While traveling through Uganda with The Giving Lens, we had the opportunity arise, unexpectedly, to go chimpanzee trekking at a stop on the looooong drive to Southwestern Uganda. Of course we all leapt at the chance to see chimps in the wild.
In comparison to the gorilla trekking (which I will share some photos of as well, soon!) it was a fairly mild trek. Not to say it was "easy" by any stretch of the imagination. But, doable.
Our guide in Kibale National Park gave us the run-down before heading into the jungle proper; keep an 8m distance from the chimps, anyone with flu-like symptoms could not trek that day (chimps share 98% of our DNA and we could potentially wipe them out with something as simple as the common cold), no eating near the chimps, no provoking the chimps (I thought that one would kind of go without saying, but what some people will do for selfies these days...)
We trekked for a good 2 hours before even spotting one (there's no guarantee that you'll see any on your trek) and he was way up in the jungle canopy overhead, munching on leaves and hanging out in his nest. Usually they only nest at night, and they rebuild a new nest every single night to evade predators, but that one must have been feeling camera shy. After watching him for a good half hour and capturing only distant, blurry, and disappointing images, we moved on. (The guides are very strict on limiting the time you spend near any of the chimps, which is a good thing).
We all trekked on, feeling somewhat dejected at the outcome, when suddenly we happened upon another big male, much closer to the ground, and making his way down! I held my breath and waited, clicking madly away the entire time. He dropped down to the jungle floor and walked directly toward us. We all froze (except, of course, for our shutter fingers) as he passed close enough that I felt his hair brush against my pant leg. He was so close I couldn't even lock focus on my 200mm lens.
Slowly, silently (or as silently as a group of 6 photographers can bluster their way through the jungle) we followed him from a good distance. Our patience was eventually rewarded as he joined a small community of chimpanzees. Our guide explained the family dynamics to us as we jostled for position and clicked away as they groomed one another, laying in a shaft of sunlight filtering to the jungle floor. What an incredible sight to witness. I found myself, quite often, forgetting to take photos and just standing there, taking in the scene in front of me, and I'm so glad I did.