Follow the multi-adventures of Fyllis
Hockman, resulting from her ElderTreks journey through southwestern
Uganda, which brought her in close proximity to dozens of animals
during both land and water game drives on a safari, carousing with
chimps tracking through a forest, and surviving an experience of a
lifetime trekking mountain gorillas.
In Search of a Brother in Arms
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs by Victor Block
endangered white rhino. The elusive silverback mountain gorilla. The
rare tree-climbing lion. Hippos, elephants, crocodiles. The massive
shoebill? Yup, him, too. These are just a few of the multitude of wildlife
we cavorted with during our ElderTreks's safari and trekking journey
to southwestern Uganda.
But the visit to the Kibale Chimpanzee National Forest to see the ever-playful
chimps in the wild was one of the more delightful surprises.
A quick briefing introduced us to the chimps said to
share 98.7% of their DNA with us humans. 98.7! Already feeling an affinity,
we split into smaller groups with an assigned guide carrying her assigned
rifle. Were our relatives in danger? It seems elephants and buffalo
also roam these grounds and are more aggressive than those seen on game
drives where the animals are more accustomed to people in vehicles.
The guides, we were assured, shoot the rifles only if necessary to scare
Also armed, so to speak, with a number of rules governing
our outing, we were told to stay 25' away, if lucky enough to find them
on low-lying branches, to be quiet so that the guides can listen to
the calls and not to mimic the sounds of the chimps as if that were
even possible because you don't know what you might be saying. I
couldn't help but think the chimp would probably turn down a date if
I made the mistake of coming on to him.
Finally we took off through very dense forest. Lots
of tweets and trills, whistles and warbles, cries and caws produced
a symphony of sound which accompanied our walk. I knew our guide recognized
every note and was thankful she didn't feel compelled to share all that
information with us. I'm pretty sure the resident bird watcher in our
group would have preferred otherwise.
Our tracker did point out a variety of monkeys in the
trees above but they were so high as to be indistinguishable from the
leaves unless the branch was moving and then, of course, it was
already too late. Clearly, I would not make a good tracker or
The troop of chimpanzees we were tracking numbered 120
but because it was the end of September, our guide lamented that the
chimps were harder to find because much of their nearby food supply
had been exhausted. You might want to check ahead of time to see when
the fig trees are bearing the most fruit that apparently determines
how many chimps you're likely to see.
Due to this added challenge, we were diverging from
the more standard trails and were pretty much blazing new paths. It
had been over an hour and we were no closer to finding chimps. I, on
the other hand, was more worried we'd never find our way back.
The guide, unfazed, claimed to have found our sought-after
prey though those of us less technically proficient in chimp tracking
could not yet see any. Still, ten pairs of eyes looked eagerly toward
the tree tops, seeming miles away, to catch some movement, any movement,
to justify our presence. Suddenly a cry of "There he is" erupted,
quickly followed by a disappointed sigh of "Maybe not."
And then an ear-splitting onslaught of a barking/howling/screeching
shriek indicated that yes, in fact, they were around. This gave us all
hope but still, without any precise sightings. However, the periodic
wailings breaking out in every direction were so loud and disconcerting
as to be sufficiently exciting in themselves. When all of a sudden two
chimps scrambled past within several feet of our group, we knew we had
arrived. "Now that's more like it," someone declared!
We literally followed in their footsteps through the
bush to find what our guide later insisted was a rare occurrence: an
18-year-old adolescent lying upon the ground in apparent repose, head
resting on hand, taking time out to occasionally scratch and snort,
totally ignoring our large semi-circle of astonished gawkers. We all
forgot how frustrated we had been just moments before. Watching this
young lad whom the guide identified as Enfunzi so close
up did make me question a bit that 98.7 DNA statistic. Not that we don't
Although our overall excursion took three hours, a number
of very satisfied "wows" punctuated its end. And I was wrong
about the tracker she did indeed know the way back!
And if seeing the chimps in the wild only whetted your
appetite for a little more chimp exposure, an hour-long boat ride to
the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Entebbe just might do the
trick. Home to 48 chimps rescued from a multitude of adverse conditions,
whether as orphans, victims of illegal activities, or needy of medical
attention, these guys roam free on 95% of the 95-acre forest. The other
5% is devoted to feeding the chimps and keeping them safe at night.
Our approach to view their 2 p.m. feeding was vociferously
announced by loud guttural screeches, either as a chimp welcoming committee
or an entreaty to leave it was hard to tell. As it turns out, the
greeting wasn't for us at all but for the large alpha male approaching
from the opposite direction. I was relieved we had not been the ones
to elicit such a thunderous response.
Okay, you're not seeing them in the wild exactly but
you're seeing a lot more a lot more openly and they are indeed
fun to watch. In between eagerly devouring their lunch of carrots, oranges
and pineapples, they scratched themselves and each other, chased each
other around, fought over food and generally entertained their human
Another rowdy fracas erupted when a larger chimp stole
food from a smaller companion who loudly called out to his friends for
reinforcement and they rapidly responded forcing the perpetrator
to relent and give back the food. Hey, they're just like people.
As soon as the guys had ingested a sufficient amount
of munchables, they headed back to the forest to play, gambol about,
climb the branches or rest free of human intrusion. And we got to leave
with new respect for our closely aligned cousins with whom we share
so much DNA except, of course, for all that scratching
more information, visit eldertreks.com
which promotes "Exotic Adventures for Travelers 50 and Over."
Where Arid Desert Meets Frigid Sea (Part 1); Namibia
Part II: Where Wild Women Meet Wildlife; Deutsch-Südwestafrika