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Why does Uganda's Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary need our support?

Rebecca Ward
By Rebecca Ward
09 Aug 2019
Uganda - Ngamba Island - Chimpanzee reaching.jpg

For me, the unique opportunity to support the Chimpanzee Sanctuary at Ngamba Island and witness their work to care for 49 rescued chimpanzees is the experience of a lifetime. It is incredibly moving to spend time watching the chimps and learn about their care and the conservation of their species.

The Chimpanzee Trust and their Sanctuary at Ngamba Island are pivotal in chimpanzee conservation and takes care of 49 chimpanzees on their small island in Uganda's Lake Victoria, who otherwise would have perished or been sold in the illegal wildlife trade.

This inspirational charity cares for the orphaned and traumatized chimpanzees, providing them with a safe haven in an environment akin to their habitat in the wild. They are given a chance to live as they would in the wild, but with the care and support that they need due to the trauma they have experienced.

I highly recommend that anyone travelling on a safari to Uganda considers visiting Ngamba Island to witness first-hand how the Chimpanzee Sanctuary operates on a daily basis. This is an incredible and close-up experience with these creatures who are so similar to us; years of study and observation at Ngamba and other research centres has shown that they feel many emotions like we do.


Chimpanzees show compassion, empathy and fear and when you are close to them, watching them interact with other chimps, it is hard not to feel deeply moved - one is intensely aware of how closely related we are.

How can you Get involved in Ngamba's Chimpanzee Conservation?

One can take a short 45-minute boat trip from Entebbe to visit the Sanctuary on the 100-acre island as part of your bespoke safari to Uganda. It is possible to have a half- or full-day visit or to stay on the Island in their delightful tented camp located on raised platforms on the water’s edge for a more immersive interaction with the chimpanzees.

Upon arrival, visitors are introduced to the project and given a personal orientation by a chimpanzee caregiver. Feeding takes place twice a day, morning and afternoon, and can be viewed from a purpose-built raised platform. Chimpanzees are fed mainly porridge, fruits and cabbages, a supplement to what they eat in the forest on the Island, including termites and natural vegetation.


The island is small and only has enough vegetation to sustain two chimps if they were to forage for 100% of their food. Therefore they eat around 10% of their daily intake from the forest of the island the remaining 90% is provided by the Sanctuary staff.

Guests who wish to stay on the Island for one or more nights can have a unique and privileged experience which allows you to get involved in ways that are not experienced by those taking day trips to the Island.

You will have an opportunity to work closely with the Sanctuary’s support staff, preparing the food for the chimps and assisting with the feeding. You will assist the monitoring of the chimps’ health and behaviour and record your observations in their record books.


In addition you will assist the keepers to provide enrichment activities for the chimps such as giving them puzzle feeders and tools to get the food out. This helps to engage the chimps with the finding of their food as they would in the wild and keeps them active, as well as allowing you to observe their behaviour.

You are looked after by camp staff who are provide all meals and entertain you in in the evening with Ugandan music, dance and storytelling. Other activities include observing more than 120 recorded bird species, 50,000 fruit bats, hippos and other wildlife, as well as a community visit to fishing villages on the lakeside, taking a sunset cruise on Lake Victoria, or just relaxing by the lake.


How does Ngamba Island Provide a peaceful home To rescued chimpanzees?

The Sanctuary sets out to provide a safe home for rescued chimpanzees while also caring for the environment and other wildlife on the Island; to provide an educational experience for visitors, and to benefit local communities.

Ngamba is almost entirely dedicated to the chimpanzees, providing 95 acres of open forest habitat. There are 49 chimpanzees on the island at the moment aged 2-35 years old. Three have been born on the island but the other 46 of these were rescued at the airport and different border posts from smugglers. Many witnessed their mothers and other family members killed as a result of human-wildlife conflict, or the illegal pet and bush-meat trade. In most cases, chimps arrive on the Island traumatized and malnourished.


After a short stay in Entebbe in quarantine, the chimpanzees are brought to the island and slowly integrated with the group. The healthy chimps can roam through the forest during the day and have the choice to stay at night, or return to large enclosures where they receive hay to build their nests or can sleep in hammocks.

All the chimps currently choose to return to the enclosure at night and the juvenile females prefer to be higher, in the hammocks, whilst the males prefer to be on the ground on straw beds (or on the lower boughs of trees, as with wild chimps).

Injured or sick chimps stay at the Sanctuary centre to be given round-the-clock care by vets and caregivers. They have learnt to emulate the keepers, and take the brooms and clean the floors themselves! It is quite remarkable!

What are the Threats facing chimpanzees?

Chimpanzees are listed as endangered on the IUCN red list. Between 150,000 and 200,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild with numbers declining by as many as 6,000 per year.


The threats are not limited to only human-wildlife conflict and the illegal wildlife trade, Chimpanzees are affected by the degradation of forests through logging, mining, farming and other forms of land development. They are also affected by stress from human disturbance, often resulting in reproductive failure and disease.

Who are the Chimpanzee Trust?

Ngamba Island was first established as a sanctuary in 1998. It is a project of The Chimpanzee Trust, which was founded in 1997 by the Born Free Foundation; the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre Trust, and the Zoological Board of New South Wales.

Ngamba is considered one of the leading primate sanctuaries in the world where researchers, institutions and other sanctuaries come to learn, collaborate and share knowledge. In addition to the care and protection they provide on the Island for chimpanzees who cannot be reintegrated to the wild, the Trust is also deeply involved in their conservation in multi-faceted channels.

The Chimpanzee Trust’s vision over the next four years is to “maintain a stable chimp population in the Northern Albertine Rift, and achieve self-sustainability in captive management.”


‘Change my Community’ is The Chimpanzee Trust’s environmental education program. The aim is to empower people to become agents for change within their communities to promote peaceful co-existence between chimpanzees and humans. The Trust also have a school outreach program which covers chimpanzee behaviour, forest and wildlife conservation, waste management, health and sanitation, as well as music, dance and drama. Teacher workshops are led to teach practical ways of incorporating environmental education into the curriculum.

In addition, the Trust manages field conservation programs. One such project, supported by the Darwin Initiative, is aimed at establishing a community resilience fund to provide sustainable financing for the implementation of human-wildlife conflict management, with a focus on communities in the Budongo-Bugoma corridor landscape

In addition, the Trust carries out chimp distribution research, ecological surveys of forests, as well as socio-economic and land-use planning surveys.


What are The Critical projects to the ongoing care and welfare of the Sanctuary?

Visitor revenue helps to fund the Sanctuary. It costs an average of $270,000 USD a year to maintain Ngamba. This includes food and veterinary care for the chimps, as well as operations and facility maintenance. In particular, the Sanctuary currently requires a new roof for the nighttime holding facility, equipment as well as solar power system for a new medical ward, the completion of a retaining wall, and nine tablets to record vital medical and environmental data.

Ngamba Island is the most accessible place to observe chimpanzees in Uganda. A visit here will deepen your understanding of this remarkable species and the importance of conserving their fragile forest habitat. By visiting the chimpanzees, you are directly contributing to their well-being, overall conservation of the species and supporting the local community, giving an extra layer of meaning to your safari.

If you would like any more information please do feel free to contact me.


Images kindly provided courtesy of the Chimpanzee Trust at Ngamba Island

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