.
All of which hardly conveys what I actually feel when in the company of chimpanzees. Once sat still, watching them, I feel immediately in the present. I think of nothing else. And while I am perfectly aware that I am sitting with wild animals, animals that hunt monkey with terrifying intelligence, I feel perfectly safe. It feels right to be here with them. Just right.