Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Day 2: Chimp Trek

We arrived at Murchison Falls National Park around 8 in the morning and at the Budongo Forest a little before 9 for our Chimp Trek. We all had to stuff our pants into our socks, which looked ridiculous, but since the option was having ants crawl up our legs and bite us, we all complied. There were other rules as well: no flash photography, no spitting, no eating or drinking in front of the animals, and no one could go if we had a cold or cough.

Heading out, our ranger told us we might need to walk 5 km to get to where the chimps were, but we lucked out and saw our first chimp about a kilometer into the forest. Not that we would have seen it except that our guide said, “Chimp,” and we all turned around and there it was, crossing a grassy area in front of us. I have numerous pictures of this grassy area just after a chimp has walked through it, so I hope you will take my word for it that there were big black hairy things loping through this sunny grass while I watched; one is just behind and to the right of the big stump in this picture. Really.

The chimpanzees were much, much bigger than I thought they would be. I had “Bedtime for Bonzo” firmly in mind, but these wild ones were, at a guess, close to twice that size. We followed a group of chimps who were headed to a fruit tree and there saw as wide a range of chimp activity as I could imagine. A mother with a baby clinging to her. A female in heat. A male erecting (as our guide pointed out to us). A couple of chimps grooming. And as we watched the chimps grooming, less than a minute, our guide said, “Mating’s done,” which left all of us thinking “That was quick!” Then the chimps climbed to the ground on long vines and wandered off.

Unfortunately, none of the pictures came out very clearly; it was hard to see them even when I was right there and required fairly hard concentration to make out what was happening (with the exception of the erecting, which was pretty obvious). Mostly I just watched as best I could since it seemed a shame to miss what was actually in front of me for the sake of a blurry photo.

Again, our guide and another who joined us knew the animals by name. “I haven’t seen Jingo in a long time!” our guide told us, pointing out a male doing some grooming of another chimp in the tree, which you can vaguely make out in this photo.
When we got back, Courtney asked us if we’d seen any chimps. When we burbled about all we’d seen, Courtney told us we’d been very lucky; we were the first group she’d brought that had seen anything other than a single chimp. We were amazingly lucky.

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