Monday, January 13, 2003

TAKING A CHIMP WALK IN UGANDA

Uganda, the New Kenya
In East Africa, an Unexpected Bright Spot

...Forty-five minutes away, the Kibale Forest reportedly has the highest density of nonhuman primates in the world. We passed large colonies of baboons on the road. As we approached the visitors center, our driver pointed out colobus monkeys passing from tree to tree above the road, white fringes on black. The main activity there is the chimp walk: several hours with a guide, following the primates through the forest. The rangers at the visitors shelter divided the dozen travelers huddled there into three smaller groups, so as not to scare the chimps....

In good weather, the chimps come down to ground level and you can watch them do lots of things. But on rainy days they stay aloft and wander their territory, a 10-mile radius. Although they like figs and other fruits, they sometimes gang together to hunt other animals. As the rain ebbed to a steady drip, we found two older males clearly visible in lower treetops and watched them malinger. They took turns picking lice off each other, as friends do in the chimp world. Then they made their own high-wire La-Z-Boys, deftly folding leafy branches together and plumping them like bean-bag chairs. It was siesta time, and there we were craning up to watch them relax. A chimp had a good idea and the rest of us just looked silly, jockeying like second-tier paparazzi on the wet forest floor....