Kibale forest national park is located in western Uganda in Kibale and Kabarole districts and among the best destination in Africa for chimpanzee tracking. Kibale national park was gazatted in 1995 with an aim of protecting Kibale forest and stopping illegal logging. The park is near mountain Rwenzori, Semuliki national park and Queen Elizabeth national park. Kibale national park is known as the primate’s capital of the world because of a high number of primates and for being the best place to trek chimpanzees in east Africa.
Kibale national park is a habitat to a magnificent collection of about 324 bird species such as black- capped apalis, crowned eagle, African pitta, black eared ground thrush, woodland warbler, yellow spotted nicator, blue headed sunbirds, purple breasted sunbird, collared apalis, blue bee-eater and little greenbull among others. Mammals in the park include golden cats, hippos, warthogs, duikers, sitatungas, leopards, bush pigs, bushbucks, mangooses, African elephants and lions which come to the park regularly from Queen Elizabeth national park. There are also a number of butterflies, amphibians as well as reptiles in Kibale national park. Batoro and Bakiga are the two main tribes living around Kibale national park and chimpanzees are the main attractions in Kibale like mentioned earlier.
Information about chimpanzees
Chimpanzees are human being’s closet relatives’ with about 98% of human DNA. Chimpanzees are found in central, west and east Africa. Chimpanzees live in communities of about 100 individuals. The current warning to their habitat and torture from human beings has restricted to their number to an average of about 18 members per community. Unlike mountain gorillas, every chimpanzee community has special culture and a way of doing things depending on their diet and habitat. Chimpanzees are extremely social primates with an intelligence coming second to only human beings in the wider primate family. Chimpanzee communities are headed by a dominant male which makes sure that the hierarchies in the group are maintained while giving support to each member of the group. The rule of a dominant male depends on the support of females in the community and this is because female chimpanzees do not necessarily mate only with alpha male.
Because of their intelligence, chimps can pass on information using complex body language, hoots, barks and pants. To pass their emotions, chimpanzees use facial expressions. Chimpanzees use tools to open nuts, dig out insects or bring down fruits in places they can’t reach. Chimpanzees every day make new nests on top of the trees but the feed mostly on flowers, insects and fruits. Chimpanzees sometimes hunt down antelopes and other small primates for meat in a group. A chimpanzee can weigh up to 70 kgs and can live up to 30 years in the wild and 60 years in captivity.
Although chimpanzees are hunted by leopards, the main chimpanzee threat is from human beings. Human beings hunt chimpanzees for meat, they spread diseases to them, cut down forest destroying their natural habitat. Chimpanzees fall victims to traps set up to catch animals like antelopes and snares. Uganda wildlife authority and other in and snares. Uganda wildlife authority and other international organizations for example Jane Goodall Foundation have played a big role in making sure that the chimpanzees are protected.
Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda can be done in Toro-Semuliki wildlife reserve, kyambura gorge in queen Elizabeth national park, Kibale national park and budongo forest reserve, ngamba island sanctuary as well as Uganda wildlife education center in Entebbe formerly known as the Entebbe zoo. Kibale has a total population of over 1500 chimpanzees making it the best place for chimpanzee trekking in east Africa and the world at large. Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale starts at 8 am with a briefing at the visitor’s center in Kanyanchu. The briefing involves aspects of activities going to be done like what to expect, time to take doing the activity, how to react around primates among others. The rangers and guides will give you some information about the forest and chimpanzees and after the briefing you will head to the forest to trekkk down chimpanzees. Rangers move with guns to scare away big animals such as elephants, buffaloes and lions which are wild.
The best thing about chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest is that you don’t need to walk very deep in the forest to locate chimpanzee groups. In fact Kibale is the only place in Uganda where you are assured of seeing these chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very loud animals and you can hear them from a distance before spotting them but you still need to follow them at a faster speed to catch up with them. Chimpanzees are very observant in that by the time you see them, they have already seen you. Chimpanzees are not gentle like mountain gorillas, when you are with them, you expect a lot of drama as you watch them look for food, groom each other, make nest, and patrol around, breast feed and mate. You can as well see the chimpanzees fight themselves.
Just like humans each chimpanzee has its own personality and behavior. Some chimpanzees are quiet, others bully while others are shy. Visitors should always follow the lead of the guide because these know every chimpanzee character and behavior. Rangers will always guide you on which individuals to go close too and those to stay away from. Chimpanzee trekking can leave you with a painful neck because chimpanzees love staying on top of trees. You should be aware of falling urine, fruits and even poop. When you find chimpanzees are you only allowed an hour with them after they have settled down.
One of the clear difference between chimpanzees and mountain gorillas is that the gorillas are larger than the chimpanzees in size. This means that the mature gorillas most of their times on the ground because they rarely climb trees unless if its necessary. Its only young gorillas that do tree climbing and chimpanzees spend lot of their time in trees. Chimpanzees are light footed and can move at a high speed from the top of the trees making it difficult to see or even take photos of them. Chimpanzees are noisy while gorillas are gentle. Despite the noise and drama among chimpanzees, you will always get a feeling that you are part of them. Another difference between chimpanzee trekking and gorilla trekking is that gorillas live in cold and higher attitude while chimpanzees live on a low and flat ground making their trekking not difficult or tiring. To see these primates you will have to buy a permit. The gorilla trekking permit in Uganda costs USD 600 and the chimpanzee permits goes for USD 150. A maximum number of 8 individuals is allowed to visit a particular group of gorillas or any chimpanzee community. Gorilla trekking can only be done in one day while chimpanzee trekking in Uganda can be one in two sessions that is the morning session and the afternoon session. In Kibale forest chimpanzee trekking is done three times a day, all you need is a good hiking boot, long sleeved clothes to have the best trek.
Apart from high chances of seeing chimpanzees, Kibale forest is a best place because it gives visitors an opportunity to do chimpanzee habituation. Chimpanzee habituation differs from chimpanzee trekking because it involves spending a whole day with chimpanzees. This is so special because you learn more and give a hand out to the chimpanzee habituation process under the guidance of researchers and well trained trackers. Kibale park authorities have set four chimpanzee communities for tourism and research purposes. Kinyawara community consists of between 50-60 individuals and is open for tourism. Sebitoli community is there also but set for research purposes, Kanyanchu community which is the most visited and the last habituated community in Kibale is located at the center of the park with about 200 individuals.
Chimpanzee habituation experience in Kibale starts at 5:30 am and this is done to find the chimpanzees still sleeping in their nests. You will have then to follow them wherever they go throughout the day until 7:00pm after they have made their night nests. By the end of the chimpanzee habituation process you will be knowing a lot more than what you would have learnt in chimpanzee trekking. You will be knowing each individual chimpanzee by name, take photos as researchers share with you detailed information about chimpanzees. Chimpanzee habituation is most done in the low season when visors are few in the park.
Chimpanzee trekking permits cost USD200 for foreign non-residents, USD 100 for foreign residents while east African national pay USD 100,000 Ugandan shillings. During low seasons like in March to April and November, the chimpanzee permits tend to be cheaper with foreign non- residents paying USD 100, foreign residents USD 75 and east African citizens 75000 Uganda shillings.
Chimpanzee habituation permits costs USD 250 for foreign non- residents, USD 150 foreign residents and 70,000 Uganda shillings for east African shillings with this fee including park fees and entrance fees. Visitors with luggage can hire porters at a fee of USD 20. Chimpanzee permits are issued out by Uganda wildlife authority and can be bought at that very day of trekking but it’s better to buy in advance with the authority or any trusted tour operator.
Uganda has two seasons that is the dry season and the wet season. The rainy season are in the months of April to May and also October to November while dry season is in the months of December to early march. The best time to go for chimpanzee trekking in Kibale is during the dry season. The forest gets crowded during dry season. If you want to see chimpanzees and merge it with other activities and wildlife adventures, the dry season is the best time. If you have come to see only chimpanzees its better you come in low season in order to avoid crowds. Kibale forest is a rainy forest and rains are expected any time of the year and if possible go for a morning session because the weather is unpredictable in the afternoon.
Wondering how to get to Kibale Park, you need to get a bus from Kampala city if you are travelling on your own. The journey is about 300 km up to the town of fort portal city. From the city you drive 36 km to Kanyanchu visitor center. But the best way to reach the park is by booking a safari with a trusted tour company for they will take care of everything including transport, accommodation, meals and a driver or guide.
In order to have the best experience tracking chimpanzees, you must have the following items namely a backpack to carry your luggage, hiking boots, rain jacket, long sleeved clothes, insect repellents, camera, binoculars, drinking water and packed lunch.
Apart from chimpanzee, Kibale national park is a habitat of other 12 primates. The park is known as a primate’s capital of the world because of a large concentration of a number of primates. Kibale national park has no gorillas and had the park been having them it would be one of the most visited national parks in Uganda. As you track down chimpanzees, you will see red tailed monkeys, baboons, bush babies, blue monkeys, l’hoest’s monkeys, grey checked mangabeys as well as black and white colobus monkeys.
Uganda is blessed with a number of beautiful colored birds and Kibale national park is one of the parks to go for bird watching in Uganda. The park is a home of 375 bird species among which include black and white casqued hornbill, zitting cisticola, woodland kingfisher, winding cisticola, pygmy kingfisher, olive long tailed cuckoo, western green tinker bird, lizard buzzard, little greenbul, hairy-breasted barbet, African grey parrot, blue-spotted wood dove, great blue turaco, double toothed barbet, blue breasted kingfisher among others.
Nature walks in Kibale National Park is done to give tourists a chance to have very close encounter with forest creatures such as birds, monkeys, butterflies and insects. The nature walks are done in two shifts that is the morning and in the afternoon. Nature walks in the park start at the visitor’s center in Kyananchu and this nature walk talks about 3 hours. As you walk through the park using different trails, you might see different primates such as red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and several birds. You might even be lucky to see chimpanzees along the trails. Kibale Park also arranges night walks with an aim of spotting different nocturnal animals such as pottos and bush babies. The night walks begin at 8:00 pm and end at 10:00 pm
Visiting Bigodi wetland sanctuary
Bigodi wetland sanctuary is found close to Kibale forest and is one of the good places to spot birds, primates and butterflies in east Africa. This activity involves walking a 4.5km journey through a trail to see over 140 bird species under the guidance of a well-trained birder. This area is managed and controlled by Kibale association of rural development [KAFRED] and it’s a community based organization. KAFRED also manages Magombe swamp, organizes walks around the swamp using trails. The swamp is rich in papyrus vegetation and these act as breeding grounds for many birds.
Visiting crater lakes
The east African rift valley passes through most of the parts of western Uganda leaving behind many lakes. These lakes are divided into 4 clusters that is kasende, katwe, bunyaruguru and fort portal clusters. Kasende cluster is located in the western part of Kibale, katwe cluster in Queen Elizabeth national park close to Mweya safari lodge. Kasende cluster in Kibale has many lakes acting as sanctuaries to rare birds which are endemic in the area. Visiting kasende lakes gives you a beautiful scenery and amazing experience to wilderness and nature.
This is located in the middle of Kibale National Park. The lodge area has a beautiful scenery and if you want to exploit true African wilderness, then primate lodge is the place to go. It’s the best place for visitors who are interested in chimpanzee trekking and chimpanzee habituation experience. Primate Lodge is built with local materials and solar powered rooms. The lodge has 16 rooms in form of luxury and standard cottages which are self-contained with room service and free wifi. The lodge has a small library and residents are allowed to go there to do camp fires in the evening and visit bars for drinks.
Crater safari lodge
This lodge is located 7km away from Kibale National Park. If you are planning to go for chimpanzee trekking, it’s one of the best places to go and spend a night or more. The lodge has 21 rooms and each of the rooms is equipped with a balcony giving you clear views of the Crater Lake. Crater safari lodge has a bar, restaurant, lounge, swimming pool and arranges campfire in the evening for residents.
Kyaninga lodge is built overlooking Lake Kyaninga which is one of the deepest crater lakes in Uganda. The lodge has 9 cottages and all these are self-contained and designed to give you a better feeling of being out in the African wild, cottages here have comfortable beds and balcony where you can view Rwenzori Mountains in the horizon. The lodge has a better restaurant offering both international and local foods, swimming pool and a bar.
Chimpanzee forest guest house
This is one of the well-known popular budget and mid-range lodges in Kibale national park. Chimpanzee forest guest house is built near the visitors’ center of Uganda wildlife authority. The guest house has good views of tea plantations and the forest with self-contained rooms and a big swimming pool.
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