In Uganda’s heavyweight primate world there is a friendly competition between the gorillas and the chimpanzees. If visitors have limited time or resources they might have to decide which to prioritise on their visits. It’s not an easy choice.
To help, we’ve brought you a [fake] interview with two ladies – we’ll call them Diane and Jane – having this exact conversation:
Diane, if you had limited time or money on a trip to Uganda which would you visit?
“Gorillas. Definitely the gorillas. It is an awesome experience to come right up to a primate which shares over 95 percent of our DNA, that can weigh over 150 kg (330 lbs), lives in family groups, and are highly intelligent. Remember Koko? The gorilla in captivity that was taught sign language? How could you pass up seeing them in the wild especially as they are considered critically endangered and there are so few left in the world?”
Jane, do you agree?
“Absolutely not. We’re talking about being able to see chimpanzees which are the closest living relative that human beings have! Plus you have more opportunity to visit them with habituated groups in Kibale, Murchison Falls, and Queen Elizabeth National Parks – not to mention the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary right outside Entebbe. It’s easier to fit chimps in on any trip that you’re taking in Uganda. You don’t have to trek to the far end of the country.”
Diane, Jane does have a point. There are many more places around Uganda where you can find Chimpanzees.
“Granted. There are many more places in Africa where you can visit chimps but there are only a couple of other places on the planet where you will be able to meet a gorilla. If you come to Uganda and miss that opportunity then you will definitely regret as it’s unlikely you’re going to see them again in your lifetime.”
Jane, what about the tracking itself are both as physically demanding?
“Whether you visit the chimps or the gorillas you will need to be prepared to hike through some serious brush, do battle with some mud, ants or rain. It’s not for the faint of heart or those in poor physical condition but there’s no reason why a healthy adult (children under 13 are not permitted) couldn’t make the trek for either. That said, the mountains in the south tend to be far steeper than anywhere the chimpanzees can be found.”
Diane? How long can it take to find either the gorillas or the chimps?
“These are wild animals and while the UWA do track them each day there’s no telling how far away they will be from where you start out. Some tracking groups find them in the first half an hour, some people can walk for eight hours, and some groups never find them – although this is rare.”
Jane, what if price is the determining factor?
“Again, the chimps win. Chimpanzees simply provide more bang for your buck. You’ll need permits from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) to go either gorilla safari or chimp tracking but gorilla permits cost $500 USD for foreigners, $475 for East African Residents and 250,000 UGX for Ugandans. Whereas permits in the different parks for chimpanzee tracking range but are generally either $90 USD for foreigners, $70 for East African Residents or 60,000 UGX for Ugandans. These are, in addition to your park entry fees and should be booked in advance no matter what you choose.”
Ladies, I think if there’s one thing we can agree on it’s that all of these wonderful animals need to be conserved and protected. Do you have any insight on groups that are working on this?
Absolutely! The Jane Goodall Institute is active in conservation issues in Uganda. You can read more about that here: http://www.janegoodallug.org/chimps_conservation_issues.html. The FriendaGorilla campaign can also give you more information: http://www.endangeredgorillas.com
More generally you can find out about conservation activities from the Ugandan Wildlife Authroity: http://www.ugandawildlife.org/; Wildlife Conservation Society: http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/africa/uganda.aspx; the Uganda Conservation Foundation: http://www.ugandacf.org/; the Uganda Wildlife Society: http://www.uws.or.ug/, or the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation: http://itfc.org/