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PULSE TRAVEL: Visiting the Chimpanzee Paradise on Ngamba Island

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It’s a shame l have lived and studied in Wakiso District for over 10 years but l had never thought of visiting Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary .

Chance finally knocked on my door on 20th May when I received an invitation for a media camp out at the sanctuary. This kept me anxious for the whole week; l could not wait for the weekend to come.

Previously, I had learnt about the sanctuary in February this year during the Pearl of Africa familiarization tour to Murchison Falls National Park where I met Eric Ntalo, the Public Relations Officer for Ngamba. On this trip, we had travelled with several bloggers and travel writers from across the world.

Ntalo briefed us on how chimps are cared for since most of them are orphans, talked about their human-like behavior before revealing his favorite Chimp a one Tumbo. He later invited us for a visit to the sanctuary.

That’s when l decided to put the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation trust on my bucket list for the year 2018.

Antiquity

Established in 1998, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary is currently one of the leading sanctuaries in Africa.

It’s situated on an Island in Lake Victoria, surrounded by the calm, fresh and beautiful waters, 23kms South East of Entebbe.

The sanctuary sits on approximately 100 acres, 95 of which are covered bushes where the chimps roam and feed daily.

They are separated from the human camp by an electric fence.

To enter the sanctuary, nationals pay USD66 (Approx. 249,867/-) while foreigners are required to pay USD 88.

Travelling to Ngamba

On that momentous Saturday, a group of journalists, myself included assembled at the city center where the Ngamba team picked us to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) in Entebbe.

From the center, we boarded a traditional motorized canoe and sailed on the fresh waters for about 1 hour and 30 minutes until we arrived at Ngamba.

However, according to your budget and how many you are on the trip, there are other means of transport you can use.

You can book a speed boat that will take you to the island in 45 minutes or even better, a chopper.

Incursion at Ngamba

As l placed one foot out from the traditional boat and the next foot out on the wooden bridge, my eyes felt like it didn’t know how to blink in the moment as l was struck by what my eyes witnessed.

In front of me was a safe haven for chimps filled with green spread out all around the land with patches of different coloured flowers that grow among the bushes.

Monitor lizards and different types of birds all over the clean water   that sparkled in the presence of the sunlight encircled the island.

Byron Semmambo our tour guide and senior caregiver welcomed us in a calm voice before headed to the reception.

At the reception, Semmambo gave us basic guidelines to follow while at the sanctuary and information about the chimps.

“We have 49 chimps at the moment; most of them are rescued and brought to us as orphans after their mothers have been poached in different countries like Congo, Sudan and around Uganda” he tells us.

“Stay alert and once you hear the whistle move to the assemble point,” he added.

This, he said is mostly done if a chimp escapes and if it tries to attack someone.

“Move to the water because they fear water and can’t swim,” Semmambo explained as we all laughed it off.

Chimpanzees are fed four times a day on different fruits, porridge and to balance their diet they are feed an egg a week.

“We don’t feed them with meat but once they are in the forest they also go hunting for termites and other things.”

At around 11:00AM, off we went to view Chimp feeding from a raised platform where you can easily see all of them while they get food.

Afrika, Asega, Eazy, Tumbo, Cindy,  Kalema, Sara, Katie, Medina, Ssemmambo called out their names as he gave them food. Amazing right!?

“Chimps are very good time keepers. Once it’s time for their feeding you will find them here ready to get their food raising their hands and clapping so that they are given first.”

Two in particular caught my attention Ruparelia the youngest and Eazy the second youngest. Semmambo also noted that the oldest are 38 and 40 years old.

At one point after feeding  Ruparelia who is under the care of the grandmother since her mother passed, refused to leave the feeding area because she was busy playing but her Granny came, held her hand and they left to the forest.

“Chimps, like humans are democrats and have their own politics. The one with more support becomes the superior leader and the ones that don’t support him   submit to the leader”.

Our stay at the camp

“You are all going to put up your tents and then we go for lunch” our guide announced.

At this moment I told myself this must be the hardest task am going to do but once l started on it, God! It was smooth loved the experience.

We later headed to the restaurant facing the lake with a wonderful buffet of local cuisines.

Well, just imagine having wonderful lunch while enjoying the scenic view and cool breeze from the lake.

Community Benefits from Ngamba

Ngamba is neighbor to other islands Myende, Kiimi , Nsazi Kuume and Bulago.

The main economic activities done on these islands include fishing and some small local businesses.

Together with Lilly Ajarova the Executive Director of Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary, we visited Myende Island.

Myende is another paradise we found designed with endless green and outstanding rocks.

It is one of the communities Ngamba has been supporting with education, health and once in a while carry out sensitization meeting on different topics.

“We support them with education materials and facilitation, health and we empower women economically,” Ajarova said.

She showed us a school called Myende Primary School put up in 2004 which she said now has over 200 pupils, a health center and toilets for the community.

“Our biggest challenge with sustaining any program is; like cattle keepers looking for new pasture, fishermen keep moving to different islands looking for fish and each time we have to orient new people on the island which is hard.”

For the fun part, every year Ngamba has three family days for the communities where they come free of charge and they show them what takes place at the island. The days are Easter Sunday, Christmas day and New Year’s.

Celebrating Ngamba at 20

This year the Sanctuary has two major celebrations; their 20 years’ anniversary on June 7th which will be marked with a Gala and the World Chimpanzee day on 14th July which will feature British primatologist Dr Jane Goodall as the guest of honor.