The island sanctuary: Ngamba chimpanzees

We are all 98.7% chimpanzee.

So say the folks at Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary. Whilst there is debate over the actual percentage what is agreed is that our DNA is very close to that of chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are closer to humans than gorillas, for example. This perhaps helps to explain why when we look at chimpanzees we see so much of ourselves.

On Saturday we commissioned¬†Sabili Tours to take us to Ngamba Island. Ngamba is a sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees. It is cunningly situated on an island as chimpanzees can’t swim. This means that the chimps are free to roam the 95 acres of forest.

Ngamba Island Collage

This makes an excellent day trip from Kampala. To get to the island you leave from Entebbe, which is only an hour drive from Kampala in good traffic. The speedboat takes an hour to get to Ngamba Island, a fun journey in itself.

The chimps get fed four times a day so if you are going for a day trip the best times to see the chimps are at the mid-morning feeding or the afternoon one. We opted for the afternoon. The chimps are free to roam the forest in the day but eagerly assemble by the fence separating the human living area from the forest for mealtimes. The fence has recently been enlarged because two male chimps managed to climb over the old one. Chimpanzees learn fast.

It was quite amazing seeing so many adult chimpanzees gathering for the feeding. They held up hands for fruit to be thrown to them, they strolled, some adult males made short displays at each other.

chimp Collage

I had two favourite moments watching the chimpanzees. One was watching a young chimpanzee, newly rescued, doing forward rolls around his enclosure (new arrivals are separated with a few adult females to help them adjust and recover from any trauma they suffered prior to arriving on the island). The other was watching a couple of chimpanzees use sticks to reach fruit that had fallen beyond the fence.

chimp with stick

They were extremely sneaky. They deliberately waited until the chimpanzees who were higher ranking were out of the way or not looking before reaching for the food. They knew that if they got it too soon it would be taken from them. Amazing!

The island was beautiful and also had many birds zooming around. As well as watching the feeding you can opt for several other experiences such as being a care-taker for a day or helping with the integration of new arrivals. I’m considering these, but they are pricey and you need to prove you are fully vaccinated (chimpanzees are susceptible to nearly all our human diseases.

Ngamba Island is a great opportunity to see chimpanzees close up. I definitely recommend it to all coming to Kampala.