Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest National Park


August 23rd - 25th, 2016

After a very early morning wake up call we left the Lake Victoria Serena Resort at 6:00 am to drive to Entebbe airport for our flight to Kasese near the western border of Uganda. We had two small 12 seater prop planes chartered for the one hour flight which took us over farmland that slowly turned more mountainous and less populated. Three land rovers were waiting for us at the small Kasese airstrip. And after we met our other two local guides, Moses and Yassin, the drive up North to our lodge near the town of Fort Portal took two hours on well paved roads. Along the way we drove through a couple of small towns with very lively markets full of amazing fruit and vegetable displays. The main food staple here are bananas which come in several different types. The most common were these green bananas, which have to be cooked or fried before there are eaten and which people everywhere carried in huge bunches on their bikes:

Kyaninga Lodge
Kyaninga Lodge, our home for the next two nights, was one of the most stunning places I have ever stayed at. It is built high up on the top of an ancient crater rim overlooking Lake Kyaninga - a gorgeous crater lake surrounded by steep walls on all sides. The lodge consists of a main building and a series of 10 smaller huts connected by walkways and stairs. Each of the huts contains one huge guest room with a large porch overlooking the lake. It was an unbelievable setting.

In the distance behind the lake we could see the Rwenzori Mountains which are also known as the Mountains of the Moon. This range runs along the border of Uganda and the DRC and its highest peak reaches over 5,100 meters (or 16,7000 feet) making it the third highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya).

Since we had a little bit of time before lunch we decided to go on a short walk down towards the lake. We didn't get very far before we saw a family of black and white colobus monkeys sitting in the trees above us. They were very shy but also quite curious and kept looking at us while trying to hide behind the branches. 

After a very nice lunch in the lodge we went on an afternoon hike around the lake. The first half took us through the dense forest near the shore of the lake while the last part was on top of the the crater rim. We walked underneath the overhanging rocks of the crater wall and we had amazing views of the lodge from the other side of the lake.

Back at the lodge while enjoying a cold Nile Special (the local Ugandan beer) on the terrace we were visited by this huge weird looking bird which we learned was a black-and-white-casqued hornbill.

Chimpanzee Tracking in Kibale Forest
The main reason we came to this part of Uganda was to go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest National Park, which covers a densely forested area of 766 square kilometers. The park was established in 1993 and borders Queen Elizabeth National Park to the South. It has been one of the main centers for chimp research for decades, and there are many habituated groups of chimps which are now also carefully used for tourism. Since the chimps can be a bit hard to find we had two mornings of chimp tracking scheduled, which would increase our chances that we saw them. We had to get up early on both days leaving the lodge at 7:00 am for the one hour drive to the ranger station inside the park. Along the way we had some amazing views of the sunrise over the mist-shrouded landscape. 

and one morning we encountered this big herd of very strange looking longhorn cattle: 

At the ranger station we were split into smaller groups of no more than six people and each group went out into the forest with a guide. At first it seemed a bit disconcerting that all the guides carried AK47's with them. We learned these are necessary for scaring of forest elephants or buffaloes, but we did not encounter any of those. On the first day it only took us about 30 minutes of trekking through the dense forest before we heard our first chimp hoots. It was an incredible and very loud sound. As we got closer we were able to see some glimpses of them high up in the trees right above us. We watched them for some time climbing through the trees and eating figs. But they were very high up and hard to see.

But then our guide heard over her walkie-talkie that a group had come down to the ground nearby and she went racing in that direction. We could barely keep up, but after a few minutes we saw these four chimps right in front of us walking along the path. We followed them for some time which was incredibly exciting and we ended up getting very close to them before they climbed up into the trees again.

On the second day we were accompanied by one of the leading African primatologists, Prof Isabirye Basuta, who was one of the first researchers studying the chimps here in Kibale. He had also given us a presentation and joined us for dinner the previous night. We soon found a group very high up in the trees eating their figs again. Some of them were right above our heads. Occasionally there was water dripping on us from above, which we all assumed was just moisture coming of the leaves until we saw Jill trying to get out of the way in a hurry, because she knew that it wasn’t water dripping on us but chimps peeing on us.

Since they didn't come down to the ground that time, we kept on walking through the forest where we saw many signs of the forest elephants having been here recently, but sightings of them are very rare. We did come across the largest moth I have ever seen. It was bigger than my hand.

Bigoti Wetland Sanctuary
In the afternoon of our first day we also had a very interesting and beautiful hike around the Bigoti Wetlands Sanctuary, which is located just at the edge of the forest. Bigoti is a protected swamp area which houses a huge number of species of small mammals, reptiles, monkeys and birds. The hike around and through the swamp took about two hours and we saw four different types of monkeys, this beautiful Blue Agama Lizard, lots of interesting birds and we even got a short glimpse of a Black Spitting Cobra.

After two fascinating days in Kibale National Park we drove South towards our next destination Queen Elizabeth National Park. Along the way we stopped at a local restaurant in Fort Portal, which served a Ugandan buffet. Ugandan specialties seem to be mainly focussed around starchy roots, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassavas but also includes pumpkins and various meats in peanut sauce.

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