Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

Chimp Tracking in Uganda’s Kalinzu Forest

The rain didn’t start until just after we took our first steps into the Kalinzu Forest. As if on cue, it wouldn’t cease until we climbed back out nearly five hours later. In between it was a steady rain, sometimes a loud pelting on large green leaves the size of doormats, other times soft, sensual drops that drizzled the forest floor with a stream of sloppy kisses. Mostly though, it leaned towards the former.

It was early, just after 7:30, when our small hiking group of four set off from the forest’s ranger station. We’d already been up for two hours so after the initial exchange of pleasantries, we all settled into our quiet zones as we began to navigate the muddy track that served as a trail through the 137-square kilometer expanse that remains of the Kalinzu Forest, which sits along the southeastern edge of western Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Chimpanzee, Kalinzu Forest, Uganda
Chimpanzee, Kalinzu Forest. The oddest looking behind I saw that day.

The forest is home to six primate species, including the Olive Baboon, Black and White Colobus monkeys, the L’Hoest’s Monkey, and the Blue-tailed and Red-tailed monkeys. Our goal was to reach the Kalinzu’s one habituated extended chimpanzee family that humans are allowed to observe.

Habituation, the delicate process through which primates gradually become accustomed to the presence of humans, can take upwards of five to six years depending on the species, its range and travel patterns. Contact with humans comes with significant risks for the primates, so habituation is carried out very selectively.

This is old hat to Debbie, our guide. She knows the forest and knows those patterns well. A scout, who set out before us, does too. They’re in regular contact as we amble through the rain. I’m pleasantly surprised by the strong mobile phone reception that reaches beneath the Kalinzu Forest’s wet canopy.

In nature there are no guarantees. That’s the attitude I set out with, and the one I kept reminding myself of as my pants, shoes, socks, backpack and waterproof jacket took on more water as the hike progressed – without the faintest sign of a chimpanzee. But the forest has its own way of helping you forget such mild inconveniences.

With the steady beat of raindrops on leaves and the echo of forest birdsong as a soundtrack, the annoyance of the rain that largely framed the hike’s first hour turned into a saturated calm by the second. As the third hour began, it no longer seemed to matter how wet we were or if we’d see any wildlife at all. I’d reached a kind of calm, sublime and reflective contentment I’d never quite experienced before. A slight smile turned into a soft laugh when Debbie pointed to a rustling in a tree above us.

Enjoy the video.

~~

Once contact was made, we’re allowed to stay, observe, watch and photograph for one hour. We saw about a half dozen, mostly males, mostly swinging between branches to munch on leaves, nuts and berries. The rain kept them off the forest floor, high and far away. If they noticed us, they didn’t show it, or simply didn’t care.

That hour passed swiftly. So too did our hike back to where we started. Impossibly, the climb out of the forest took just 20 minutes. On the road we’re greeted by a rising veil of mist that revealed a stunning view of the Rwenzori Mountains. The rain stopped and didn’t return the rest of the time I was in Uganda.

~~

While it’s not that demanding of a hike, be sure you’re prepared and fit enough to walk up to four hours on sometimes steep and very muddy terrain in extremely rainy conditions. Much of the walking is off-path, call it bush-whacking lite. One woman who began with our group saw early on that it would be too much for her and asked to go back. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for her, but she was sensible – not stubborn. If you find yourself in that situation, follow her lead.

By the numbers:

The Kalinzu Forest is home to:

  • 414 tree and shrub species
  • six diurnal primate species including the Olive Baboon, Chimpanzee, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, L’Hoest’s Monkey, Blue-tailed Monkey and Red-tailed Monkey
  • 378 bird species
  • 263 butterfly and 92 moth species

Located about 10km northwest of Ishaka on the Mbarara-Kasese Highway, trips to the Kalinzu Forest are an easy add-on to visits to Queen Elizabeth National Park, and are included on most itineraries of more than a day. Make time for it.


 

Chimp Tracking in Uganda's Kalinzu Forest from Piran Cafe
Chimp Tracking in Uganda’s Kalinzu Forest from Piran Cafe

 

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20 Comments
  1. spiritofdragonflies says

    Thank you sharing the video and your adventure. What a wonderful experience.

  2. Madame Zenista says

    Interesting post. Enjoyed watching the video- the lush green jungles and the rain – simply gorgeous!

  3. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    thank you for taking us along on that trek; i’m glad i wore my mud boots!

    1. Bob R says

      Our guide was the only one smart enough to bring hers.

      1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

        Ha! I smirk… here in Jama I wear my boots even on dusty days… I call them my ‘dodging dengue boots’ — this year’s dengue is not the same one from two years ago, and since I have ‘two left’ I don’t want to take chances!

      2. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

        Ha! I smirk… here in Jama I wear my boots even on dusty days… I call them my ‘dodging dengue boots’ — this year’s dengue is not the same one from two years ago, and since I have ‘two left’ I don’t want to take chances!

  4. Mick Canning says

    Video duly enjoyed. Yes, that looked wet – but worth the effort!

  5. Anna Love says

    Nice post, love your writing style 🙂

  6. Agness of eTramping says

    This seems like an amazing experience and adventure! The video is just awesome!

  7. Bintu - Recipes From A Pantry says

    What an amazing adventure, the forest is so beautiful and you got so close to the chimps

  8. Astrid Vinje says

    What a great experience! It’s such a surreal experience to come across animals in their true habitat. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    1. Bob R says

      What made this most memorable was that after a couple hours, it didn’t even seem to matter anymore if we’d come across the chimps or not. Just being in that moment was enough.

  9. Adelina says

    Wow that must have been an amazing experience. I totally understand that meditative calm feeling, I get it whenever I go on a long hike. Just you, the ground beneath you and the constant pace of moving forward. Seeing the chimps must have been the ultimate reward.

  10. Susanna Kelly says

    Amazing! Your video really showed how hard it was raining! What a wild adventure.It’s great that you got to see so many monkeys and their strange behinds! I would lOVE to this.

  11. Elaine Masters says

    Wonderful if soggy encounter. I can imagine that sense of silence after hiking for hours in the forest. Seeing the chimps was frosting! I’d love to do this one day.

  12. Claudia Laroye says

    What an incredible experience you enjoyed in the jungles of Uganda. I loved watching your video, and seeing the chimps in the wild. Lucky you!

  13. Veronika Tomanova says

    When it comes to Africa I had other countries on my wish list, but the nature and wildlife you describe makes me wanna visit Uganda as well. All those animals around, thrilling and even a bit scary experience!

  14. Christopher says

    What a facinating post. I love the writing in the intro. It’s like I was reading a novel. Then I watch the video and it was just as you described and how I pictured it. The video is great. It so amazing to see them in their habitat. Thanks for sharing this.

  15. Genie Patra says

    wow that’s a crazy diverse place. i would love to be able to do something like this one day. Africa’s on my list still

  16. Meg Jerrard says

    What an incredible experience! I would love to visit Kalinzu Forest – Uganda has been on my list forever – we’re very passionate about ecotourism and wildlife experiences, and tracking chimps is at the top of the list. Sad to hear that one of the women on your tour decided to turn back, but yes, you have to be realistic about your capabilities especially when you’re out in the wild.

Thoughts?

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