While trekking through a forest in search of chimpanzees, it would be easy to be afraid of being attacked by a territorial chimp – after all, our guide Alex has a gun in case of any extreme emergencies.
But it soon becomes apparent that flying testicles are a much more prevalent danger.
The testicles are in the form of fruit from the Tabernaemontana tree and chimpanzees love them – they litter the forest floor and fly out of the trees as the chimpanzees munch on them and discard the carcasses.
“It’s called the testicle tree,” Alex says. And it’s not just because they are two round balls on the end of a stick but also because the chimps eat them for health reasons.
“Eating it helps with testicle pain,” explains Alex.
This is just one of the fascinating insights into chimps that I learn as I go in search of the primates in Uganda, Africa.
When I imagined seeing chimps in the wild, I didn’t think it would be as simple as walking through a forest. Aren’t they dangerous?
Well, in some ways, yes, but these are habituated chimps which means they live in the wild – in the 795 square kilometer Kibale National Park in the west of the country – but they have been exposed to humans so at the very least tolerate us.
Alex and the other rangers are there every day to expose the chimps to humans and they track their movements and behavior.
This is not only a way to conserve this endangered species but also make sure they don’t stray into territory where humans are living and they can cause destruction – which may see them killed.
Kibale has 1500 of Uganda’s 5000 chimpanzees and tourism is big business in Uganda with their incredible wildlife being the main attraction.
Pre-Covid, 1.54 million people visited Uganda per year and they want those numbers to recover.
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Seeing chimps in the wild is a breathtaking and heart-raising experience. They are magnificent and so human-like, it’s scary – they share 98.7 percent of our DNA – but they are also unpredictable and territorial.
The first chimp we met was Riuhweza, a 21-year-old male that our ranger Alex described as his “best friend.”
Riuhweza seems relaxed as he munched on his testicle fruit and flung it from the tree. Every so often he would climb down and saunter through the forest as we followed.
Next, we found Odeloe who, as the second-oldest male, had something of an attitude problem.
He charged around maniacally and hit the curtain vines of the fig trees to create a banging sound.
His main beef seemed to be with the Alpha male Enfuzu who was nonplussed by Odeloe’s behavior and just quietly among the trees – the grey tones of his hair displaying his maturity.
My heart rate rises as Odeloe maniacally runs around trying to display his dominance but the calmness of the Alpha makes me realize that this is no more than a game.
Chimps can be unpredictable though.
They’re mainly vegetarian but they can kill other smaller monkeys and eat them and Alex has even witnessed the horrifying sight of an Alpha eating its own young.
Knowing they are so closely related to humans it’s an even more horrifying thought.
After a morning trekking it’s a short drive to our accommodation for the night which is another Ugandan revelation.
Kyaninga Lodge is unlike anywhere I’ve seen on Earth.
Situated on the edge of a volcanic crater, each lodge has a stunning view over the lake that formed below after two volcanoes exploded thousands of years ago.
You can walk around the top of the crater which takes around 2.5 hours and there’s also a forest walk down to the lake which you can swim in.
I went in at sunset and the 200-meter-deep lake was the perfect temperature, with the surrounding mountains offering breathtaking views.
This is luxury accommodation with a spa – also overlooking the lake – and a bar restaurant with beautiful three-course meals.
The accommodation is owned by British man Steven Williams who moved to Uganda in 2004 after falling in love with the country when he camped around its National Parks in 2003.
He has since trained local people in carpentry and built the lodges in a 10-year labor of love.
Steve and his team also planted over 40,000 trees in the area to reforest with indigenous species.
Today, there is not only beautiful accommodation to stay in but Steve also runs a charity that schools disabled children and runs a project to create bamboo wheelchairs which will eventually be mass-produced for disabled people across Uganda.
They will be cheap to make and suitable for the Ugandan terrain which is often unpaved and extremely bumpy.
Steve’s dedication to finding solutions for disabled people in Uganda began when his son Sidney was born with severe epilepsy and developmental delays.
Trying to find help in Uganda left him hitting brick walls so eventually he sought help in the UK.
Knowing many other families in Uganda would face similar battles he brought over a physiotherapist and within six months over 200 children from around Uganda were getting help in the form of rehabilitation and therapy.
Today, they see over 1000 kids a month.
It’s heartening to know your nightly fee at Kyaninga Lodge is helping to change the lives of so many Ugandan people.
The lodge also hosts fundraising triathlon events which see people swim in the lake, run around the crater, and cycle through the Ugandan mountains – a pursuit that would appeal to many fitness-mad Aussies.
As I traveled Uganda, it became apparent that this type of incredible fundraising work is happening all across the country, with so many incredible projects trying to lift up the lives of its people, many of whom have so little.
Sadly, despite all of this good work, Uganda has a long way to go in other areas. It recently passed a bill imposing the death penalty on LGBTQI+ people, something to bear in mind when considering a trip to the country.
While traveling to Uganda can be hard – the roads are bumpy and sprawling – seeing endangered animals thriving and local people lifting themselves out of poverty makes those road trips worthwhile.