For most people, gorilla trekking is the motivating force to come to Rwanda; but there is much more to see in this country than just our famous gorillas. The expense of the permits to track the Silverbacks definitely discourages many from coming to Rwanda; in many cases, it is more expensive than the cost of flights. So, why not enjoy an equally memorable experience for a fraction of the cost and come and track the Chimpanzees!
In many ways, tracking Chimpanzees is a totally different experience from that of the Mountain Gorillas; unlike the Gorillas, the Chimpanzees are constantly moving around and at high speeds, jumping from tree to tree making lots of noise. In contrast, the Gorillas are usually found sitting eating quietly in a forest clearing. One of the other huge differences between the two tracking experiences is that with the Gorillas, one is allowed one hour to observe and photograph them; with the Chimpanzees there is no time limit. Keeping up with them is the biggest challenge and the biggest determining factor of the amount of time spent with them. Of all the primates in the Nyungwe Forest, it is the Chimpanzees that are the most popular and the core wildlife attraction in this park.
The section of Nyungwe Forest National Park where the Chimpanzee tracking begins is near Cyamudongo, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Kigali. The forest is Africa’s oldest montane (mountainous ecosystem) forest, home to 13 species of primate, including an estimated 500 Chimpanzees. As you pass through the forest, you will hear the whoops and cackles of L’Hoest’s and black-faced vervet monkeys.
The challenge with Chimpanzees, is finding them, as they are not habituated (accustomed to human beings’ presence) and are often a little shy; fortunately, their human instinct is strong and they show a lot of curiosity and eagerness when tourists are around.
Chimpanzees and humans share 98% of their DNA, making them even more fascinating to observe, especially when they display what we call, ‘human behaviour’. Chimp trekking is fast paced and exciting and in our opinion this makes it more of an adventure than Gorilla Trekking; there are less-established paths, denser forests to go through and just discovering them on one’s own makes it more exciting.
Chimpanzee Tracking permits are only $100, which is considerably less than the Gorillas. There are 64 permits per day issued in Rwanda for Gorilla trekking, and only 8 per day for Chimpanzee tracking. So it is advisable to book these permits well in advance, even a year ahead is not too soon.
Considering Rwanda for a primate wildlife adventure is financially more possible when considering the Chimpanzees instead of the Gorillas; and it is certainly an option that will not disappoint. In fact, there are many stories of people coming to Rwanda and accidentally bumping into the Gorillas en route in the forest and even sightings at one’s lodge. The Gorillas are habituated and as such feel somewhat comfortable around humans and have been known to venture to the lodges in search of food. Of course, there are no guarantees of this happening, but if one is lucky, it is very possible!
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