Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chasing Chimps

Mabale National Park, Uganda
May 22nd, 2009

We arrived early at Mabale National Park, a park known for its vast numbers of primates, and headed to the Park Headquarters. Once there we enquired about the Chimp Habituation Experience (oh, yes every capital is needed- it's quite the experience). Essentially this experience involves making an early start at 6:00 am and tracking chimps in hopes of seeing them rise from their nests and following them throughout the day until they make their new nests for the night. Extremely excited we set up our camp and signed up for the next day's tour.

Arriving promptly at 6:00 am we met our guide, Austin, a man who has been tracking chimps in this rainforest for the past twenty years. He was a lovely man who led us on our epic journey. It was amazing to see a proper tracker in progress. Every little thing which we were essentially oblivious to was an important clue to where we needed to go. A few seeds here, a smell there and faint,an almost non-existent sound led us to four hours later finding the chimps. Apparently chimps spend 68% of their lives on-the-go scavenging and socializing, they even make new nests in trees every night.

After those four hours sweating in the humid forest, avoiding huge ants (not to worry our trousers were stylishly tucked into our trousers), walking through some steep inclines, and jumping over small river crossings we made it. High up in the canopy were a large family of chimps. We strained our necks for ages staring up at them, it was a Sistine chapel kind of moment- well except for the fact that the chimps frequently pee and spit out seeds and pieces of fruit! Luckily we weren't hit.

Sitting down and eating our lunch, Austin told us that soon the chimps will be coming down. We packed up our belongings and the chase began. It was amazing to watch the chimps navigate themselves down the tall trees with such ease, it was something like a fireman sliding down a pole. As soon as the chimps hit the ground (which they did in quick succession) they ran off. And so did we. The rest of the day was spent catching up with a small group and watching them either groom or eat. It was an exhausting and exhilarating experience as once the chimps were satisfied with whatever they were doing off they went deep into the thick forest and off we went stumbling along to find them.

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