Dynasties- the demise of David, and where to see his fellow chimps in the wild

Sob! If you were (like us) gripped by Sunday’s episode of Dynasties, the latest David Attenborough documentary, you’ll be saddened to hear that David (alpha male chimp, not the presenter) has been killed, beaten to death by the younger males in the group. Watching the documentary, it was hard not to cheer this strong, brave, chimp. Desperately wounded in an attack under the cover of darkness, he battled his way back to leadership of the troop. Sadly, this was not to last. He was killed 7 months after filming finished as the males in the group battled it out for dominance and the chance to mate with the female chimps.

Chimp from Kyambura Gorge Lodge

Chimp from Kyambura Gorge Lodge, Uganda

Watching Dynasties, it is all too easy to recognise the politics at play. Chimpanzees are our second closest relatives (the closest are bonobos, found only in the DRC) and perpetually push the boundaries of what it means to be human.

Once it was thought that only human beings used tools, and then chimps were found to use twigs for fishing termite mounds and rocks as weapons. For a while it was thought that only humans could smile, but now we know that chimps also smile. Equally, it was once thought true that only humans were self-aware, but chimps (and also magpies) have been shown to recognise themselves in a mirror. Chimps share 95-98% of our DNA, can catch our diseases, and have, in captivity, learned simple sign language.

Baby Chimp at Greystoke Mahale

Baby Chimp at Greystoke Mahale, Tanzania

The best places to track chimpanzees

Chimps are found only in Africa, living in the patches of forest which once made up the equatorial rainforest belt. Seeing them in real life can be as moving, fascinating, and at times, as terrifying as Dynasties showed.

The Mahale Mountains in Tanzania is one of our all-time dream destinations for chimp trekking- not only does it have chimpanzees, but the setting is glorious- mist covered mountains tumbling down to the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika. The downside of Mahale is that it’s remote and can be costly to get to, so many more people go to see the chimpanzees in either Rwanda or Uganda.

Greystoke Mahale

The Mahale Mountains, with Greystoke Mahale

Rwanda’s chimps are found near to Nyungwe Forest, a mecca for birding and hiking and a nice add-on to a few days of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. In Uganda you are spoilt for choice- probably the best-known place for chimp trekking is Kibale Forest, where sightings of the chimps are usually very reliable. Here, you can also take part in chimpanzee habituation, heading out for the full day with the park rangers to try to acclimate chimps to human presence. Further north, just outside Murchison Falls National Park, you can track chimps in Budongo Forest- many of the excellent guides here were trained by Disney, so they’re excellent at really capturing the magic of the chimpanzees. For those visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can also track chimps at Kyambura Gorge, making chimps in the morning and elephants in the afternoon an entirely reasonable possibility.

If you’re not sure which option would suit you best, we’ve tried them all, so just ask us to point you in the right direction!

Kyambura Chimp

Kyambura Gorge Lodge Chimp, Uganda

Just back from… Uganda

Just back from… Uganda

At the end of last year Alex zoomed off to Uganda. She claims it was absolutely critical for business, and definitely not just to escape the British winter. In fairness though, since Rwanda’s gorilla permits have shot up to $1,500 per person (ouch!) we’ve seen a huge surge in people travelling to Uganda, so being tip-top up to date has helped us to give our travellers the inside edge.

Alex gives us the lowdown on her “definitely-all-work, not-at-all-fun” trip:

What makes a trip to Uganda special? Definitely the people- what’s so cool about Uganda is that unlike visiting reserves in many other African countries, you don’t just jet in and out of remote wildernesses, you get to meet local people. The vast majority of the lodges and camps are in little villages around the edges of the national parks, and you get much more of a sense of the country than you would in many other places.

The Bwindi Bar in Buhoma Village, Courtesy of Bwindi Lodge

Favourite bits? Oh gorilla trekking, obviously. I’ve done an awful lot of safari, but gorilla trekking is still one of the best wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. I should also mention that if you’re a birding geek, Uganda is stellar- obviously the star of the show is spotting a shoebill stork, but there are incredible birds everywhere.

Gorilla (c) Katie Fewkes

“Less favourite” (ahem!) bits? It rains in Uganda.  A LOT. Even in the dry season. If you’re a woman from wet Scotland, desperately hoping for some African sun, this is not ideal. Investing in decent waterproofs is key.

What’re the lodges like? Fab. Generally charming and deliberately pretty rustic, so I think you’d have to like the more atmospheric/authentic style of lodge.  If you want electricity that runs 24hrs and in-room wifi, you might find South Africa’s luxury safari lodges a safer bet.

Nkuringo Lodge

How would you plan a trip to Uganda? Uganda is so varied, I think there is plenty to do there in a 2-week standalone trip. For now, I’d say the safari probably doesn’t (yet) stand up against safari in Kenya or Tanzania, so if you want a serious big game safari, you may want to combine Uganda with one of its neighbours. However, I think the best way to see Uganda is to focus on what’s so special there- the birds, the primates, and the range of brilliant activities you can do outside a vehicle: hiking, mountain bike safaris, horse riding and boat safaris.

Mihingo Lodge Mountain Bike Safari

Top tips? Pack some binos- I’ve never used mine more than I did in Uganda. Also- make sure you understand your camera properly before you go- the bright light of the forest and the darkness of gorilla (or chimp) faces makes photography difficult, so this is not the time to start learning how to use your camera!

Save £575 per person on a luxurious wilderness adventure in Uganda

Uganda’s long been one of our favourite African countries and it seems the world is catching on to it. Not only is Uganda home to some of the very last mountain gorillas in the world, it also has the sort of game reserves that people come to and sigh “this is what the Serengeti used to be like”… Kidepo (recently acknowledged by CNN as the 3rd finest game reserve on the entire continent- fine praise up against such heavyweights as the Kruger, Masai Mara or Ngorongoro Crater) has spectacular game viewing and a fraction of the vehicles you’d find elsewhere in Africa.

Why? Well it used to be virtually impossible to visit unless you chartered a private plane, but scheduled flights announced in December 2013 have put safari in Kidepo firmly on the map.  Combine this with some of the spectacular special offers available during the green season in Bwindi and you’ve got a great value, utterly magical trip on your hands.

Safari in Kidepo NP

Kidepo

Safari in Kidepo NP

Kidepo Zebras

Day 1: Fly overnight from London to Entebbe, and crash out here for the night. Welcome to Africa!

Day 2: Connect on to your light aircraft flight up to Kidepo, a vast undiscovered savannah ringed by craggy peaks, where the wildlife clusters around the Narus and Kidepo Rivers.  Remote and with utterly wonderful scenery and game viewing, this is a park to visit now before the hoardes catch on that it’s easy to visit.  Spend 3 nights here at Apoka Lodge. Take game drives and look out for cheetah (not found elsewhere in Uganda), leopard and lion. Look out for ellies, skittish zebra and fat little warthogs with their tails firmly in the air. Take a walking safari and trace pug marks in the dust, or a night game drive to watch the glint of eyes as you pass by in the darkness.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi

Bwindi Gorilla © Aurelia Thomas

Day 5: From Kidepo, take a private flight down to Bwindi National Park. Not cheap, no (if you want to do this itinerary at a reduced price, we can send you back to Entebbe for a night in between), but what a way to get a sense of the magnificent Ugandan landscape.  Spend 3 nights here at the utterly wonderful Gorilla Forest Camp- so close to the national park that it’s not unknown to spot gorillas actually in the gardens. Just watch this YouTube video if you don’t believe us… We’ll include two gorilla treks while you’re here so you really get a sense of how special these wonderful animals are.

Day 8: Fly back to Entebbe and relax beside Lake Victoria, before your overnight flight back to London.

Day 9: Arrive in London early in the morning.

Normal price from £5,805 per person sharing. Travel in April, May or November, and pay £5,230 per person sharing, with discounted gorilla permits, and a free night at Gorilla Forest Camp, saving £575 per person!

Includes two gorilla permits (usual price US$500pp per permit), international flights, 7 nights accommodation, all food, internal light aircraft flights (including one private flight), game drives, walking safaris and transfers.