“The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the other worldly ‘pant-hoot’ of a troop of chimpanzees reaches its crescendo all around us. My companions and I gape at each other in this primal moment, realising how fantastic it is to be here.” – Patrick Shah, Journeys Discovering Africa
Born and raised in Kenya, Patrick Shah is no stranger to Africa’s allure. As a tour operator, Patrick has had the privilege of visiting multiple African countries while giving his tour groups outstanding African safari experiences. And while all these countries certainly have their merits, one of his favourites is undoubtedly Uganda. He shares the story of one his many amazing experiences in this beautiful country:
“Our two days in Kibale National Park were part of a longer Uganda safari on which I was accompanying a group from the United States. We had hiked through the forest all morning, trudging through mud and balancing precariously on slippery rocks to cross a myriad of streams.
“Our guides, using their experience with this forest, had led us to the vicinity of the chimps. Due partially to their knowledge of which trees were fruiting on the day, but also relying on their ability to hear the calls of the troop and gauge their direction, we located the chimps within an hour and a half of beginning our hike. Chimps are highly mobile on the ground and in the canopy, and if this particular group had not been habituated to tolerate the brief daily presence of humans, we would not have had a hope of keeping up with them. The first sounds we heard were screams and the breaking of branches, and our first glimpses were of hairy masses bounding across the forest floor with incredible and unexpected energy.
“As it turned out, one of the females had come into heat and was being chased down by three or four males. As chimpanzees share a large amount of their DNA with us, it is extremely easy to anthropomorphise these animals. However, we must never forget that while they are disconcertingly human-like in many ways, they are extremely powerful, agile animals that can be aggressive and dangerous at times. Chimpanzee encounters are always heightened by the fact that they hunt monkeys for food and often commit murder within their own communities.
“We picked up the pace now, trying not to trip over tree stumps and vines, unable to resolve the complex three-dimensional mayhem of chimp movements. They appeared to be heading in six different directions at once, descending from trees, and climbing back up them, all the while creating an incredible din.
“Once again, our guides were the key. They led us surely but safely to vantage points, unerringly anticipating where the chimps would be. We managed to take some shots through the gloom, capturing facial expressions on the various males that ranged from what I can only describe as calculating to arrogant to… lecherous?
“Things eventually settled down enough for us to spot the female in a clearing, her sexual organs swollen. Mating took place quickly between her and what appeared to be the dominant male, after which followed a period of grooming and munching of fruit between all the members of the troop – the figurative ‘cigarette’, I would imagine.
“A short time later our guides indicated that time was up, and we turned away to start our hike back to headquarters, grinning with delight all the way.”
As far as chimpanzee sightings go, it really doesn’t get much better than that! Journeys Discovering Africa offer chimpanzee tracking tours to Uganda’s Kibale Forest. Take a look at our Uganda Primates Safari here.