50 Shades Of Green – Chimpanzee Sex In Uganda’s Kibale Forest

September 20, 2014

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the unearthly “pant-hoot” of a troop of chimpanzees reaches its crescendo all around us. My companions and I gape at each other in this primal moment, realizing how fantastic it is to be here.

Our two days in Kibale were part of a longer Uganda safari on which I was accompanying a group from the United States. We had hiked through the forest all morning, trudging through mud and balancing precariously on slippery rocks to cross myriad streams. The first calls we heard echoing through the trees were those of the Red-chested Cuckoos with their 3-tone calls said to signal impending rain, and the haunting far-away cries of Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest were on full display, for this is Uganda, where opportunities to leave your vehicle and almost immediately commune with the surrounding wilderness are many.

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda’s Kibale Forest

Our guides, using their experience with this forest, had led us to the vicinity of the chimps. Due partially to their knowledge of which trees were fruiting on the day, but also relying on their ability to hear the calls of the troop and gauge their direction, we closed in on the chimps within an hour and a half of beginning our hike.

Chimps are highly mobile on the ground and in the canopy, and if this particular group had not been habituated to tolerate the brief daily presence of humans, we would not have had a hope of keeping up with them. The first sounds we heard were screams and the breaking of branches, and our first glimpses were of hairy masses bounding across the forest floor with incredible and unexpected energy.

Chimpanzee, Kibale Forest, Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda’s Kibale Forest

Our ranger explained that one of the females had come into heat and was being pursued by three or four males, a situation that served to ramp up our excitement even further. Chimps share 97.8% of our DNA, and while this makes them disconcertingly human-like in many ways, they are extremely powerful, agile animals. Any encounter with them is always heightened by the awareness that they hunt monkeys for food and that they often commit murder within their own communities.

We picked up the pace now, trying not to trip over tree stumps and vines, unable to resolve the complex three-dimensional mayhem of chimp movements. They appeared to be heading in 6 different directions at once, descending from tree, climbing back into them, creating an incredible din all the while.

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda’s Kibale Forest

Once again, our guides were the key. They led us surely but safely to vantage points, unerringly anticipating where the chimps would be. We managed to take some shots through the gloom, capturing facial expressions on the various males that ranged from what I can only describe as calculating to arrogant to…lecherous?

Things eventually settled down enough for us to spot the female in a clearing, her sexual organs swollen. Mating took place quickly between her and what appeared to be the dominant male, after which followed a period of grooming and munching of fruit between all the members of the troop – the figurative “cigarette”, I would imagine.

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda’s Kibale Forest

A short time later, our guides indicated that time was up, and we turned away to start our hike back to headquarters, grinning with delight all the way.

Journeys Discovering Africa runs chimpanzee watching trips to Uganda’s Kibale Forest. Check out our Uganda Primates Safari here.


Posted by Patrick Shah


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