I spend September 19th visiting chimps on Ngamba Island.  One of the staff members at the Wild Life Club Office asked me whether I had a chance to visit them; when he learned I hadn’t, he offered up his seat for me as he had been there numerous times.  I was super excited and arrived at the taxi park half an hour earlier than I said I would to meet the staff member.  As it was past the time we discussed to meet, I went ahead to Entebbe Nature Center.  ENC houses 40 different species of animals & cares for about 150 animals; they are different from a traditional zoo since they are a refuge for injured and older animals that cannot take care of themselves in the wild.

After an hour and a half of waiting (during this time I got a free entrance into the nature center) the staff member finally arrived at ENC.  Another hour went by before I headed with a secondary school group on a two-hour long ferry ride across Lake Victoria.  I won’t deny that I’ve a mild hydrophobia even though I know how to swim.  Something about not knowing how deep the water is and from almost drowning in the Indian Ocean as a 3 and a half-year old.  I also had no desire to be in Lake Victoria because of the high prevalence of Schistosomes that cause Bilharzia.  Despite my fear of water, flukes and rocking of the ferry boat, I was grateful for the (free) opportunity to visit the island.

I spend the time before the chimps’ feeding time exploring the island, taking pictures, spotting the Sacred Ibis (for the 1st time), other birds & two monitor lizards, and listening to a lecture that the secondary students had to attend.

It was refreshing to see students ask questions as I worked with older primary students in the village who had a lot of difficulty being comfortable enough to ask questions.  The answers to the questions were interesting; I felt the staff member was doing his best to answer them but I noticed a tendency to anthropomorphize the chimps.  It may take conscious effort to understand non-human animals in their own environment without feeling the need to attribute human qualities to make them more relate-able to people.

After the lecture, we went to the chimps outdoor habitat to see them feeding.  It was impressive to see our 98.7 % relatives sitting hunched forward with their knees bent before them, holding out their arms for a veggie, and vocalizing when their keeper threw veggies over the fence.  There were over forty chimps in the outdoor facility; the chimps were confiscated at the customs close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.  A couple of them were held in the indoor holding area because one of them kept trying to escape the island when he was picked on by other chimps & the other chimp was an incredible acrobat who like to jump over the fence.  Since an average chimp has physical strength of at least 3 adult men, visitors don’t get the same experience as they would when they track chimps in the wild (where they come relatively close to the chimps without protected contact, a fence).  We were also asked not to go too close to the fence since some chimps had a habit of throwing things at us.  I was amazed at how similar we were to the chimps.

After the feeding time, we left the island and returned to the mainland.  I felt exhausted and was thankful for the free ride (that was arranged by one of the staff members) back into the city.  After dinner I went straight to bed and left for site early next morning.

Next post…Gorilla tracking on September 25th.

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