Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda

By Lynda Howland
This item appears on page 73 of the February 2013 issue.

During a month in Africa with friends (June-July 2012), I boarded a fast boat from Entebbe, Uganda ($129 round trip), for a 45-minute ride to Ngamba Island, which houses the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary (phone +256 414 320 662). At the time of my visit, the sanctuary provided care for 48 orphaned chimps that had come from families, circuses and even a US military base.

“Mini” getting her evening meal of porridge.

Entry costs $40 per person, and it costs $200 a day for room and meals. In addition, one can sign on as a caregiver for the day ($200), preparing the chimps meals, etc., or take an hour-long forest walk with a group of chimps ($400). Accommodations are in newly built tents with bathrooms.

The island is composed mostly of forest, where the chimps live during the day. At night, the chimps come in from the forest to sleep in special enclosures. The clamor around feeding time was earsplitting! We watched in awe as the chief caretaker, Stany Nyandwi, groomed the chimps, massaged their backs and showed an uncanny ability to communicate with them. He has received several awards for his devotion to the chimps. The following morning I spent an hour walking in the forest with two caretakers and seven chimps.

Chimps can be extremely dangerous, so only the infants or most docile ones are allowed to accompany visitors on the walks. A young female named Afrika took a liking to me and clambered onto my back for a ride. She weighed 60 pounds, and it was a struggle to walk with her added weight. After a few steps I put her down, and she showed her displeasure by giving my finger a gentle bite. She then let me “groom” her, cementing our relationship, and when she later climbed on my back again, I determinedly walked with her for some distance. The opportunity for such an intimate encounter with chimps was an experience of a lifetime.

Pittsford, NY