They Stared Right Back At Me…

ChimpI stared in awe at the chimpanzees… and they had no problem checking me out, too.

I’ve cruised up the Nile River, taken a safari drive through Murchison Falls National Park, climbed up out of the forest to the top of Uganda…

… but the chimpanzee experience is still the most amazing thing I’ve done in Africa so far.

When you see chimpanzees up close, you can’t help but be impressed.

They’re so huge and powerful. Their brute strength is obvious. And when they move through the trees their agility makes you stand and stare.

And while I was staring at them they were staring right back at me. You can’t really assign human emotion to them, but they didn’t seem as isolated or sad as the gorillas did. Even though the area they’re forced to inhabit in the wild is shrinking just as fast as the gorillas’ is.

They used to live all over central and western Africa. But chimps only live in rain forests and wet savannas. Much of that habitat is being cut down to make way for modern farming and commerce.

And while chimps can spend about the same amount of time on land and in trees, they do most of their eating and sleeping in the trees. And when all the trees are cut down, you’ll only see chimps in zoos and parks. Their natural habitat will be gone. And it’s probably only going to take about 20 years or so.

Not only is the forest area declining, but the closer humans get, the more human diseases affect them. Chimps can get exotic diseases like Ebola, but did you know they can also catch a cold and it could kill them? Pneumonia, tuberculosis, chicken pox, and influenza can also all be deadly to a chimp.

Dr. Sears near chimp imageI stayed at the Sambiya River Lodge in Kabarega National Park at the top of Murchison Falls. I got to see chimpanzees in the last of their natural habitat, and it was the best thing I’ve done in Africa so far.

I wrote to you last week about the experience I had when I thought the chimps were going to attack. I was a little nervous because chimps do like to supplement their diet of fruits, leaves and nuts with meat!

In fact, scientists have discovered that chimps make spears to hunt other primates.

What the chimps do is make these sharp stakes, and go to the nests of a small primate called a bush baby. The chimps shove the spear into the nest hard. If it comes up with blood on it, they keep spearing until they skewer a bush baby. Then they take it out of the nest and eat it right there.

Chimps also use sticks and wooden clubs to throw at their enemies. Some of those include leopards, crocodiles and giant pythons.

But humans are the chimps’ number one enemy. Sadly, the people who would never kill and eat a chimp are the indigenous tribesmen like the Batwa. They were the traditional guardians of the forests surrounding the chimps, but they’ve been driven out.

I was fortunate to meet with their elders, who told me they are gathering names on a petition to try to get the Ugandan government to let them return to their lands. I hope they’re successful because so much traditional knowledge will be lost when this generation of the Batwa is gone.

It’s the same with the chimpanzees. Except for the wildlife preserves like the one I visited at Murchison Falls/Kabarega National Park, there won’t be any more chimps in the wild, probably in our lifetime.