The rectangular 300-square mile Kibale National Park is a lowland rain forest that provides the most accessible and arguably the best chimp viewing in the world.
As with chimps in parks like Gombe Streams and Mahale, these are habituated families who were initially tamed so that researchers could study them. The thirty years of research here has been led almost exclusively by American institutions: the Duke University primate center, the University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin were joined by the Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo). Also participating has been McGill University (Toronto).
This powerhouse of research located here, because the density of chimps is the highest of all East African rain forests, and because of the relative ease of studying them as compared, for example, to the more inaccessible Gombe Streams and Mahale. These advantages apply equally to the tourist as to the researcher.
In addition to chimps, Kibale is home to a remarkable 13 primate species, including the very localized red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkey. A network of shady forest trails provides much to delight botanists and butterfly lovers, as well, while birders are in for a treat with 335 species recorded including the endemic Prirogrine’s ground thrush.
The elusive forest elephant, smaller and hairier than its savannah counterpart, moves seasonally into the developed part of the park, while other terrestrial mammals include buffalo, giant forest hog and a half dozen antelope species.
Chimp trekking occurs first thing in the morning. Unlike gorilla trekking, chimps are rarely docile, truly hyperactive, and often rocketing through the forest canopy like prehistoric pterodactyls. Viewing them often requires running, and running through a jungle albeit the cut trails are well maintained. When encountered, they are rarely on the ground, and usually high in the canopy. They are extremely vocal, however, and whether seen or not, their screams generally fill the morning. The 3-4 hour trek is usually exhausting for the fittest tourist.