There are only three places in the world to see mountain gorillas – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (politically unstable), Rwanda (quite expensive permit fees – $1500 per person for a one hour visit with the gorillas), and Uganda. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity anywhere in the world; only lowland gorillas are in captivity. No one knows why mountain gorillas don’t survive.
Our time with the gorillas was the intended wow experience and the whole point of visiting Uganda. One activity I added on as an after-thought was the chance to see chimpanzees in the wild. That turned out to be even more exciting and rewarding than seeing the gorillas. Imagine a whole day spent with wild chimpanzees.
My niece and I joined a group of four others and started at 7 a.m. After about an hour of walking on an easy trail, we saw our first chimps – a group of about six in an open clearing. We had to be fast with our cameras, as they didn’t stay there long.
We followed them and our next sighting was chimps high in the trees. They were resting and enjoying the high canopy because it was still cool and the bright sun wasn’t out. Then they were on the move again so we tracked and followed them. We experienced a challenging walk through dense forest with no paths – ducking branches in our faces, trying not to get caught by vines around our feet, and looking for firm ground to stand on. Because of the thick vegetation, there were times chimps would come from seemingly nowhere and be very close to us. There are guidelines to keep at least seven feet between humans and chimps, but that wasn’t always possible based on their behavior, and of course, we often wanted to get as close as possible for photos.
After one particularly good sighting, our guide said it was time for lunch. We sat on a big log eating, all facing the same way. We heard a commotion of chimps yelling and rushing through the woods behind us. Worried that they were coming to steal our lunches or worse, we all jumped up and turned around, only to see they were just playing.
At one point, the chimps crossed the road, which the guide said put them in No Man’s Land, where no chimp families live. They kept going even farther and ended up in Foreign Territory, land controlled by another chimp family. He said the chimps almost never go into Foreign Territory for fear of other chimps.
The terrain in Foreign Territory was even more difficult to traverse, and we walked fast to keep up with the chimps. We saw a chimp high in a tree eating a big fruit like a jackfruit and dropping pieces to a chimp sitting below it on the ground. Was it intentional to feed the other chimp or was it accidental pieces breaking off? There was no way to know.
The last chimp sighting we had was of two chimps running, one carrying a big fruit in its mouth. It was about 2:00 by that time, and we felt we’d seen plenty of chimps and really gotten to experience life with them. We saw them playing, on the ground, in the trees, grooming each other, yelling loudly, eating, and running around. We went back to the ranger’s station by 2:30 and ended our day. We could have stayed out until 7:00 pm looking for more chimps and trying to find them building a nest for the night, but we felt complete with our experience.