Morning Chimp Trek to see the Cyamudongo Group:
Depart ORTPN Guesthouse at 4:30 am and drive 1 hour and 15 minutes on really bumpy roads for the last half of the trip that produced one black backed jackal sighting. This chimp group is also known as the “far group” or the “small group” because it has 28 chimps. To avoid such a very early departure and to further enjoy the local surroundings, accommodations for chimp trackers are in the planning stages at Cyamudongo.
The odds of seeing this group are about 95% because this forest is much smaller.
I asked to have a porter and I got a walking stick. We hiked through extremely difficult terrain in the forest for 2 hours and 15 minutes, during which we had two glimpses of a few of the chimps on the ground and several views of mountain monkeys and mona monkeys in the trees, plus some birds, listed below. The chimps had immediately come out of the trees that morning and were on the move, making it a challenge to locate and follow them.
Eventually, the trackers determined that the chimps would be crossing the road to reach some favorite fruit trees on the other side. Watching them cross the road was going to be my best shot at chimp viewing that day.
The dirt road was undergoing an upgrade thanks to tourism dollars and many of the local residents were employed to work on the road with shovels and picks. The trackers feared that the chimps might be spooked by the construction activity and alter their route, so about 100 workers were asked to halt. They willingly obliged and then the waiting game began.
The residents all stood at the roadside, leaning against their shovels or picks, looking at me. I stood along the roadside looking at where the trackers thought the chimps would pass. And the trackers fanned out and gave hand signals to each other and my Guide Daniel to indicate when and where the crossing might take place and where I should direct my gaze.
I would have been very uncomfortable to be the sole source of the work stoppage if I had not been informed that the community viewed the chimps (and the foreigners like me who came to see them) in a positive light.
After about 15 minutes of waiting and not working on the road, one chimp scampered across, then he was followed by a few more, including a mother with an infant hugging her belly. They flew across the open road and I got to see seven chimps in the open, thanks to the persistence and expertise of my guide and trackers. Road construction resumed.
As we drove out, the residents working on the road smiled or waved and we returned the warm farewells.Afternoon Waterfall Walk and Sightings of Unhabituated Gray Cheeked Mangabeys:
This escorted 4-hour round trip walk is not an easy stroll and I used a walking stick. Near the falls, there are two options. The more difficult one takes you right to the falls and the easier one provides more of an overview. The route, as well as the falls themselves, is very picturesque, especially the areas with walls of ferns. Enroute I saw and photographed two managbeys and a toad. When you pass by others returning from the waterfall, the joke is to ask, “Is it still there?”Morning Colobus Trek to see the Uwinka Group:
This group is also called the “big group” with 400+ members or the “far group” because it is not near the guesthouse.
Depart ORTPN about 6:00 am to ranger station, then drive about 10 minutes. I had a porter and a walking stick and set off with Guide Robert on the most difficult trek yet. We were also hindered by a problem with radio transmissions so it was hard to find the trackers. Whistles and shouts were used instead of modern radio technology. That was kind of neat.
After 2 1/4 grueling hours and hard work by the trackers, we located the troop. Food was not plentiful so the 400 members had dispersed. I saw probably 100 members scattered about, with good views of their varied activities.
The setting was lush and verdant and the only sounds were those of the monkeys—until I heard an ear splitting crack. It sounded like a gun shot. But it was just too many monkeys crowding onto one tree until it buckled under their weight and came crashing down, monkeys leaping off left and right. It appeared all 20 or so monkeys jumped off uninjured. After an hour of great viewing, it took two hours of tough hiking to get back, during which we saw some mountain monkeys and gray cheeked mangabeys.
I had planned to track the habituated troop of gray cheeked mangabeys that afternoon, but the radio problem meant we did not know where they were. So Plan B was to return to the “small troop” of colobus not far from the guest house.Afternoon Colobus Monkey Trek to see the Gisakura Group (again):
Four other guests and our colobus guide hopped into Kirenga’s vehicle with me for a ride over to the colobus. We had to walk another half hour in sometimes very difficult habitat to find them sitting on a hillside across from us. The mona monkey was with them, the white babies were visible on their mothers’ chests, and we watched the colobus feed leisurely for almost an hour and then take to the trees to find a place to sleep for the night. It was perfect timing for our visit.
As we walked back to the guesthouse, which took 45 minutes, we saw a vehicle bringing about 10 guests to the colobus troop. Unlike chimps, where the limit is 6 observers (I think), there is no limit to the number of guests who can visit the colobus. There is also no limit to how many groups per day can visit, but the one hour time limit is imposed. Since we had seen the colobus retreat to the forest to settle down for the night, we figured these new visitors would not see much and they didn’t. The lesson here is plan to wrap up the colobus visit by 5:00 pm—at least in the month of August.