Apes (including gorillas, orang-utans, gibbons, and chimpanzees) are amazing creatures. They're extremely dexterous, intelligent, and cute.
Apart from gorillas, who are cute in a terrifying way.
Did you know that chimpanzees are so closely related to the human species that after calculating our genetic differences to apes, scientists found an average difference of only 1.2%?
A whopping 98% of our DNA is identical to that of a chimpanzee!
When I went to Uganda earlier this year, my mind was blown after doing a wild chimpanzee trek in Kibale National Forest, a wildlife conservation park. It's one of the most incredible things I've done. Being around animals, wild animals particularly, makes you reconsider the way we live. You can read my full review about chimpanzee trekking in Uganda by clicking here!
Being the brilliant, helpful person that I am, I've put together a few practical tips for chimpanzee trekking that I hope will help you go forth and frolic with these wild, beautiful creatures.
1. Wear Good Shoes + Cover Up
Most importantly: wear supportive shoes. By supportive shoes, I mean sneakers, hiking boots, or anything that is sturdy and securely attached to your foot. No flip flops or sandals.
You will be walking around for at least two or three hours in wild forest. Repeat: forest. That means the floor will be uneven and occasionally dangerous, littered with roots and leaves and fallen branches. You don't want to get any nasty infected cuts on your bare skin, either so wear long sleeves.
There will be all kinds of insects on the floor, and potential animal poop lurking around. Having your feet covered will prevent bug bites, injury, and having poop between your toes.
For your wellbeing (or if your back gets dodgy sometimes like mine) you'll need supportive shoes to keep your body from aching after walking for so long. Sometimes you'll be trekking for a while to find any chimpanzees, so it's always better to be prepared with supportive shoes.
When the chimps start moving you'll have to keep up with them, and if a wild angry elephant explodes out of the forest, you'll have to run like the wind to avoid becoming a pile of mush from under its elephant foot. In both instances you want to be able to freely run around without worrying about sharp bits of branch stabbing your bare toes.
2. Bring Snacks and Water (for yourself, NOT for the chimps!)
As mentioned, you'll be trekking around a forest for hours, and will likely get very very hot, and/or sweat a lot. Water is your best friend. Bring at least 1 litre of water, and if possible, another electrolyte replacer such as Gatorade or juice.
You need to replenish all the water your body has lost and keep yourself feeling refreshed. Remember to constantly sip water and not only start drinking when you feel like you're on the verge of passing out from dehydration!
Ditto goes for eating snacks. Anything to keep up your energy will work well, whether a granola bar, a handful of nuts/seeds/trail mix, a chocolate bar, a banana, and so on. Check out my guide on 6 fantastic energy-giving snacks if you need help with choosing what to munch on!
On a related note: DO NOT FEED THE CHIMPS!
Please, for the love of apes, do NOT bring any snacks for the chimpanzees. Don't even bring an extra banana to be cute. Feeding the wild chimps may seem harmless, but it can have serious consequences for both the animals and us humans.
It's very important that you hide all of your food and drink inside your backpack, away from the animals. Why? Because they're wild. They may be habituated, but they're still wild.
Human food was not made for animal consumption. Our food can spread disease to wild animals and harm them in many ways. Getting too close to the animals is also risky because they might be carry diseases such as rabies. Also, if you start feeding chimps human food, they'll develop a taste for it, in which case they'll either stop being able to survive in the forest, or potentially start attacking humans for food. Wild animals are unpredictable.
Scary stuff, mate. Let's not risk the extra banana.
3. Be Patient, Keep Calm + Listen to your Guide
Sometimes people can get lucky and stumble across a bunch of chimpanzees five minutes into their trek. Other times, it might take up to an hour or more to come across even one chimp.
The success of a trek depends on the weather, the perceptiveness of your guide, and sheer luck. Patience is a virtue, and just seeing that first glimpse of a chimpanzee up close and personal makes everything worth it.
On a related note -- keep calm. Most of the trek guides are extremely smart, informed, and assertive. They understand chimpanzee behaviour and it is imperative that you follow your guide's instructions. If they say stay away, you stay the hell away! Also, the guide will be equipped with a rifle or some other form of gun. Don't be scared by this - it is for everyone's safety, the animals included. Guides can let off a warning shot to scare away rogue wild animals like elephants if they get too lairy.
4. Charge your Camera + Make Space on your Memory Card
This one is self explanatory. Chimpanzee trekking is a life-changing event. If you don't want to bring a camera, that's fine -- but if you do, you want to be ready to take the best photograph ever when a chimpanzee starts grinning at you.
How terrible would it be if a chimpanzee starts doing the salsa right in front of you and your camera suddenly dies, or if you forever lose the vision of a baby chimp smiling at you because there's no more memory on your SD card?
Tragic. So charge up and bring a free memory card if possible. Also, if a photographer or using an SLR, you'll definitely want to bring a zoom lens - at least 300mm! - to catch baby monkeys chilling high up in the tree branches in epic detail.
5. Finally... Enjoy Yourself!
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity - and it doesn't come that cheaply, either! Put aside everything else in your life and take a moment to focus and connect with the animals.
If you're a phone addict, take a few pictures and then choose to be in the moment. If you're feeling hot, bothered, and hungry, ignore it for the next hour. Chimpanzees are glorious creatures, and you should bask in the chance of being around them in their natural habitat. How many other people do you know who are lucky enough to go on a chimpanzee trek?!
Remember: we're only a 1.2% genetic difference away from apes. You will see more of yourself in a chimpanzee than you'd ever have thought possible. I promise.
Mel left London to chase summer around the world, one country at a time. She loves the ocean, writing postcards, and solo exploration. Travel with her on Instagram.