Budongo National Forest, Uganda.
As with all animals one typically only spies at a zoo, it’s a different and more rewarding experience to find them in the wild in their natural habitat, the only real human impact on their behavior being their acquired indifference to us (such as one finds at any Big 5 game park in Africa). So despite working with chimpanzees everyday at the UWEC, it was a rewarding experience to track them in the Budongo reserve. Simply walking through the forest in Budongo is pleasant enough with its lush rainforest ecosystem, in which, it seems to me, thrive perhaps the most layers of various forms of life on the planet. That is to say, given say a square meter of forest floor, extended up to include the space above the floor, is the highest number of different species of plant and animal compared to the same space in another ecosystem. There is something quite marvelous about rain forests.
It didn’t take long for our guide to spot our first chimp high up in the trees. He pointed it out and it was easy enough to spot the dark mass. He told us it was a female with a small baby. I was slightly astounded at his perception, as I truly could discern only the dark lump. But after staring through the camera zoom lens for a few moments, sure enough, out popped a tiny head over the mom’s shoulder. Too tiny to capture in a photo, yet I was quite happy to have simply perceived it. I took a few photos of the dark lump in the trees, not knowing whether or not it would be the best view I would have of the chimps. For all I knew, this was going to be the look of my photo shoot with wild chimpanzees:
After standing quietly for a short while, I watched the tiny head disappear. Again, I wondered if that would be my moment of glory, that tiny head in a sky full of leaves. But soon enough, a little body leaped from the mother and wobbled down a tree branch. Soon, a precious little face peered down at us through the forest canopy.
Now my brief moment of glory was infinitely sweeter. Soon, our guide was spotting chimpanzee after chimpanzee, and we moved around a small area on the forest floor to spy above us what eventually counted as, I believe, 4 adult females and 7 infants and toddlers. My neck’s ability to remain tilted backward was severely tested as was the strength of my arm perpetually holding up my camera to look through the lens, finger on the button, ready to snap a shot anytime a face or body came into reasonable view. I know, I have a very small camera and lens; still, after an hour of this, it does become a bit of a trial.
We were able to watch the toddlers romp around through the tree branches, high above our heads, already exhibiting complete competency in balance and swinging skills as they chased one another down one tree limb, flew across open space to a neighboring tree’s limb, and continued pursuit across its woody arms.
Hard to describe the full impact on my emotions, on my personal view of where I came from in this ancient world, so I will leave the experience simply at this: Lovely.