Have you ever had an overenthusiastic uninvited relative show up out of the blue? Well that was me, when I visited the chimps in Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda.
To say I was excited to meet my closest non-human relatives in the flesh would be like saying that meeting the Mountain Gorillas was good when it was EPIC! It turns out my relatives are early risers. By the time we arrived at just after 8:30am they had left their nests and most of the family had even finished their breakfast. The trackers said they had been up since 6:30am – clearly I did not inherit their early rising gene.
I heard there pant hoots long before I saw them. Great they had brought out the welcoming committee! As excited as I was them to meet me though it wasn’t mutual. I wouldn’t say they were rude – just uninterested. Of the 13 family members, just one of them gave me a passing glance before getting on to more important things – inspecting his belly button:
But I guess that was slightly better than the few family members who had decided that i wasn’t even worthy of meeting, including the mother with the six month old baby. I tried to connect with her telepathically. Please, please come out. I want to meet you and your baby. I have waited my entire live to see a baby chimp in the wild. I waited several minutes, snapping photos of a juvenile chimp who was grabbing a late breakfast (by chimp standards):
Still no baby chimp, so I tried to seal the deal with I sign at least one petition a week against using primates in experiments and try to use my social media influence to show everyone how cool chimps are. (like this one protesting Philippine Airlines shipping monkeys to be used for experiments. You can sign it here.) I waited….
At least the 30 year male (the guide didn’t think he had a name) decided that he may as well pose for a few photos. I think he sensed that i wasn’t leaving until I got at least a few and figured that this was the quickest way to get rid of me (clearly he doesn’t know me very well): I observed him looking for family resemblances. He glanced my way now and then, but made it clear that while I wasn’t exactly unwelcome (that could have involved throwing poop at me or bluff charging me) I wasn’t exactly welcome either. I had become THAT family member. You know, the one who shows up uninvited, doesn’t bring a gift and overstays their welcome? Yep that was me. Undeterred I continued working on the family portrait. He retaliated by posing directly into the morning sun. Despite not being the most considerate family member, I fell in love with him anyway, just like I did with Charlie when I volunteered at a chimp sanctuary in Girona, Spain. He clearly had a routine and an annoying, overeager, uninvited family member wasn’t going to get in the way of it!
I listened to him with almost equal fascination as I watched him. Like a typical guy he farted…a lot (which the gorillas also did). I could also hear his fingernails making long scratches across his tummy. I had no idea that scratching could be so noisy…or so interesting to watch!
An hour went by way tooooo fast. Visitors are only allowed an hour with the chimps every day so not to interfere with their daily activities. Despite the chimps not returning my enthusiasm (maybe they didn’t know that I am a popular travel blogger who would be proudly displaying the family photos on my blog?), it was an incredible visit! I had finally met my closest living non-human relatives!
The mother and baby never did make an appearances though so you know what that means….I’LL BE BACK! I have a feeling they might have wished they had thrown poop at me!
In retrospect the chimps practically rolled out the red carpet compared to the baboon’s welcome that we met on our return from the chimps…but that’s another story (stay tuned)!
Know Before You Visit Chimps in Nyungwe Park,Rwanda
- A limited number of permits are available everyday, so book yours at least several months in advance if possible. Amahoro Tours (the company I went with) can arrange this for you.
- A one day permit to visit the chimps for an hour costs $90 (much cheaper than the $750 to visit the gorillas). Insider travel tip: If you really like chimps, purchase one of the multi-day permits, which just cost slightly more.- In retrospect, I wish I would have done this since each visit is different.
- There is no guarantee that you will see the chimps. I was told by some people that there’s a 50/50 chance, but my guide Omar from Amahoro Tours said that his guests had always seen chimps whenever they went.
- Wear good walking shoes, you will have to hike ~30-60 minutes (relatively flat) to reach the chimps.
- Your visit will be finished by mid-morning so book another activity for the rest of the day, like the canopy tour or one of the guided nature walks. Nyungwe Forest is a hidden gem and there’s lot of nature activities to do.
- Nyungwe Forest is home to a whopping 13 primate species, 25% of primate species in all of Africa. See why Rwanda is a fabulous destination for your own Primate Safari – I saw 7 primate species in 7 days!
Thank you to Amahoro Tours for coordinating my visit. I paid for the chimp permit myself and all views expressed are my own opinions.