Uganda is irrefutably a country that is truly exceedingly blessed with primates. With perhaps the highest primate density in the world, it’s greatly delightful and rewarding to view these extraordinary animals whose behavior reflects our own close relationship to them. Primates are exceptionally well represented in Uganda. They include 13 diurnal and 6 nocturnal species.
The Chimpanzee is a primate (diurnal) and in Uganda visitors can track chimpanzees and other primates to their satisfaction.
CHIMPANZEE (Pan Troglodytes)
The Chimpanzee is a member of the great apes and of the family Pongidae. It is the second of two ape species found in Uganda although there are four in total. Apes are closely related to humans but the Chimpanzee is man’s closest relative sharing 98.77% of its genetic makeup with man. A differing genetic pattern of 1.23% from our own is responsible for some very striking physical resemblances and subtle differences between us and our cousins.
Chimpanzees have distinctive black coats, live in loosely bonded communities of related males with an internal hierarchy topped by an alpha male, and about 20 to 100 individuals although individuals may also spend considerable time alone. Male chimps live their whole life in the community into which they are born while females on transfer to neighboring communities when they reach maturity. Mother-child bonds are strong and whereas mother-daughter relations last till maturity, mother-son relations have been known to endure for over 40 years.
Unlike mountain gorillas, chimpanzees are noisy, brash, and restless and during the day individuals constantly move between sub-groups of varied sizes-expand, divide, regroup or dissolve them. But like gorillas, they build nests to sleep in and build one each night.
Chimpanzees are primarily frugivorous. Frugivores are fruit eaters. Chimps love fruits and when they eat those that have after-effects like figs, they counter this by eating firmer foods such as leaves, stems, seeds, nuts, mud, and bark.
They tend to move in troops to and fro and between fruiting trees. To supplement their fruit diet, chimps eat insects such as termites, ants, and meat. Chimpanzees are extremely intelligent, and although this has been scientifically tested and proven, it’s apparent in their day-to-day living.
They will use grass stems to extract insects from their nests and re-insert the stem while they patiently sit outside the nest eating until they have had their fill or cleaned up the nest.
Chimpanzees are territorial and have a core territory that is well-defined, fiercely guarded, and defended by regular boundary patrols and confrontations. Chimps are shockingly violent. They will gang up to hunt duikers, bush pigs, and monkeys with sharp-pointed sticks while their murderous screams pierce the air. They have been known to occasionally murder and sometimes eat their own kind.
Chimpanzees are devoid of sexual inhibitions and mores. A female in oestrus is identified by her bottom which erupts in a large pink swelling. Unlike the mountain gorilla who will only mate with the dominant male (silverback), such a female will mate with all interested males regardless of age or status.
She carries her young on her back or clinging to her belly. The average number of infants a female can produce in a lifetime isn’t yet known but inter-birth intervals range from 3-7 years. Chimps are up to 1.7 meters in height and 40 to 50 kg in mass.
Chimpanzees are typical animals of the rainforest and woodlands.
Western Uganda is home to some 5000 chimpanzees which freely roam through its 2’900km2 of the forest; a territory that sounds expansive but in reality is a fraction of their range a few centuries ago when the rift‘s Ugandan margins between Lake Albert and Virungas were almost entirely forested and connected to additional tracts in Congo and Rwanda.
This once vast expanse was reduced by 94% by agricultural clearance and is still being encroached upon.
Continued loss of habitat brought chimps in conflict with a man because they were forced to raid surrounding farmlands for food- a conflict that culminated in chimp fatalities and still persists to this day.
Consequently, the first chimpanzee sanctuary was set up at Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria and is known as Ngamba Chimpanzee Island and offers sanctuary to about 35 chimpanzees all victims of this conflict and hunting.
Other animals rescued from hunters are at the Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe and can be visited there.
Where to track Chimpanzees in Uganda
Chimpanzees in the wild can be tracked at Kibale National Park (560km 2) where it’s the main attraction, and is best at River camp Kanyanchu 30 km South of Fort Portal, in Budongo Central Forest Reserve, Queen Elizabeth National Park’s Kyambura Gorge which contains a beautiful riverine forest, nearby Kalinzu Forest and at Kanyiyo Pabidi Forest near Murchison Falls, and have been habituated for tourists.
Chimpanzee tracking is a very enjoyable and unforgettable experience that nudges humans to retrospectively appreciate man’s evolution and also still be reminded of what man inherently is by watching Chimps simply being Chimps.