Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour  is one of those places that make Uganda arguably the best place to observe chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are one of the five great apes. They have two pairs of limbs, no tail and highly intelligent compared to all the other 5 Chimpanzees are capable of using tools in a complex way to harvest insects or fight off threats. Chimpanzee and bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) are the closest relatives to humans with about 98% DNA match. They have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ever since it was discovered that their overall world population was now less than 300,000 individuals. Chimpanzees suffer more from loss of habitat, pet trade and poaching. The primates are now extinct in four countries in Africa.

The Ngamba chimpanzee sanctuary is a 100-acre tropical rain forest in one of the   Ssese Islands in Uganda. Half of the island contains forest while the other half is where the sanctuary offices, accommodation facilities and other establishments are located. The sanctuary was set up by Jane Goodall Institute with support from the government and other donors in 1988 to act as new home for orphaned and rescued chimpanzees. It is managed on a daily basis by staff from Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT). In an effort to save chimpanzees, organizations like the Jane Goodall Institute and others have worked tirelessly to protect their last remaining habitats.

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour

The Jane Goodall institute works closely with governments and other wildlife conservation actors to sensitize communities in wildlife reserves about the importance of living harmoniously with chimps and other wildlife.

Visiting the Ngamba chimpanzee sanctuary is one of the top things to do in Uganda especially if you are cures or love primates. A tour of the island offers an opportunity to get close to the chimpanzees and learn a lot about what is being done to protect the around the world. Visiting the Ngamba island sanctuary is also an indirect way of contributing towards the rescuing and rehabilitation of the primates. Part of the money collected from tourism also goes into paying allowances for the caregivers and those who go out for outreach purposes. Apart from observing the primates, there are also other activities one can do like nature walks in the forest, boat rides, sport fishing, swimming and relaxing by the beach.

On a typical visit, tourists are received at the main offices and taken for a briefing about the facility. Staff will share information about the how the sanctuary came to be, chimpanzees in general and how each individual was introduced at the Centre. The chimpanzees are left to wander into the vast but fenced tropical forest and only come to take their extra meals or sleep. It is during meal time that tourists get to see them before they go back to the forest. Although they are left to roam free in the forest, they all come back to sleep in specially made houses. There are about 49 chimps at the sanctuary and the caregivers know each one by name. During feeding time, the caregivers will share details about each individual, their temperament and character. Scientific methods are used to control births so that their numbers remain at a manageable level. Interestingly, even with birth control measures in place, the sanctuary still welcomes babies from a few hardened individuals.

How do the chimpanzees know if it is feeding time?

The caregivers alert the chimps whenever there is food to be given out. It’s interesting to go to the viewing platform to find no chimps and then suddenly all of them start emerging from the forest once they receive the sign for food. Chimps are very vocal primates and you should be able to hear them hooting deep in the forest even before you see them. Once they arrive at the feeding point, the caregivers throw food into their feeding areas. This is the perfect time to observe chimp behavior and mannerism. Watch as some literally beg for more or use sticks to get any pieces of fruit stuck on the fence. It’s important to note that the chimps are also fed with nutritious porridge either in the morning of before going to sleep.

The cost of touring Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary

The fee for visiting the Ngamba island chimpanzee sanctuary includes the cost of a speed boat or ferry to and from the islands. It also includes the entrance fee to the sanctuary and also the viewing fee. It’s important to note that the overall cost of visiting the Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary depends on the number of travelers. 1 traveler is charged about $326, 2 travelers $168 each, 3 travelers $118 each, 4 travelers or more $88 each. The fees apply to travelers going for the half day viewing experience – morning or evening session.  For those interested in the night tour, you will have to pay an extra fee of $200 to stay in the self-contained luxury tented camp. The fees can be paid directly to the Ngamba reservation office. A tour operator can also help you make all the necessary bookings including the entrance fees.

Activities in Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Caregiver for the day experience

This special experience is offered to visitors who wish to have more time with the chimpanzees including spending one night in the island. Those who choose to go for the Caregiver for the day experience will work closely with the resident caretakers by helping feed the primates, inspect their health and play with the youngest chimps. Because it is a longer experience, participants also get to explore the island further hence encountering other residents of the island like reptiles, butterflies, birds and the different species of trees in the tropical forest. Those who are booked for this activity get to stay in self-contained and luxurious tented camps.

A similar experience to the caregiver for the day program is where visitors choose to stay for more than a day with the purpose of learning more about the work of the sanctuary. Apart from taking part in feeding the primates, visitors who stay longer can also be involved in cleaning the primates, preparing food, preparing their night nests, giving out medication, recording chimp data and analyzing information. In-between the chimp tasks, visitors are also taken to visit the local fishing villages, sunset boat rides and camp fire retreats, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour

Induction and Integration Program for Chimpanzee infants

Whenever new orphaned chimps are brought to the sanctuary, they need to get used to the environment and to the other chimpanzees in the sanctuary. There is a lot of work to be done to rehabilitate the new chimps and also to ensure that there is a smooth transition to life in the island. Visitors can register for this specific program and work with staff at the sanctuary as they integrate the new chimps to their new surroundings. After being brought at the Centre new chimps are isolated from the old chimps to avoid bullying. Introduction to older residents is done gradually and in steps. If you register to help the newly introduced chimps, you will be required to feed them, play with them and take them for walks deep in the forest with the purpose of helping then get used to their new surroundings.

Forest Trail/Walk

Half of Ngamba Island is covered by dense tropical rain forest with incredible biodiversity and perfect for nature walks. A nature walk around the forests of Ngamba can be very rewarding because it offers you an opportunity to spot birds, reptiles, butterflies and smaller primates.

Fishing: Ngamba Island is found in Lake Victoria which the largest fresh water body in Africa. The lake is excellent for fishing with the most popular catches being the giant Nile perch and the tasty tilapia. If you are staying in the island for more than a day, this is one activity you should register for. Fishing expeditions are organized for a full or half day, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour

Sunset cruise: This is one of the most popular activities while visiting Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary for more than a day. A sunset cruise is the perfect thing to do after a day working with the primates. You get to explore Lake Victoria and catch beautiful sights of the sunset. As with any boat cruise, there is food, drinks partying and photography.

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Volunteering at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

If you have deep interest in primatology, you should consider going for the volunteer program at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary. The volunteer program lasts for about four weeks and is divided into two phases in the first phase, volunteers are involved in feeding the chimpanzees, making their food, helping with medication, cleaning the chimpanzees/their nests and gathering scientific data. The purpose of this first phase is to allow the volunteer to get to know the chimps in a very personal way. In the second phase of the program, volunteers are involved in outreach activities. They are requested to reach out to organizations within and outside the country to join the cause of conserving the chimpanzees. This may require traveling to Kampala or Entebbe for meetings with organizations and companies that are interested in offering support. Volunteers at the sanctuary are provided with accommodation, meals and free internet. They are also given free time to engage in other activities like visiting the nearby villages, hangout places, Kampala city or even going for a safari.

The Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary receives generous funding/support from organizations like Born Free Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Jane Goodall Institute, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST), Uganda Wildlife Society and individual donors.  The sanctuary works as non-profitable organization but welcomes tourists to address any funding shortfalls.

Getting to Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Visits to the Chimpanzee island are divided into three sessions – morning, afternoon and night sessions. The morning session starts from 9:00am and ends at 12:45pm while the afternoon session starts at 1:00pm and ends at 5:00pm. The night tour is the most expensive one and starts at around 7:00pm. It costs over $300 and includes interacting with the chimps, dinner and overnight in self-contained tented luxury tents s. Regardless of which session you choose, you are assured of some intimate time with the primates, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary tour

Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary can be accessed by boat/ferry and air. The most popular and cheap way to get to the island is by using a ferry which sets of at waterfront beach –  very close to the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC). Tourists can also hire a speed boat from the Entebbe sailing

lub or other boat companies in E ntebbe. Travelers are advised to book a boat with the Ngamba island reservation office because it is a more established company. The reservation office will give discounts to those traveling in a group. The ferry takes more passengers but it is slower taking about one and a half hours to get to the island. A speed boat takes about 40 minutes to reach islands.  There is also a more expensive option of booking a charter flight run by Aerolink from Kajjansi airstrip in Kampala directly to the island. Regardless of which method you use, you will need an entrance pass/ticket to get into the Ngamba chimpanzee sanctuary. The pass can be got from the Ngamba Island reservation office in Entebbe or as soon as you reach the island.  A local tour operator can help you get the ticket and arrange the entire trip including accommodation in Entebbe or at the island. You might want to read about the attractions in Entebbe town.

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