Ngamba Island is situated 23 km Southeast of Entebbe, Ngamba is formerly uninhabited 50 ha island in the Kome Archipelago, which is separated from the northern shores of Lake Victoria by the 10-km-wide Damba Channel. Supporting a rainforest environment that includes 50-plus plant species utilised by free-ranging chimps, Ngamba was established as a sanctuary in 1998, when 19 orphaned chimps, all of which had been saved from a life in captivity or laboratory, were relocated there. Today, 48 orphaned chimpanzees, many captured illegally in the forest of the DRC and smuggled across Uganda for trade, are resident on Ngamba. The island is divided into two unequal parts, separated by an electric fence, a tented camp, visitors’ centre and staff quarters extend over an area of about 1 ha on a partially cleared stretch of northwestern shore notable for its immense weaver colonies. The rest of the island is reserved more-or-less exclusively for the chimps and their attendants. There’s also a small tented camp sleeping up to eight on the island. The fence-off part of the island offers plenty of room for the chimps to roam, but it is not large enough to sustain the entire community — indeed, its area corresponds roughly to the natural range of one chimpanzee — so the chimps are fed a porridge like mixture for breakfast, and then fruits and vegetables twice during the day. The fruits are given to the chimps from a viewing platform, which provides an opportunity for visitors to observe and photograph them through a fence.
The sanctuary aims to provide the best facilities and care to the captive chimpanzees, who are given the choice of staying in the forest overnight or returning to holding facility built to enhance in the forest overnight or management. The management has elected not to allow the chimps to breed, so all sexually mature females are given a contraceptive implant, which doesn’t disrupt the community’s normal sexual behaviour, but does prevent pregnancy. Ngamba Island is the flagship project of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, jointly established in 1997 by the Born Free Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Jane Goodall Institute, UWEC and the Zoological Parks Board of New South Wales (Australia). It is part of an integrated chimpanzee conservation programme that also includes an ongoing census study of wild chimpanzee populations in Uganda, two snare-removal programmes, chimpanzee habituation for ecotourism, and education and outreach initiatives in local communities. Proceeds from tourists visits go directly back into the maintenance of the sanctuary and the organisation’s other chimpanzee-related projects.
Day trips to the island are timed to coincide with the pre-arranged supplementary feeding times of 11:30 am and 2:30 pm, when the chimpanzee come within metres of a raised walkway, offering an excellent opportunity to observe and photograph one of our closest animal relatives. This is included in the entrance fee, but visitors who want a more hands-on experience (and who’ve arranged the required vaccines in advance) and opt for the Caregiver-for-a-Day programme, which aims at creating an understanding of what it takes to look after the orphans of Ngamba. This is available only as part of-inclusive overnight package that costs US$ 918 for one person, or USD 668 per person for groups of two or more. Kayaks are available to explore the island bays and go searching for monitor lizards, otters and some of the 154 recorded bird species, while other optional activities for overnight visitors include a visit to a local fishing village, a sunset cruise, and fishing, all of which can be arranged through the camp.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Access is by boat or helicopter only, and can be arranged with Kwanza Tours. Motorboat crossings from Entebbe take 45 minutes and cost USD 407 – 440 per person, depending on the group size. Motorised traditional canoes take 90 minutes and cost the same for a group of up to five, but more for larger groups. Make sure your boat leaves Entebbe in time for the twice-daily supplementary feeding session. Helicopter transfers from Entebbe costs around USD 780 per person (up to four people).