They’re known as the lost chimps of Kyambura.
Living in the deep and ancient Kyambura Gorge on the African savannah, 27 chimps have been cut off from the rest of the jungle by surrounding human development and the construction of homes and communities, leaving the primates all but imprisoned within the gorge and facing extinction.MORE Tour Operator
The focus of a BBC documentary called Chimps of the Lost Gorge, the isolated chimp community has also become one of the driving causes for Volcanoes Safaris, a travel company that’s been at the forefront of reviving gorilla and chimpanzee tourism in Uganda and Rwanda since 1997.
“The gorge is isolated and the chimps, though they continue to survive and exist, they can’t develop very much because the gene pool is now very small,” Praveen Moman, founder of Volcanoes Safaris, explained during a recent interview with TravelPulse. “My understanding is either the chimps will disappear because they can’t reproduce or the gene pool will get so bad that you will get mutations of chimps.”
Moman however, is working to prevent either scenario from happening.
Just last month Volcanoes Safaris formally announced its Kyambura Gorge Eco-Tourism project, a series of community and conservation efforts aimed at not only safeguarding the immensely important Kyambura Gorge ecosystem, but also building something of a forest “bridge” for the chimps of the gorge to connect them with a nearby swath of jungle, and ideally, with other chimps.
The forest bridge is the final piece of what has been a decade long effort undertaken by Volancoes Safaris and the non-profit Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT), which together have grown to be the single largest stakeholders in the gorge ecosystem after the Ugandan Wildlife Authority.
Over the past 10 years, Volcanoes Safaris attempts to protect the chimps have included assembling various sites around the gorge including a guest lodge, a conservation center and a three-kilometer buffer along the northern side of Kyambura.
The goal of these projects is not only safeguarding the chimpanzees and other wildlife in the gorge, but also increasing visitors to the region, and thus the economic benefit for nearby communities, which is critical to any sort of long-term survival of such a special place.
The Kyambura Gorge
Located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda, Kyambura Gorge is the heart of one of Africa’s most magnificent parks.
Set within the Albertine Rift and spread over 764-square-miles, extending from Lake George in the northeast to Lake Edward in the southwest, Queen Elizabeth National Park includes savannahs, forests and fertile swamps.
During the 1960s, it was a place teeming with wildlife. but that population was drastically reduced during the 1970s and 1980s amid constant civil war in Uganda.
“During the past 30 years there has been stabilization of the country, of the economy and the parks, but the challenges are big, habitats and animals are disappearing, there is poaching when people don’t have food to eat, and there’s been a disappearance of great numbers of wildlife,” explained Moman.
Still, Queen Elizabeth National Park remains one of the best places to spot big game and primates. You are also likely to find leopards roaming the Mweya Peninsula here and hippos and Nile crocodiles in the Kazinga Channel. And it is within this special place that Kyambura Gorge and the lost chimpanzees are located.
“It’s a tiny gorge but it is one of the greatest places on the planet for ecosystems and biodiversity,” says Moman, who was born in Uganda.
Cut off by deforestation, the 27 chimps who live in this gorge are facing many threats. The worst of them is that their numbers are so small. But they also face daily life or death challenges, including whether to venture onto the predator covered surrounding savannah in search of food.
The story of the chimps of Kyambura is not unique. As the rainforest fragments all over Africa, chimpanzees everywhere may ultimately face the same sentence.
To help save those in Kyambura, Moman is spearheading the effort to create the forest corridor, which he calls that the next piece of the puzzle.
The nearest forest to the gorge is about 12 kilometers away. The goal is to plant seedlings that will grow and eventually create a 12-kilometer swath of green space connecting the two areas.
“In several years you would have the stable beginnings of forest and in 15 years, would have this forest corridor,” he explains.
It’s clearly no small task, but Moman is not deterred by the enormity of the work ahead, pointing out that if the effort were to start now, there would at least be hope for the future.
Just this past week, Volcanoes Safaris completed a soon to be released video that’s designed to raise awareness of the plight of the chimpanzees.
“How do we connect the lost chimps of Kyambura to another group of chimps in another forest, so that they can survive in a healthy and sustainable way in perpetuity?” says Moman during the video. “We cannot do this work alone. We will need the support of others to safeguard the future of Kyambura Gorge.”
How You Can Help
So, what does this all mean for you, the traveler?
Safaris needs your help too in order to save the chimps. The VSPT
receives funding through Volcanoes Safaris, which contributes $100 from
each safari booking to these conservation efforts. Private donations
from guests and others can also be made to the trust.
The company also just announced a series of guided walks in the private reserve around its lodge. The walks will take place in the Kyambura Gorge Buffer Zone and in the Kyambura Wetland, allowing guests to experience a magnificent wilderness area. Those who take part will be invited to plant a tree in the buffer zone supporting its continued expansion.
Volcanoes Safaris also recently announced new renovation to its Kyambura Gorge Lodge, which serves as the base camp for visitors wishing to experience the gorge and the lost chimps of Kyambura. In addition, the company offers a 7-day Gorilla, Chimps and Wildlife safari.
VSPT meanwhile, will continue its efforts to create that forested corridor, which if all goes well, will link the lost chimps to their future.
“This is the Earth’s heritage isn’t it? All of these wonderful species that we still have,” says Moman on the recently completed video. “If you connect tourism to conservation and to communities, you have some hope that the planet will have a more positive future.”