Budongo Forest is home to some 600-700 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). A key aim of the Budongo Forest Conservation Field Station is to study and conserve the local chimpanzee populations. The chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest were first studied in the 1960's.
Below are details of the three groups of chimpanzees in the Forest that have been habituated to humans, some details of other communities are also summarized at the bottom of the page.
The Sonso chimpanzees have been studied continuously since 1990. This community lives near the site of a former sawmill. It is called the Sonso community after the River Sonso, which runs through its range. In mid 1998, this community numbered 53 individuals; in 2006 the number had gone up to 75. Our research project, because of its presence and because of the continuous day-by-day focus on this community of chimps, has contributed greatly to its protection.
Although initially shy of humans, efforts by the project's Field Assistants gradually made them more comfortable (habituated) when watched by humans. Work by the Field Assistants Geresomu Muhumuza and Zephyr T. Kiwede in 1991-1994 got the chimpanzees to a point where they were sufficiently used to humans to be followed at close quarters though the forest all day. As each chimp became known to the researchers and Field Assistants, it was given a name. Now, some years after the project started, all the chimps have been named and many new ones have been born. You can see the names and descriptions of all the chimpanzees in this well studied community in this list (pdf).
Unfortunately, many of these chimpanzees have snare injuries, the result of being caught in snares set by local people to catch duikers and forest pigs. No one wants to catch a chimp, it happens by accident. It seems the chimp panics when it gets into a snare and pulls the snare tighter around its wrist or ankle. We have one chimp with a missing foot and two with missing hands. The other injured chimps have twisted hands, which they cannot use. Yet they manage to climb trees and find their food. And they are not discriminated against by other chimps. They continue to be caught in snares from time to time.
The chimpanzees of the Sonso community are the subject of a continuous research project and may not be visited by tourists. Tourists are recommended to visit one of the following two chimpanzee communities.
Far to the west of the Sonso chimpanzees lives a community of chimpanzees, which is being habituated for tourists to go chimp-watching. These chimpanzees are the descendants of those originally studied by Prof. Reynolds, and by Profs. Sugiyama and Suzuki, in the 1960s. This tourist site provides visitor accommodation and is located on the road from Masindi to Butiaba.
These chimpanzees, also being habituated for tourism, live in an area of forest in the north-east of Budongo. Interestingly, they travel into the surrounding savannah, and also cross into the main part of Budongo Forest. Like the Busingiro tourism site (above), this one welcomes visitors and has visitor accommodation. It is on the road from Masindi to Murchison Falls National Park.
We know of two other chimpanzee communities in the forest: The Nature Reserve community, and the Waisoke community. Neither of these communities has been habituated or studied, but both share borders with the Sonso chimpanzees. The Nature Reserve community lives to the west, in an area of unlogged forest. This community may not be as strong as the Sonso community, judging from the fact that the Sonso chimps sometimes cross into their territory inside the Nature Reserve.
We know that unlogged forest is not as rich in food resources as logged forest, and so these chimpanzees may have to range widely to find their food. They may even travel as far west as the borders of the Busingiro community's range. The Waisoke community to the north-east is strong and occasionally enters the territory of the Sonso chimpanzees.
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Chimpanzee photos by Florian Moellers