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It’s 6 a.m. at Kyambura Gorge Lodge, just outside of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, and I can hear singing. Not being a morning person, I’ve declined a wake-up call, but I can just make out the melodic voice of Peace, the lodge’s personal butler, as she delivers fresh, local coffee to my neighbour.
We’re up early to head into the north section of the park for a lion safari. We join a researcher who stretches his arm through the roof of a safari vehicle, turning his aerial to find the lions. Some of the park’s female lions wear radio collars for tracking purposes. Monitoring their movements allows rangers to reduce conflict with local communities by alerting them when lions get close to livestock, while learning more about how the lions breed, feed, and move. Tagging along on a research outing lets us go off-road into the park for a close-up view.
After about 15 minutes, we spot two lionesses and two cubs quietly working their way through a fresh kill. We watch, and listen, hearing the powerful jaws gnawing on tendon and bone.
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Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.