Posted: under Uganda.
I woke up at 6.15am sunday morning. It was still dark and cool. I bought 4 chapathis from the small restuarant in front of my hotel and began to walk to the UWA office. Gift was there waiting for me on a motorcycle. He sad he was going to arrange for someone to take me but in the end decided to rent a motorcycle ( $1 for 1 hour) and take me himself. I liked that he decided to take me because he’s a nice guy, not out to rip me off, speaks good English and knows the place. We put some gas in the tank and left the nice tarmac of Masindi for a rough dirt road, a ‘crap road’ as Gift put it. It was still early and this isn’t a popular route so there was no traffic at all. We drove past the Kinyara sugarcane plantation office, the people behind the destruction of the chimps forest, and drove through sugarcane plantations till we hit a small town. Here we picked up our guide, Gerrad and the 3 of us drove towards a hill where the chimps were apparently now. Gerrad said ‘ It’s not far’ but it was 45 minutes till we got there. The ‘road’ turned into a small bumpy track hardly fit for a mountain bike.
We stopped at a clear patch of sugarcane that had been recently harvested and the chimps were supposed to be in the forest adjacent. We began walking toward the forest when we heard the hooting and hollering of chimps behind us, past a patch of sugarcane. We got back on the bike and drove towards. We again came to the border of the forest and the trail became hard to drive so Gerrad and I walked while Gift walked the bike. In a few minutes I could see black spots up on the trail and as we got closer my first chimps came into view. They were right on the border of the forest and sugarcane, at least the ones I could see. With my binoculars I could see them well but Gerrad was urging me forward. I wasn’t sure how close we could get but we ketp going. The track between the forest and tall sugarcane was wide enough for a vehicle but then opened up to a patch that had been recently harvested and only sand and dead sugarcane littered the ground. As we got closer to this area, about 5 chimps fled right in front of us, some of them young ones. As soon as we got to the open patch, Gerrad insisted we move fast away from the edge so the chimps will come out of the forest and back to the sugarcane. We stopped at a distance of about 20m and waited. After a few minutes 2 chimps came out, one old with a silverback and grey beard and the other slightly younger. Even after only seeing a few individuals, I could tell them apart by their facial features. They looked healthy, their flawless black fur shined.
Chimpanzees are part of the ape family which includes the gibbon, orangutan, gorilla and bonobo. The gibbon is has the largest distribution of them all and the most species. It is found from northeast India to mainland southeast Asia and Borneo and Sumatra and is probably the least endangered of all the apes, though some gibbon species are very rare and they are all still threatened by habitat loss and hunting. The orangutan is found only in Borneo and Sumatra and only an estimated 30,000 survive in the wild. I feel lucky to have seen both the agile gibbon and orangutan in Borneo. My goal is to see all 5 great apes. The other 3 occur in Africa. The bonobo has the most limited distribution, only being found south of the congo river in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will be the most difficult to see because of that. They are the newest species of ape, before being thought they were a pygmy chimpanzee but have since gained their own species status. The gorilla is divided into 4 supspecies. The most abundant of these being the western lowland gorilla, found in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic and DR Congo. I just read online this past August that evidence of more than 100,000 western lowland gorillas was found deep in the swampy rainforests of northern Congo. That’s great news, when so much of the news we hear about our endangerd animals is usually of the negative kind. The cross river gorilla supspecies is a small isolated population occuring only in cross river area on the border with Nigeria and northwest Cameroon. The eastern lowland gorilla numbers about 5000 and is found in eastern DR Congo, not far from the border with Rwanda. The most endangered subspecies of gorilla is the mountain gorilla found only in the Virunga volcanoes which span DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. An isolated population of mountain gorillas occur in Bwindi National Park in Uganda, where I hope to see them in a month or so. Only 700 of these majestic beasts are left in the wild. More about gorillas after I visit them.
There are 3 subspecies of chimpanzee. The most endangered with only about 17,000 left is the western form being found in west Africa from southeast Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea to southwestern Mali but the population is fragmented. The eastern and central populations are more or less continuous. The central form is found in Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic and Congo. The eastern is found in DR Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in eastern Tanzania. Fewer than 200,000 remain in total. Male chimps can weigh up to 55kg and stand 1m tall. Chimps have the widest tolerance of the manlike apes. They can live in rainforest, savanna woodland and open savanna with access to small patches of forest in gorges or gullies. They can live at sea level or up to 3000m. Access to water and trees suitable for sleeping are the principal factors in their distribution. They live in communties of 15 up to 100. The group we saw was 45 individuals. They eat a variety of food plants and also invertebrates. A break through was made years ago that showed chimps are more human that we thought we is was discovered they actually hunted other monkeys for meat. It was thought they were purely vegetarian. They will also take young antelopes and small duikers. I haven’t read too much about chimps but I what little I know is that they also have wars with neighbouring communities, mirroring ourselves in them. I believe there is a lot to know by looking at our closest relative, with which we share something like 98% of the same genes. I plan on reading more when I get home and will add more info later. I just wanted to give some basic information.
Gift, Gerrad and I got comfortable on some dead sugarcane and settled down to watch the chimps. Most of the group was in the forest and I could see young ones playing around in the trees but 2 chimps stayed for a while in the open, 20m from us. Most chimp tracking takes place in dense rainforest where glimpses of the chimps are had on the ground while they are 5m to 30m high in the canopy. I had a very special unobstructed view of them and I really liked that. The sun rose higher in the sky and the chimps eventually retreated to the shade of the forest. Gift wanted to go after only 15 minutes but I protested and we stayed almost 2 hours. I could still see chimps in the forest and was in no rush to go. I wanted to stay as long as I could see them. A mother and a young clinging to her belly was low in a tree and near the edge of the forest. I watched her for a while and took some photos. I zoomed in digitally 72x to get extreme close ups but made sure the camera was on my tripod to get clear photos. After a while they sun became very hot and most of the chimps were out of sight. I knew they were still there because sometimes they would begin to hoot and holler but it was finally time to go. We took a shortcut back and dropped Gerrad off. Gift is such a nice and polite guy whereas Gerrad was anything but. He didn’t shake my hand, introduce himself or welcome me to the forest, which is pretty standard when ever I visit a ‘tourist’ area. I came right out and told him this at the end. He would hardly even look me in the eye, I don’t like this at all. I paid 30$ to see the chimps but felt Gerrand didn’t deserve any tip and I told him and Gift why. “He has a lot to learn about what tourists like.” Said Gift on our return. It was dusty drive back to Masindi and I arrived around noon. I showered, ate beans and rice and took a siesta.
I have someone meeting me tonight to tell me about the details of visiting Kagaju forest where there are a lot of monkeys and sometimes chimps. I will only visit if he can ‘guarantee’ a chimp sighting because I have seen all the other types of monkey present and will spend my $ somewhere else if I’m ‘just’ going to see them again. I will see what happens. If it doens’t work out my next destination is southwest to Fort Portal. Not sure where I’ll be for the New Year but if you don’t hear from me, I hope everyone has a good one.
Comments (2) Dec 28 2008