The Royal Mile in Budongo Forest is home to a community of chimpanzees, specially designated for research purposes. This incredible project was initiated in 2008 and is the result of a long-term collaboration between Roman Wittig, Catherine Crockford, and Klaus Zuberbühler. Their research delves into the evolution of sociality and social cognition among the wild chimpanzees of the Sonso community. Through extensive observations, field experiments, and non-invasive hormonal measures, this project aims to unravel the mysteries of chimpanzee behavior.
The Sonso community of chimpanzees (P. t. schweinfurthii) has been under continuous observation since 1990 when Vernon Reynolds founded the Budongo Forest Project (BFP). This initiative was established to study and protect a population of approximately 700 chimpanzees residing in the Budongo Forest Reserve in northwestern Uganda. In 2005, BFP transitioned into an Ugandan NGO, Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), with the chimpanzee research now overseen by Klaus Zuberbühler from the Universities of St Andrews (UK) and Neuchatel (CH).
Within the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda, there is a mysterious decline in fruit production among forest trees, leading to incidents of chimps and other primates raiding local subsistence farms. Dr. Fred Babweteera from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, in collaboration with graduate students from Makerere University, Kampala, is conducting a comprehensive study. Their research focuses on the foraging habits of primates, as well as the pollination and fruiting cycles of fruit trees. The ultimate goal is to develop innovative approaches for resource-sharing between humans and primates, and your assistance is needed.
Venturing into the Royal Mile offers a unique opportunity to meet our closest relatives in their natural habitat. Approximately 700 chimpanzees inhabit the Budongo Forest Reserve, the largest remaining tropical rainforest in East Africa. Additionally, the forest is home to four other major primate species. Your adventure begins by collaborating with field assistants at the Budongo Conservation Field Station. Together, you’ll observe chimpanzees and other primates during their morning and late afternoon foraging routines.
During your time in Budongo Forest, you’ll learn to identify local trees, assist researchers in monitoring trees, set and empty insect traps, and label and preserve collected insects for later identification. Your valuable contributions will also extend to data analysis. In your leisure moments at the research camp, you can engage in sports with Reserve staff or take a scenic stroll along the “Royal Mile” to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the rainforest.
Budongo Forest, situated approximately 3 hours’ drive northwest of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, lies en route to the renowned Murchison Falls National Park. This forest is home to the largest Mahogany forest in East Africa and hosts the highest number of chimpanzees in Uganda. Within the forest, you’ll find key tourist sites, including the Kaniyo Pabidi Ecotourism site, Busingiro Ecotourism site, and Kaniyo Pabidi Ecotourism site. These areas are nestled on the boundaries of Murchison Falls National Park and are dominated by majestic Mahogany and Iron-wood trees.
This 115-kilometer expanse of forest serves as a remote haven, occasionally harboring Lions, Leopards, and Buffaloes. Early mornings are ideal for exploration, as you may spot various forest inhabitants gathering around forest glades to lick salt. The River Waiga provides a refreshing watering hole for the diverse wildlife species residing in the forest.
Chimpanzee tracking typically begins with a briefing at the Budongo Eco Lodge’s information center. The forest boasts well-established trails to facilitate your search for chimps and other primates, as well as a wide array of bird species. Chimpanzee trekking takes place in two shifts, during the morning and afternoon. While chimp communities often roam near Budongo Eco Lodge throughout the year, they may venture farther afield in search of food and water during specific periods. During these times of scarcity, chimp sightings are less guaranteed. Nevertheless, the success rate of encountering chimps remains high, second only to Kibale Forest National Park. For the best opportunity to spot chimps, plan your visit between October and January. A typical chimpanzee trek in Budongo lasts around 3 hours, with visitors allowed one hour of direct observation.
Participation in chimpanzee trekking requires good health and the absence of diseases like flu or tuberculosis, as chimps are susceptible to human illnesses. Visitors must also be at least 15 years old to track chimpanzees. The cost of chimpanzee trekking in Budongo is $80 per person, and this activity can be combined with game drives in Murchison Falls National Park.
Budongo Forest is a premier bird-watching destination in Uganda. Guided by experienced birdwatching guides, enthusiasts can opt for full or half-day bird-watching excursions. The Royal Mile, located within the Busingiro area, is renowned as the best place to spot a wide variety of bird species in a single day. Stretching from the main research station to a nearby forestry college, the Royal Mile offers a remarkable bird-watching experience. Rare species, such as the Pitta and Yellow-footed Flycatcher, are among the many avian treasures awaiting discovery.
Budongo Forest Reserve is an integral part of Murchison Falls National Park, offering a plethora of activities, including visiting the top of the falls, game drives, boat cruises, and cultural visits to the Boomu Women’s Group. By the end of your tour, you will likely have encountered all of the big five mammals. For an all-encompassing experience of Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo Forest, and the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, consider exploring these attractions. It’s an adventure that promises wildlife encounters and unforgettable memories.
Budongo Forest is located in northwestern Uganda and is accessible within a 3-hour drive from Kampala. The journey takes you through Masindi town before arriving at the forest reserve. The entrance fee for Budongo Forest Reserve is $40 per person.
For a comfortable stay amidst the natural beauty of Budongo Forest Reserve, Budongo Eco Lodge offers a range of options. The lodge is situated 30 km from Masindi town and provides a tranquil atmosphere for relaxation. Guests can choose between special cabins featuring balconies and dormitory rooms, which are spacious and designed to accommodate larger groups of tourists. The lodge’s restaurant offers a diverse menu, featuring local and international cuisine. During your stay, you can partake in activities such as chimpanzee trekking, bird watching, chimpanzee habituation experiences, and nature walks. For those interested in local souvenirs, the Visitor Centre offers locally made art pieces and gifts.