“Beyond Expectations” — GLOBIO’s Inaugural Great Apes Safari
“Beyond Expectations” those were the words that kept erupting at dinner the last night at the Volcanoes Lodge — from everyone! Two weeks in Uganda had been brilliant – filled with chimp politics and newborn gorillas. Moments of discovery and learning that will last a lifetime.
GLOBIO’s Inaugural Great Apes Safari of our new Travel with GLOBIO program was more eventful and rewarding than I imagined, and reinforced why all of us at GLOBIO believe we needed to launch an education travel program. The goal was always travel that left a mark on you, changed you in at least some small way (hopefully a big way); our journey through the forests, gorges and parks of Uganda’s Albertine Rift left enduring marks of a lifetime on everyone.
Uganda sits in the heart of the African continent, in the dawn light of Africa’s Dark Heart. It features a bit of everything this magical continent offers — deserts, rainforests, the alpine summits and glaciers, lakes the size of small seas, and the birth place of one of the world’s greatest rivers – The Nile. What it also boasts are over five thousand wild chimpanzees and half of the world’s 1,063 mountain gorillas. Mix in a dozen species of monkeys and it is an ideal destination to highlight GLOBIO’s work around primate education and conservation. The perfect GLOBIO safari.
Here are three highlights, excerpts from our journey. Read the full trip blogs for each via the title links.
With Entebbe barely in our rearview mirror, it was only Day 2 and we were exchanging glances with chimps. “Our” chimps had left the national park into neighboring community land, an affirmation of the need for community conservation and education. Unceremoniously we found them, at the end of an up and down trail, feeding 30 feet in the open treetops. Before iPhones and cameras began clicking up memories, everyone paused in amazement; your first chimpanzees experience does that. As one person uttered, “You think you know what you’re going to see, but you have no clue when your eyes meet theirs.”
Six days later in Kyambura Gorge the experience couldn’t have been more dramatically different. A 120lb adult male chimps scrambling out of tree, in rapid retreat, usually means something big, bad and dangerous… we all stood in amazement watching black & white colobus monkey, half the chimps size and a quarter the weight, bark and chase not one but two chimps that originally had thoughts of hunting the smaller pied monkeys. Once on the ground the outraged males tore through the undergrowth screaming and hooting, an arms-length away from us. The crescendo, a frustrated drumming on a nearby tree buttress. Everyone’s adrenaline raced with a look of what just happened? “Wild chimps”, I smiled, “that was a full dose of wild chimpanzee.”
As famous as the mountain gorillas are, Uganda’s chimp population should be equally as famous. No other country can offer chimp trekking in at least five very different locations, each with it’s own unique perspective on chimp life.
And then the tiniest calf flopped on its side and drifted to sleep. I knew then we were having a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a matriarchal elephant herd. On the rutted-road inside Queen Elizabeth NP we slowed to let a few huge tuskers cross the road only to find babies as we neared. Only a few feet on the left the lead females paused, turned, and that’s when things got amazing… stood facing us, wing-like ears slow flapping to some ancient rhythm. No cameras or movement for a minute I softly said to the group. Then others turned and others approached, we were staring at a wall of grey pachyderms. Trunks were relaxingly spinning the dusty earth into fist sized piles and flipping it onto neck, behind ears and dusting the undercarriage. Cameras could not be arrested any longer.
And there in her arms, barely visible a tiny hand the size of my thumb. Three days old! Protective, as only mothers innately are, she wouldn’t offer us but a shifting glimpse, at first half-a-hand, then a tiny pink ear, then the crinkled nose of an elfin little face, even that last bit seemed generous. Omax looked at me, “can you get a photo? We [the Ugandan Wildlife Authority] have nothing so far.” But momma gorilla was having none of it. I
ventured in to the riotous green ravine where mom had retreated with her newborn. After ten minutes of motionless waiting just meters away I looked up slope and shook my head and shrugged at Omax.
Finishing up the trip in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to trek for mountain gorillas was the perfect ending — the weather was cool, mountain air refreshing and the stay at Volcanoes Safari lodge warm and always friendly. The gorillas were friendly, just not as accommodating, posting themselves over 2km up on top of a mountain, serenaded by out of breath trekkers.
There are many ways to discover Uganda, and experience apes and primates firsthand, I feel our GLOBIO safaris strike that magical balance between making marks and letting sensory overloaded minds recover to take on more. Seeing gorillas and chimps many travel programs offer, understanding the apes you see with us, and understanding their role in the local and global environment is critical to all apes like us.
— Gerry Ellis, Exec. Director
Joining us in Uganda in 2020 for the experience of a lifetime. Details of the 2020 and 2021 Great Apes Safaris, and departure dates, can be found at Travel with GLOBIO. If you have any questions contact Meg@globio.org Also follow us on Instagram at @GLOBIOTravel