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Chimps in Kibale Forest

In the Kabale forest we had the privilege to visit a group of wild chimps going about their day.

The last leg of our trip was one of our favorites. We left Queen Elizabeth National Park heading north toward another large block of protected forest, the Kabale Forest. This is an area for beautiful landscapes, endemic birds and mammals, and our main targets--Chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee Guest House was one of the best places we stayed in Uganda (but every lodge was great). The rooms were uniquely beautiful and they even made a cake and sang Happy Birthday to Wendy when Johnnie let it slip that it was her birthday.

It was another long drive and as we started to get close to our Chimpanzee Guest House, Johnnie announced that he had to apologize in advance for the primitive conditions we'd be living under. He did this with a totally straight face, and we were foolish enough to fall for it. We had expected to eat rice and beans on this trip and we figured this was the moment. As we pulled into a beautiful and fully appointed lodge with a magnificent view of the Kabale forest, Johnnie burst out laughing. All of the lodges during our trip were nice but this might have been the nicest of all.

Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Violet-backed Starling were only two of the dozens of species of birds that we observed on the grounds of the Chimpanzee Guest House.

The birds on the grounds of the lodge were fabulous. A pair of Great Blue Turacos flew in seemingly to greet us as we opened the door to our beautiful bungalow. The grounds were planted with flowering shrubs that were packed with sunbirds. Among the 7 species of sunbirds that we spotted in a few minutes of sorting through the tens of birds feeding in the bushes, we got three life birds in quick succession: Green-throated Sunbird, Olive-bellied Sunbird, and Purple-banded Sunbird. As Johnnie took us on a leisurely stroll around the lodge, there seemed to be new birds everywhere and we could have spent a week just birding around the lodge.

We strolled through the forest to find a human-habituated band of chimps. Wendy and I both really enjoyed this experience.

The next morning we ate breakfast and headed off to the meeting point for Chimp trekking. To me, this seemed a lot calmer and more leisurely than the gorilla trek. When you go to see gorillas, you are assigned to visit one specific family, and while the trackers will know where they were the day before your group has to find them that day. Inevitably you are bushwhacking up steep hillsides and it feels a bit frantic until you find the gorilla family. (Maybe me being sick didn’t help my perspective on this either). The chimps, in contrast, live in a group of more than 100 and spread out through acres of forest each morning. They are unmissable. So there is no need to bushwhack or struggle up hillsides. We just strolled down nice trails through a relatively open forest, hearing from our guide about the ecology of the area.

The first chimp we ran into was alone and farther out from the main group than our guide expected. He laughed and told us that this adolescent male had found a tree with nice ripe fruit and that he was not doing what he was supposed to do—he was not telling others in the troop. Instead he was silently munching away, gorging on as much fruit as possible before any other chimps discovered his treasure. It was the most human-like thing I’ve ever seen an animal do.

Wendy and I really enjoyed our morning with Chimps. We got to watch a variety of different sex and age groups and see all sorts of interesting behavior (like keeping a fruit bonanza secret). It was one of our favorite experiences during our entire trip to Uganda.

In a wetland preserve near the Chimpanzee Guest House we did a night walk. Our primary goal was Potoo and we found the little guy.

Wendy really wanted to do a night walk and Johnnie arranged for us to trek around a wetland area after dark. After spending the morning with the primate we are most closely related to, we set out to see one of the primates that humans are most distantly connected to, the potto. Thanks to the knowledge and persistence of two local men who worked at a neighboring lodge (and were friends of Johnnie's) we found a potto along with two species of monkey sleeping in the trees. I would have had more fun on this trip if I hadn't seen a Gabon Viper in an exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo when I was a kid. The exhibit said that these vipers kill more people than all other snakes combined because they are stepped on at night. I have to admit, putting my feet down blindly as we walked along the trail freaked me out a bit.

At our spot for Kibale Forest birds, the sign warned of possible chimps (which Johnnie says he has seen along the road hear several times) but we watched an Forest Elephant cross the road instead.

On our way out of the Kibale Forest area the next morning, Johnnie took us to an area where a highway cuts through the forest, giving access to forest birds. If I had any doubt that we were still, indeed, within the Kabale forest, the chimp crossing sign and then the bull elephant that actually did cross the road near us drove the point home.

The birds were great. Because we were viewing birds at the edge of the forest, usually 100 feet away, I didn’t get great photos of most birds but through binoculars we got great views.

From our birding spot in the Kabale Forest we drove all the way back to Entebbe. Our plane was scheduled to leave the next day. We were ready to get back to our dogs and our lives Alabama, but we really enjoyed our visit to Uganda. For anyone who enjoys wildlife, it is one of the best destinations on Earth.


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