Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chimpanzees of Queen Elizabeth National Park

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While at Queen Elizabeth National Park tracking chimpanzees at Kyambura Gorge was a must-do on my list. Chimpanzees are the most abundant and widespread of the apes and many populations are in protected areas, but they are an endangered species because of high levels of exploitation, loss of habitat, and poaching for bush meat. If the current population decrease continues by 2030 the chimpanzee population will have been cut in half compared to the 1970 population. Many people have misconceptions about chimpanzees thinking of them only as they are portrayed in Hollywood as cute adorable little apes. However those are only the babies and once chimps reach adulthood they are large and dangerous animals and should not be kept as pets! Any expert on chimpanzees will tell you that news stories like the recent woman who had a face transplant when a chimp ripped her face off is not surprising because adult male chimps are dangerous animals and belong in the wild not your house!

To really get to see chimps well in the wild in Uganda you either need multiple days to dedicate to tracking or a lot of luck! They live in large social groups, but they are fast moving and not too fond of humans. We got to see one for about 5 minutes, but when we moved closer it ran away into the forest and we weren’t able to follow it. We did get to see some abandoned nests and Colobus monkeys and a few hippos at the bottom of the gorge, but no more chimps. I would love to go back sometime and visit Ngamba Island Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust and spend more time learning about them and tracking them in the wild in Uganda. However, this trip was focused on gorillas and I only had one afternoon to track chimps.

While I find chimps fascinating and grew up reading about Jane Goodall and her amazing work with them I have recently become even more fascinated with the chimps and our close relative- the Bonobo. Most people haven’t even heard of the Bonobo and Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize it in its dictionary as a type this! Bonobo’s are a close relative of the chimpanzee and were actually thought to be a pygmy chimp until the 1920’s. They are an amazing primate known as the “make love not war” ape due to their more peaceful matriarchal societies compared to the chimps aggressive patriarchal societies. They are only found in the Congo and are extremely endangered due to habitat loss and poaching for bush meat and sale. If you want to learn more about them I highly recommend Vanessa Wood’s amazing book Bonobo Handshake, which started my obsession with these amazing primates! Obviously the Congo isn’t the safest place to go right now, but I’ve got my heart set on visiting the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary and hope in the next few years that dream could come true. Please take a minute to visit Friends of Bonobos to learn more about this awesome ape! And to learn more about chimpanzees visit the Jane Goodall Institute.

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