- June 22, 2023
- Posted by: chosen@202q
- Category: Primate trekking
Kalinzu Central Forest Reserve is found in southwestern Uganda in the district of Bushenyi. The forest reserve is close to Maramagambo forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kalinzu forest reserve has abundant wildlife. Over 379 species of birds exist in the forest. There are six species of primates which include chimpanzees, baboons, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys, l’hoest monkeys, Vervet monkeys, black and white Colobus monkeys. The forest also has night creatures like bush babies, Pottos and Galagos. Those interested in butterflies can expect to spot over 261 species. The forest reserve has 414 species of trees, 98 of moths, flowers and reptiles. The close proximity to two major wildlife conservation areas as earlier noted helps draw large mammals like Lions, wild pigs, antelopes, leopards and buffaloes to the forest from time to time.
Chimpanzees in Kalinzu Central Forest Reserve
Chimpanzees are the key attraction on Kalinzu Forest. Chimps are currently only found in 21 African countries (from 25). Researchers and conservationists believe that in 10 years’ time, Chimpanzees will become extinct in 10 more countries. Although 5,000 or so chimps can be found in Uganda, 90% of the chimpanzee population has been lost in the last 80 years.
Chimpanzees are intriguing because they look and behave like we humans. In fact, they share at least 98% of their DNA with us. Chimps give birth after every 5 years and take care of their young until they are about 12 years old. They live in large communities – each with a culture. Chimps are very intelligent and are known to use a variety it tools and tricks to hunt insects, smaller primates and antelopes. Unlike gorillas, chimp communities are always evolving with female adolescents living the group to join others.
The greatest threat to chimpanzees in Africa is loss of habitat through deforestation. Chimpanzees are also hunted for their meat among tribes in the Congo or sold as pets to illegal animal collectors. Uganda has lost thousands of chimps in the last century because of snares and other traps set up for other animals like antelopes. The government has taken action and declared killing of chimps illegal and has partnered with wildlife conservation Agencies like the Chimpanzee sanctuary in Ngamba Island to protect the chimps. Strict measures are in place in all major national parks and forest reserves like Budongo to protect the primates and put to book anyone caught killing a chimpanzee.
Chimpanzee Trekking in Kalinzu Forest
Chimpanzee trekking in Kalinzu forest is the main activity that draws visitors to the forest. Kalinzu Central Forest Reserve hosts one of the largest communities of chimpanzees in Uganda. It is arguably the second best place to track chimpanzee after Kibale Forest in Uganda. Of the about 320 chimpanzees in the forest reserve, close to 50 are habituated (open to tourism). Most tourists from Queen Elizabeth National Park prefer tracking chimps in Kalinzu forest despite the fact that the park has its own chimp community at Kyambura Gorge. It is easy to reach Kalinzu forest through the Mweya sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The drive only takes about 40 minutes.
Chimpanzee trekking in Kalinzu forest is not very demanding as gorilla tracking but one need to be fit enough to walk for 3 to 4 hours through sometimes difficult terrain. The trek may include passing through steep slopes and muddy parts of the forest. Though chimps generally live in flatter terrain compared to mountain gorillas, they are very mobile and one needs to be prepared to follow them at high speed which can be tiresome.
Chimpanzee tracking in Kalinzu forest starts in the morning and is led by a guide and armed ranger. The rangers and Guides are familiar to the chimps because were involved in their habituation process. Chimpanzees may not be so welcoming to complete strangers and that’s one of the reasons why the activity must be led by an official Guide.
There is a morning and afternoon shift. The morning shift starts at 8:00am while the afternoon shift begins at 3:00pm. Each shift offers a unique experience. The chimps are very active in the morning as they go out to eat and secure their territory. The chimps are full in the afternoon and prefer to relax and escape the heat from the sun.
Chimpanzee tracking in Kalinzu Forest starts with briefing from the Guide and rangers. During the briefing, visitors are divided into 3 groups depending on their overall fitness and pace. After the briefing, you will head to the forest to locate the chimps. By this time, some tackers would have already left much early to identify the exact location of the chimps. As you hike to locate the chimps, you also encounter other forest creatures, birds and primates like baboons, blue monkeys, L’hoest monkeys and red-tailed monkeys. The head trackers communicate with the Guide by phone and lets him/her know about the chimp movements and their location. Chimps are very mobile and spend a lot of their time on top of trees. Spotting them and taking photos requires some skill and effort.
After spending about an hour or two tracking the chimps through thick forest, steep terrain and having yourself covered with tree branches, ants and shrubs, your attention is suddenly drawn to the distant calls of the primates. Within no time you would have found their location. Use the one hour to observe their behavior and group dynamics as they swing from tree to tree. You might spot some resting, others mating or grooming one another. Some individual chimps may come close to you while most will keep their distance. You will notice that they make different sounds to express different emotions. You understand the meaning of each hoot by observing how other chimps respond to it.
The success rate of spotting chimpanzees in Kalinzu forest is 95%. The cost of a chimpanzee permit in Kalinzu forest is $50 while the age limit for chimpanzee trekking in Uganda is 12. This is far less than the $150 charged in Kibale National Park. Chimpanzee permits can be booked at the reception Centre of the reserve or more conveniently through a tour operator. Though Chimpanzee permits in Kalinzu forest can be got on the day of tracking, it is important to book in advance to be on the safer side. We have an interesting 3 Day Kibale Chimpanzee Tracking Safari package for you to read about.
Other activities in Kalinzu Forest Reserve
Nature Walks: Guided Nature walks in Kalinzu forest are truly memorable. You get lost in a completely new world of dense forests, beautiful scenery, waterfalls, singing birds and primate calls. One can walk up to Kishunja Hill Viewpoint and see the forest from the top as well as the Rwenzori ranges of Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can be led outside the forest to spot beautiful plantations. Your Guide will share information about the forest, its ancient myths and its creatures. The forest has four main trails for nature walks – The valley trail, the waterfall trails, the river trail and the Palm trail
The valley trail takes you to see spectacular valleys and forest canopies. It takes 4 hours to complete this trail and by this time, you would have encountered many of the creatures and primates living in the forest. The waterfall trail takes between 4 to 6 hours. The key attraction here is the kilyantama waterfall. The trail passes though areas with high elevation which offer great views of the forest. The River trail is the best for those who are interested in chimpanzees. Moreover, visitors will also encounter the River Kajojo were elephants used to take their shower from. Completing the river trail takes about an hour. The palm trial on the other hands takes you for two hours of hiking through flat terrain with opportunities to see interesting tree species – including the flame tree whose leaves are believed to raise female sex drive, the Dragon tree and the Raphia Palms for making traditional mats.
Viewing large mammals and other wildlife: Kalinzu Central forest reserve is close to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the great Maramagambo forest. Some of the park animals like leopards, wild pigs and antelopes cross to feed in the forest. An arrangement can be made to go to the area of the forest joining Queen Elizabeth National Park for a chance to see some of the large mammals and even big cats.
Birdwatching: Kalinzu Forest is a birders paradise. It is one of the best places for birding in Uganda. The species include the Black and White Casket, Cuckoos, Great Blue Turaco and Sunbirds. As you search for the birds, expect to also encounter other forest creatures, primates, plants and amazing scenery. Birdwatching is best done in the morning hours.
Identifying Butterflies: With the help of a Guide, you can go out to the forest in the morning or evening and identify the over 200 species of butterflies.
Camping: A camping site has been set up in the middle of the forest where visitors can live close to nature and enjoy the beautiful African night while listening to amazing sounds of night animals.
Accommodation in Kalinzu Central Forest Reserve
There are no standard/formal accommodation facilities within Kalinzu forest yet. Those interested in camping can do so but need to come with their own bedding, food supplies and tents. The main camping site is close to the forest offices (Nkombe forest station) but has basic facilities, solar powered showers and Pit latrines. Firewood and Water can be organized at the station or purchased at the nearby trading Centre along the Kasese to Mbarara highway.
The closest hotel to the forest reserve is the Homeland hotel near Ishaka. The best option for those interested in more comfortable travel is to book with one of the various lodges in Queen Elizabeth like Engiri game lodge, Jacana lodge, Katara lodge, Mweya hostels, Mweya safari lodge, Park View Safari Lodge and Queen Elizabeth Pvt lodge. These lodges offer budget, mid-range and Luxury facilities. Once you have secured a room in one of the above lodges, you can then go to Kalinzu forest for activities early in the morning and return for dinner and overnight.
Rules and tips for chimpanzee trekking in Kalinzu Forest
Kalinzu Central Forest reserve is managed by the Forestry Authority in Uganda. There are rules that visitors are required to know and follow before and during the chimpanzee tracking activity. These rules are designed with the safety of visitors and forest animals in mind. For example: –
- Only 6 people are can track a particular chimp community per session. This is to avoid overcrowding and irritating the chimps.
- One must be 12 years and above to track chimpanzees in Kalinzu forest.
- Visitors are only allowed one hour with the chimps. This is to limit the spread of diseases but also to avoid getting them agitated or alerted.
- While with the chimpanzees, keep your voice low.
- Don not eat food while close to the chimps.
- Don’t try to provoke the chimps.
- Do not wonder away from your group or the main trail. Always have company even when going to ease yourself.
- Visitors are not allowed to track chimpanzees on their own and without an authorized Guide. This is because chimpanzees can get aggressive when they spot unfamiliar faces.
- Visitors with flue, cough, diarrhea or any other transmittable diseases are not allowed to go near the chimps to avoid risk of exposure.
- Keep a distance of at least 8 meters away from the chimps.
- Using flash cameras is prohibited as it could alert the chimpanzees.
- Always follow instructions from the Guides and do not come to close to chimpanzees. They are more aggressive than gorillas and though relatively small are more powerful than most humans.
- Do not litter the forest while tracking the chimpanzees.
- It is important to move with packed snack and drinking water when going out to track the chimps.
- Go prepared with good hiking boots, long stockings, a hat, long trousers and shirts. Do not forget to move with a hiking stick and rain jacket especially during the rainy season.
- Chimps spend a lot of time on top of trees and a good binocular will enrich your experience.
How to reach Kalinzu Forest
Kalinzu forest is about 375 km away from Kampala city. It is located strategically along the Mbarara- Kasese Highway and very close to the Ishaha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. In fact, its offices were built in an area that would allow visitors connect to and from Queen Elizabeth National Park. To reach Kalinzu forest from Kampala, one needs to get a bus from the main bus park to Butare. The journey from Kampala up to the forest reserve offices takes 5 hours and costs about $4. You first stop in Butare then hire a taxi or boda boda (Motorcycle Taxi) to the reception Centre for visitors.