While 50 years ago millions of chimpanzee lived throughout equatorial Africa, today there are only 170 000 to 300 000 left, and with their habitat under constant threat, their numbers are declining rapidly. Today, the eastern chimpanzee range has been reduced to the Central African Republic and DRC, western Uganda, Rwanda and western Tanzania.
Chimpanzee live predominantly in moist and dry forests extending into savanna woodlands. Their diet is omnivorous – about half of it is fruit, with vegetation, bark, small mammals and even honey making up the rest. What they eat varies according to where they live and the seasons. Interestingly, these highly intelligent great apes eat plants with medicinal properties to self-medicate themselves!
Not only do they have opposable thumbs like ours, they also have opposable big toes so they can grasp things with their hands and feet. A little-known but fascinating fact is that groups of chimpanzees living in different regions have unique behaviours, tools and traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. They are highly sociable creatures that live in communities that can include as many as 120 individuals. Chimpanzee communicate by using vocalisations, hand gestures and facial expressions.
Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Kenya
The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary was established in 1993 with an agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. Fully incorporated into Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Sweetwaters is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered species can be seen. Over 40 chimps rescued from the bush-meat industry live in troops on either side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. The project aims to provide a safe chimpanzee haven and preserve their habitats through public education. Visitors to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy have free access to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which is open daily from 9:00am to 10:30am and 3pm to 4:30pm.
Rubondo Island National Park
Our Rubondo Island Camp offers the only accommodation on this wild and wonderful island national park. The park was originally established as a haven for endangered species by Professor Bernhard Grzimek of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. Over a four-year period (1966–1969) he released 16 chimpanzee rescued from European zoos in four cohorts onto the island. This was the first-ever attempt to rehabilitate captive chimpanzees. They have now reverted to an unhabituated state characteristic of wild chimpanzees and remain secretive. From 16 founders the population has now grown to around 35 individuals.
Attempts to habituate these chimpanzee to the presence of humans is a difficult and delicate process that can take up to three years. As a result, sightings of them on guided forest walks at Rubondo Island are exceptionally rare, although you will certainly hear them vocalising and see their treetop nests, which can be from 3 to 45 metres above ground level.
Uganda Chimpanzee Habituation
If you take part in a habituation experience in Murchison Falls or Kibale national parks (Uganda), you will spend a fascinating day observing wild chimpanzee in their natural habitat. This all-day trek is an exceptional experience that is totally unpredictable: the chimpanzee themselves set the day’s pace and programme.
Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
Chimp trekking experiences in the rainforests of Uganda and Rwanda can be arranged. As in gorilla trekking, you will remain with the chimp troop for an hour, after a brisk hike to find them. Chimpanzee cover ground quickly and swing rapidly through the trees, so a chimpanzee trek requires you to move fast through dense forest. Many people find this less well-known experience even more rewarding than gorilla trekking.