Chimpanzee Habituation is one of the important Uganda primates safaris tours whereby a traveler gets a chance to spend more time with the Primates. Kibale National Park is the best destination in East Africa to see the chimpanzees and other primates. Kibale forest is found in the southern part of Uganda, Fort portal town being the nearest town in the area. Kibale forest has a rich eco-system hence it was gazetted during the colonial times in 1932 to protect the forest and its habitants. Kibale national park is a unique spectacular place and one of the only outstanding areas in Africa harbouring both evergreen montane forests together with tropical rainforest with an altitude of 1600m at its highest point and lowest point at 1,000m in the Albertine plateau receiving maximum rainfall of averages of 1700m which favours the growth of thick various vegetation types which include ancient trees which make up Kibale forest.
Chimpanzee habituation is no different from gorilla habituation experience as the process is the same. Chimpanzee habituation is also a process where wild chimpanzees are trained to get familiar to seeing with people. This process takes up to 3 years when researchers discover and train a newly discovered group of Chimpanzees. Once the researchers are converted that the group habituated, a few individuals are invited to first visit the group before it is officially opened for other tourists to visit
Uganda has different destinations for chimpanzee experiences including; Kibale forest itself, Kyambura gorge and Kalinzu forest in Queen Elizabeth national park, Budongo forest in Murchison falls national park and Semiliki national park, however, chimpanzee habituation only takes place in Kibale National park.
Chimpanzee habituation is a full day activity and visitors get to spend a longer time with the primates. Chimpanzee habituation starts as early as 7 am with a briefing from the park officials on the expectations during the activity. Enter the rainforest along with the team of trackers and researchers and start looking for the chimpanzees. Usually, these semi-habituated chimpanzees are shy and stay far away in the forest so you will walk for almost a full day however their encounter is breath-taking.
The walk involves following their movements as you study their behavior. Visitors are allowed to spend a maximum of 4 hours in the presence of the chimpanzees. Chimpanzee habituation permits are valid for only 4 people on a daily basis. Chimpanzee habituation permit are only booked prior to the actual day of the activity, 5 months before the trekking date. A permit is sold at 250 USD for foreign non-resident and foreign non-residents, East African residents pay 150,000 UGX. Chimpanzee habituation requires a minimum of 3 days to do this activity. The first day is for driving to the park as it is required to stay close to the park and the day before. The second day is participating in the activity and finally, on the third day, you may depart from the park or take time to do other activities in the park.
Apart from chimpanzee habituation, the Kibale forest has a lot more activities to do while in the park. Some of these activities include;
- Chimpanzee trekking; is the most popular activity in Kibale National Park. Chimpanzee trekking involves visiting already habituated chimpanzee groups; they are already familiar with humans. This activity is done on a daily basis and by 7 am, you will receive a briefing from the park rangers before you are allocated a group for trekking. Trekking takes 2-5 hours in search of the chimpanzees and when the chimpanzees are finally spotted, visitors are only allowed to spend an hour with the primates. A chimpanzee trekking permit is 200 USD for foreign and non-resident residents and an East African Citizen permit is 150,000 UGX. Only 8 tourists are not allowed to participate in the activity per day. Visitors are advised to pack the following items while going to track chimpanzee including; hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, rain jackets and warm clothes, camera, binoculars, insect repellents, packed food, water, and a hiking stick. Other primates that can be spotted while chimpanzee trekking and chimpanzee habituation include Red monkeys, Red colobus monkey, Black, and white colobus monkeys, grey checked mangabey, Blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys, Velvet monkeys, Olive baboons and nocturnal primates (Bush babies and Pottos).
- Wildlife viewing: Kibale national park is also home to some of the forest animals that can be spotted during your habituation experience. These mammals include forest elephants, golden cats, and rare lions. Some of the animals migrate from the nearing areas of Bigodi wetland sanctuary and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
- Birds watching: Kibale forest is one of the recognized national parks in Uganda for bird watching and about 375 bird species and these birds make Kibale forest heaven with their colorful feathers and sounds. Some of the birds include; brown illadopsis, white tailed anthrush, spotted Nicator, purple breasted sunbird, western Nicator, African grey parrot, little greenbul, black-eared ground thrush, these birds include the Albertine rift valley endemic.
- Butterflies; when you visit Kibale forest national park, seeing colorful butterflies flying through the green environment with a reflection of blue skies will blow your mind. Over 230 butterfly species in the mixture of nature is breath taking and is an experience never to miss.
- Ndali-Kasenda crater lakes: Ndali-Kasenda Crater Lake is beautiful scenery where visitors watch the plains, thick vegetation with trees and water in lakes formed a thousand years. They are located in one spot 30 kilometers south of the fort portal. The crater sector has 60 stable and seasonal fresh water lakes and while standing in this sector you get to see monkeys playing, beautiful butterflies, Kabarole tea estates, southern Rift valley plains, and Lake George. The crater sector has local stories attached to them which makes them more attractive. Therefore, according to old tales, the lakes were formed by the Chwezi leader in the names of Ndahura who fled leaving his kingdom behind after being dethroned by his son wamala.
- Cultural encounters. Kibale forest national park does not only offer interactions with nature but also cultural encounter. During the village walks, you get to witness the daily Batooro culture of the indigenous people of this area and the immigrant Bakiga people.
The chimpanzee habituation is approximately 5-6 hours driving from Entebbe international airport (the main gateway of Uganda) and 26 kilometers from the south east region of Fort portal stretches and covers an area of 795 kilometers. By air, the park can only be accessed in Kasese airstrip when again it takes 2-3 hours to connect to Kibale forest national park.