By Annah Nafula & Patricia Osman
A breath of virgin less polluted cool air that could slip a spiritual yogi into mantras and the thick green vegetation is an ultimate break from the city’s chaos.
Sounds of the excited chimpanzees booing and screaming on top of their voices are not an experience you would trade for anything else. This and much more is what Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary is all about.
A quick talk through the rules of the approximately 100 acre Island that is home for the 42 chimps is what our tour guide Okello Amos takes though on arrival.
Though these animals have a likeness to humans, there is a reason they are in the wild. The animals have up to five times the human average strength and that is why we have to be keen while we visit them. Any slight misunderstanding may cause a fatal fight.
At that point, I listened to Amos carefully to hear the safest of the safety measures. He told us the poor hairy beings cannot swim. “If attacked just step back in the lake about two to three steps into the lake. I just thought he could add about 200 to 1000 steps.
The approximately 100 acre Island was secured by Uganda wild authority in 1997 to save chimps from being poached by hunters especially from Congo, some of the saved Chimps could not readopt jungle life so they were picked up and brought here. The chimps are indentified individually by name.
Now if you thought the Museveni and Besigye politics was bad think twice. You probably have not heard of Chimps Eddy and Mika. They have been at each other, struggling to be the leader of the 42 chimps at Ngamba. The rivalry is way too serious than you can ever imagine.
Okello told us that like any other community, every chimp community always has a leader who is the known as the Alpha male. The hierarchy continues to the alpha female and to the rest. You can never imagine how much power head chimp has until meal time.
My team was invited to observe the 11am feeding, it seemed like the chimps had bad appetite on the first food throw. But Okello said that was a sign of respect to the Alpha male. He picks food first. The second throw would be mistaken for a climax in a traditional folk song. All chimps excitedly pick up, gather their food and munch away in amazement.
It is hard to believe especially for human time bad keepers that these animals, without watches, sand timers or gongs are always at feeding spot on the dot of time. “We do not signal them, they are accustomed to the system and as soon as we get here with the food, we find all of them gathered ready to feed.” Said Musawo Byron.
Byron added that the chimps’ diet is largely made of fruits and vegetables and an egg for the protein supplement. Ideally, when the chimps are completely in the wild, they feed on monkeys, termites and other bugs for protein in addition to fruits and vegetables around the forests.
Our tour guide Amos revealed that Ngamba forest is ideally enough for a maximum of two chimps but the special Island now has more than 40 chimps. This means a plan has to be devised to contain all of them in the forest happily. He explains that the chimps come back to the cages at night in order to for the forest to survive. They are also fed four times a day for which each chimp is fed with food measuring up to 10% of its weight. This is the recommended feeding quantity. This in turn reduces the pressure on the forest.
Most of the food that the chimps feed on is bought from the communities around as means to support their survival and to help them understand the importance of the sanctuary. Communities are also encouraged to make crafts from local materials in their Islands which they bring to Ngamba for sale to the Sanctuary visitors.
They are given a percentage of the money and the other percentage is used by the sanctuary to help better these communities’ services. For example, before the sanctuary, they were no schools in these Island communities but at least they now have one school that serves the entire community of about 30,000 people.
Okello revealed that the chimps like humans also suffer from a wide range of diseases including, pneumonia, Ebola and many other ailment s. Some of these do succumb to death and he showed me a place where some of them had been laid to rest. “It is for this reason and many more that we discourage close contacts with the chimps,” added Okello.
- The chimpanzees on the Island are not allowed to breed. In fact they use birth control implants to curb reproduction. But these are not hundred percent effective so sometimes the chimps conceive. Indeed one of the chimps, Kyewunyo had given birth to a now four month playful baby chimp.
- Chimps like human beings, have distinct features and can be told apart.
- The tallest chimp is called Eddie and has been nicknamed boatman after it took over fisher men’s boat.
- Since the death of Zakayo, Eddy has been an aspiring new alpha male but the surfacing of Mica made his leadership less obvious. Okello said they will soon be announcing the new head chimp after they have exercised their democracy. It is possible that the two chimps are campaigning.
- Mother chimps are accorded some special care to take care of their babies.
- The Island was secured by Uganda Wildlife Authority to save chimps in 1997.
- To reach Ngamba Island, one has to go through Waterfront beach in Entebbe. The journey on water is about 24Km which will take you about 45 minutes depending on the weather conditions.
- Ngamba Island is ideally and NGO with partners from all over the world that help fund the day today running of the Island. Okello clarified that government was part of the Island but their main contribution is in the policy making therefore we often call upon individuals and interested organizations to fund the running of the Island. There is a “wall of fame” for individuals and organizations that have contributed to the sanctuary.
- The Island is more of an educational center than a recreational center.
- For foodies, I am afraid to say you may need to pack your bites as the Island doesn’t offer much. In fact they discourage fishing on the Island so you may not have the pleasure to fish later on eat your freshly caught fish. On arrival at the Island, you will be served a cup of tea or coffee with a simple snack. The shop sells some few long shelf life snacks like crisps, roast nuts and soda.
For people interested in camping and staying on the Island, there are a limited number of people allowed at a time because of the limited space available for camping activities. Meals are also provided on special arrangement for the campers.
Chimpanzees are one of the World’s most famous and celebrated wild animals. At a small fee anyone can go see these amazing creatures to Ngamba Islands and support the sanctuary. The chimps are the pride of the Pearl of Africa worth seeing .