My Visit to Ngamba Island, a Sanctuary for Rescued Chimpanzees in Uganda | Solomon W. Jagwe | 58,625 views
By Solomon W. Jagwe ~ www.sowl.com ~ On my recent trip to Uganda, I was blessed and fortunate to receive an invitation by Lilly Ajarova, the Executive Director of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, to take a trip to the beautiful Ngamba Island located in Lake Victoria, about an hours ride by speed boat from Entebbe Airport.
I grew up in Uganda, but I had never laid my eyes on a live Chimpanzee, let alone ventured farther than a few feet into Lake Victoria. Needless to say, I was more than excited. Lilly was shocked when she learnt that I had never visited Ngamba Island and that I had never seen a chimpanzee, and she said I absolutely had to make the trip.
“This is a trip I wish for every Ugandan and Tourists visiting Uganda.”
The boat ride was so peaceful with waves lapping away at the boat as we sped off, on 2 of the boats dedicated to transporting visitors to the Island. One of the speed boats had 3 Norwegian tourists and and the second on which I rode together with Lilly and my good friend Hazel Collett, had several other tourists from Sweden.
I struggled to stay awake because of the therapeutic sounds from the boat wakes, fine vapour from the waves and the cooing of the Cormorants racing alongside the boat. I felt like I was simply floating along with no care in the world.
As we neared the Island, my thoughts returned to the gravity of why this Island Sanctuary was created and what the effort meant for poached Chimpanzees brought to this place from as far as Burundi and South Sudan.
The inescapable beauty of the Island belies the tragedy that brought the chimps to this refuge. The island hosts several bird species, and monitor lizards. It offers visitor quarters that are surrounded by beautiful landscaping and shaded trees.
In the center of the Island is a caged area reserved for the overnight sleeping area for the chimps.
Lilly explained that offering the chimps a place to sleep away from the forest, helps keep the forest intact. Over 40 Chimps are housed here and yet the island on its own, can only support 3 Chimpanzees in terms of available vegetation used for food. The Ngamba Island team has to supplement that diet with food brought in from the mainland.
There is a tranquility here that makes you feel like you are living in harmony with nature. The soft breeze from the fresh water Lake Victoria, sweeps over the island and creates a peaceful atmosphere.
You get a sense that you are breathing purely clean air, free from pollutants of the city smoke and dust. The island offers facilities where you can spend the night and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous night experience that is different from the day outing.
You get to sleep in spacious tents, with comfortable beds and well equipped bathrooms. The accommodations also offer balconies where you can watch the awe inspiring sunsets on lake Victoria.
Even as you relax on this inviting island, it is of the utmost importance that you remember the real reason why this Chimpanzee Sanctuary was created.
This is not simply a zoo or a place to just come and have fun, yes there is an element of an Island get-away, but the main focus of the great work being done here, is that of offering Chimpanzees that have been captured by poachers, and rescued by Rangers, a chance at rehabilitation and reintegration into the wild whenever possible.
The Ngamba Island team has gone to great lengths to create a setting that reflects the freedom that the Chimpanzees would have in a forest environment similar to their natural habitat along the Albertine rift stretching along the border of Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Deforestation has decimated a large chunk of the natural habitat that the Chimpanzees used as a home in Uganda. Encroachment is a big problem fueled by the Illegal Charcoal trade that depletes the natural forest cover that has been a home for these primates for years.
I learnt from Lilly that 25% of the Chimps in the wild have been observed to have missing limbs, due to the influx of traps that have left a devastating effect on their natural movement and migration.
These are Skeletal Remains of a female Chimpanzee killed by this mantrap. With her fingers caught in its vicious metal teeth, She dragged the 12kg trap along the ground until she slowly and painfully died of starvation. Mantraps such as this represents one of the biggest threats to Chimpanzees in Uganda, claiming 6 lives a year.
All the Chimpanzees brought to Ngamba Island have had a remarkable recovery, and are much healthier than when they arrived, scared and traumatized from the ordeal of being snatched from their natural habitat and sold to bush meat dealers by poachers.
Each Chimpanzee has its own amazing story. I listened as Lilly and the Lead tour guide retold some of the stories. I was touched by the dedication of the men and women who have injected so much time to catalog the experiences of the chimps and kept track of their steady improvement.
The highlight of the day was watching the Chimpanzees emerge from the forest and make their way to the feeding area which is overlooked by a platform where visitors are given a chance to give them vegetables and fruits.
The intelligence of the Chimpanzees was on full display. There was this one Chimp that didn’t even bother to fight for the fruits and vegetables thrown down from the platform. He seemed to have harnessed the art of drawing attention and receiving the reward without a struggle. All he had to do was put his hand up as if he was in a classroom and wait for his turn to be called. It was fun to watch the process as he put his hand up again and again until he was full.
The Chimpanzees have overtime discovered ways to treat their own ailments like worms. They figured out that a certain type of plant called Luwawu, which has extremely rough leaves, has the ability to work as a de-worming implement. They roll the leaves up and swallow them without chewing. Guides report finding these leaves in Chimp excrement with worms attached to the abrasive leaves. Simply Brilliant.
Challenges still exist as the Island is not designed to offer a replacement of the natural habitat for the Chimpanzees. This sanctuary is a stepping stone to ultimately where the chimps need to be and a return to their original homes. Medical supplies and equipment are needed to treat the animals whenever injuries are incurred, especially during thunderstorms. The island has a large area of forest cover, but that is not enough to feed all the chimpanzees and so there is a need for additional food.
Do kindly take the time to visit the Island and offer your support. The Chimpanzee Sanctuary is an NGO and relies heavily on donations and support from within and outside the country. The tourism aspect is helping some but the larger budget needed to maintain the Island and increase the ability to take in additional Chimpanzees is dependent on donations which have declined to a trickle due to the global financial situation.
Lilly said that Volunteers are welcome to visit for a period of time and share in the effort to help rehabilitate the rescued Chimps.
To help do please visit the Ngamba Island Website, or Contact the Executive Director, Lilly Ajarova on Tel: +256-414-320662, Cell: +256-772-221537
Lilly’s Email address is email@example.com. The Ngamba Island Website is: www.ngambaisland.org