Chimpanzees have a rich collection of sounds, postures and facial expressions. There are four main ways which they get their point across: touch, smell, sight and sound. Chimpanzee vocalisation is often related to their emotions: pant-hoots of excitement, food grunts at meal time, and barks when angry. Chimps will wave their hands vigorously to ask for food, stare intently at their neighbour hoping for a tasty bit or perhaps “puff up” and “charge” to show their high rank.
Chimpanzees share 98.4% of their DNA with humans. This means their physiology, anatomy and immunology is very similar to ours. This similarity between the two species has caused one species to suffer for the benefit of the other. Chimpanzees are kept in laboratories around the world, often in poor conditions, so that biochemical researchers can test new drugs, experiment with new vaccines for HIV and Hepatitis and study the effects of various toxins. All for human benefit. For those chimpanzees that are still alive by the end of their “useful” life, their bodies have often suffered too much for them to survive much longer. These chimpanzees pay a high price for being our closest living relative
In the wild chimpanzees are very good mothers. Families generally share a close bond, and community members show a great deal of interest when an infant is born. Chimpanzees are dependent on their mothers until they are about five years old when they are weaned. Like human children, loving care is vitally important in their first years of life.
Contrary to popular belief, chimpanzees do not make good pets. An adult chimpanzee is at least five times stronger than a human being and although chimpanzee infants are cute and harmless, eventually they too grow up. Chimpanzees that are kept as pets by individuals or businesses are kept for human entertainment, not for the chimpanzee’s benefit. Once they reach adolescence they often get out of control, start disobeying their human owners and destroy their domestic environment. At this point they are often restrained, abandoned or even killed, only to be replaced by a new infant who will eventually face the same treatment.
Now considered an endangered species, chimpanzees have long been traded as bush meat or kept as pets and their territory is decreasing as the human population encroaches on the forests throughout the region. There are now thought to be only 3,000 chimpanzees in the wild in Uganda and numbers are reducing. The sanctuary can help educate visitors and local people about these remarkable animals who share 98.4% DNA with humans and the importance of conserving their fragile forest habitat.
Like human children, chimpanzees love to play! They frequently laugh when playing favourite games such as chase or tickle. At this time they are inquisitive and think quickly, learning or practicing skills they need as they grow. Play sessions between older individuals commence when one approaches with a “play walk” – back rounded, head slightly down and movements exaggerated. One of the two then reaches to thump or tickle the other, and the game begins.
Ngamba Island is a 100-acre sanctuary with lush vegetation and many species of food trees. A total of 39 chimps are kept here, and have the run of the majority of the island. Just a small are for visitors is fenced off – as adult chimps can become quite aggressive and have been known to attack humans.
The chimps are fed four times a day as there is not enough food on the island to sustain the number of chimps held here, and visitors can witness this spectacle from a raised viewing platform. In addition, each day, a maximum of three participants may walk through the forest to interact with the chimps. This must be pre-booked and there are many medical, behaviour and other restrictions
Chimpanzees show their feelings with gestures and facial expressions. Individuals groom each other regularly to keep clean and promote long-lasting friendship. Chimps experience all the same emotions as we do – the laugh, show anger and grieve when they lose a friend.
Chimps have a complex social life that seems too human to be true. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, even cousins, all live together playing, grooming, exploring and searching for food. The role of the Alpha Male (or Boss Chimp) is to protect the group and promote harmony amongst members. Dominant males are usually 20 years or older.
They did not even tell me that we were crossing the Equator in the boat journey here until we were returning. Yes, you have to cross the Equator here twice to and from Ngamba Island. You are now in the very middle of the world. The guys on the boat tell you that when you pass a certain island (pictured somewhat) that you just passed from the Southern Hemisphere to the North! It would have been better if they had told me going out – so I am letting you know ahead of time.
THE CHIMPANZEE SANCTUARY & WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TRUST (CSWCT) owns and maintains Ngamba Island. The Sanctuary was established in October 1998 to care for Chimpanzees confiscated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. There are orphans from Bush Meat/Poaching as well as animals rescued from being pets and circus entertainment. The goal is to reintegrate them into Chimpanzee social groupings and behaviours so they can be returned to protected wild areas in Uganda. The sanctuary never turns down orphans. Limited mating also takes place. Scared chimpanzees are initially held in a holding area (pictured) until their needs can be assessed and a reintegration plan is drawn up. The staff love and know all about each chimpanzee.
The sanctuary is managed by 7 trustee organizations: The Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Wildlife Society, Environment Conservation Trust, Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Born Free Foundation-UK, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Jane Goodall Institute.
All tours to Ngamba island are set up through Wild Frontiers. They are the only people allowed to land a boat on the island. Prices can change, so please go to their website via the link below. It is not cheap, but you can see how your money is spent when you get there. If you are only in the Kampala/Entebbe area for a few days, this is an excellent way to see wildlife in Uganda. It’s a fantastic day out. Your ticket includes entry to the fantastic outside zoo on the mainland. I suggest taking the afternoon tour (there are 2 a day) and getting to the zoo early. It will take you ate least 3 hours to see it all. And take your own food and water!
These guys eat well and they eat often. They are fed 7 times a day! And their food looks and smells delicious. Ripe, and I mean ripe, pears, bananas, oranges, melons, the works. All this stuff gets thrown at them from a great height, but it ends up being a game. Yep, chimpanzees can catch with both hands and feet and they rarely miss a catch. In the big onslaught of airborne fruit bombardments I only saw one of them get hit in the head.
Before you start your tour the guide will tell you about the different personalities you will meet. Pay attention! One of the chimpanzees was a sort of pet/freak show who used to go to bars with his ‘owner’ and smoke. He still makes gestures like he has a cigarette. One of the guys will lay down when he is happy. He of course does this after he has eaten. Another makes ‘raspberry’ spitting sounds to gain attention. Another must have been doing some boxing because he always stands like a fighter in a ring. Some of these are sad stories, but you recognise who is who when you meet them.