Ngamba Chimp Sanctuary showcases an unusual side of Uganda
By Carola Frentzen Dec 20, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Entebbe, Uganda - Afrika, Baluku, Mawa, Yoyo and all the others have just come crashing out of the forest in order to get their regular fill of tropical fruits. The chimpanzees are in high spirits and they tumble around wildly.
Feeding time takes place three times a day on the remote Ugandan island of Ngamba in Lake Victoria, and every session is a major event. Some of the primates sit in small groups while others lie in the grass chewing bananas. The rest of them run around the meadows screeching gleefully.
It is improbable but true: Some 44 chimps have found refuge at a sanctuary on this tiny island, most of them with a traumatic past. 'Most of the chimps look pretty bad when they arrive here,' said Steny Nyendwi, one of the managers of the 40-hectare reservation.
The 'liberated' chimpanzees are animals which have been kept captive for years, usually in cages which are far too small for them They arrive here hungry, dejected and disconsolate. Some of the chimps freed by pro-animal activists have been so neglected that they hardly move their limbs.
A combination of stress and being fed the wrong food had robbed Birri of almost all her hair. 'She was completely bald and totalled infested with worms,' said Nyendwi. 'It took the best part of a year before her appearance got back to normal.' Today, 10-year-old Birri is an attractive, black-haired chimpanzee.
'Doesn't she look just great,' asks Nyendwi, with an affectionate glance from the viewing platform down to where Birri is having a good time playing in the woods.
Ngamba Island is a paradise for animal lovers and tourists who want to see another side of Uganda. It offers a contrast to the mountain gorillas and the Ruwenzori Mountains for which the country is otherwise famous. The grand views of Lake Victoria are to be had just an hour by boat from the city of Entebbe, where the country's airport is located.
The island was declared a nature reserve in 1998 by the Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) and has long since had its place on the tourist trail. Entrance and accommodation fees ensure the future of the chimps, almost all of which are orphans. Visitors can come for the day or stay for several nights at a time.
In order to gain some insight into chimpanzees, their behaviour and the hazards they face in Africa visitors should plan on staying for at least a day. An early-morning hike through the forest is a good way of observing the creatures at close quarters. As a precaution for themselves - and the apes - tourists should get inoculated against aliments such as measles, tuberculosis and the liver inflammation hepatitis.
'It was certainly worth all the effort in order to get so close to these animals,' said Jante Link from Texas. 'When you gaze into the eyes of a chimp you seem to be looking straight into his soul,' added her sister Beth Malloy. 'In a way you see yourself too.'
A maximum of 10 holidaymakers at any one time are allowed to stay overnight on the island where they sleep in comfortably-appointed tents. 'Since the political situation in Uganda has calmed down, we get more tourists every year,' said camp manager Patrick Rugasira who serves meals in the Open-Air restaurant.