The Ngamba chimpanzee sanctuary in Uganda

I’m a little nervous of chimps. Personally, I think it’s because their actions and personalities remind me far too much of us humans. This is also why I am absolutely fascinated by them.

When I was in Kampala, Uganda, I took the opportunity to visit the orphaned chimpanzees at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. I had heard mixed reports about the sanctuary; some had said that it was a must see, while others left me thinking that it could be a waste of time. But after some consideration I took a chance. And I was so glad I did.

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Lake Victoria, Uganda © Sean Messham

After a quick breakfast at the Red Chilli and Hideaway, where I stayed while in Kampala, I was taken on an eventful taxi ride through the capital to Entebbe. It was a small matter of a 45-minute boat ride on the largest inland lake in Africa, Lake Victoria, to Ngamba Island. On the way we passed men on their fishing boats. Pied kingfishers became so common they were like seagulls around a fish- -and-chip shop. I had never seen them so far from shore. Surprises like these became commonplace for me in Uganda and my curiosity for birds grew more and more each day. In my mind, I had already made the right decision.

When we arrived on the island the friendly Ngamba Island staff greeted us. Again birds, this time breeding weavers, on the island immediately distracted me before I was politely asked to join the group for a brief talk. The orientation presentation was a great introduction to the island and its resident chimpanzees. Most of the chimps have come from horrific backgrounds involving either poaching, wildlife trade or habitat destruction and were rescued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. But what I found liberating was that the saved chimps had managed to construct an active and reproductive social group on the 40-hectare forest island. So they were as free as they could be and were living as naturally as possible. What a dream.

Feeding time was a frenzy of excitement. From the advantage of the raised platform you could see the group emerge from the forest. I found it fascinating as the staff told me who was who and what primates’ gestures and actions meant. You could also read the background stories of individual chimps. The trip was an awesome way to spend a day; not only did I get a boat trip on Lake Victoria and see happy chimps, but my ticket helped towards the conservation of these magnificent great apes.

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Chimpanzees are an endangered species due to habitat destruction, poaching for bushmeat, the pet trade and medical experiments.

Ngamba Island Information

Access and Bookings can be done through in Entebbe or through Red Chilli and Hideaway.

Day Trip Highlights

  • Feeding times

11:00 am and 2:30 pm. (HINT: arrange to arrive an hour before)

  • Bird Viewing (over 130 recorded species)
  • Other activities
    • Volleyball.
    • Kayaking and Island hopping.
    • Curio store (I recommend their coffee beans). 

Overnight Trips

  • Exclusive permanent tented accommodation.

Each unit has raised wooden deck and overlooks the lake. It accommodates two people in comfort.

  • Full-sized twin beds.
  • En suite bathroom.
  • Solar lighting.
  • Freshly prepared meals and drinks are available.
  • An additional option to walk with the chimps in the forest

Contact Details

Tel. +256 41 432 0662, +256 772 221 880


Visit the Ngamba Island website

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Tumbo was confiscated at Entebbe Airport and arrived in 1998 © Sean Messham

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Sean Messham

While taking photographs in the Cederberg, neck deep in water with a modest film camera, Sean Messham opened the shutter that he wanted to focus his energy towards environmental journalism. For more of Sean Messham’s images visit his Facebook Page, Sean Messham Photography.

Africa Geographic