After getting stuck twice and pushing the truck out, we reached the edge of the gorge an hour and a half later than expected. This was a foreshadowing of an upcoming rally. Unlike our trips to golden monkeys and mountain gorillas, Uganda’s larger ecotourism effort, Chimpanzee Treks are different.
With the gorillas, dozens of trackers head out to the park at sunrise to search for the group and radio their location to the guides before the agents arrive. For this chimpanzee excursion, we were the trackers, going into the gorge almost blind.
We followed our singletrack profile, descending a steep, slick course into the gorge, clutching at the branches for stability. He carried a gun over his shoulder, in case of closer encounters with a hippopotamus or an elephant, but he reassured us that he rarely needed it. Chimpanzees travel on the ground when foraging, but spend most of their time in trees, safe from predators. When it overflows, they rarely go down.
Another piece of the puzzle
After two hours of hiking through deep mud, thick forests, and murky waters, we didn’t hear a single call. Suffice it to say, hope was fading. We spotted over a dozen hippos and at least as many birds, but no chimpanzees. I began to wonder if this was the African version of a wild goose chase.
In the end, although we did hear the chimpanzees a few times, we never actually saw them, most likely because of the flooding. A little disappointed, I walked to the truck in silence, wondering if the trip was worth it. But our failed research had an important lesson: These are wild animals struggling to survive. With so few left, they can’t take any chances, especially with the river raging and food scarce.
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