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Entebbe & Lake Victoria

Only 35kms by road from Kampala (the capital) and on the edge of Lake Victoria, Entebbe serves as the country’s safari gateway. The international airport is on the shores of Lake Victoria and all passengers arriving by air will pass through Entebbe at some point.

The town straddles the equator and is surrounded by the lakeshore forests with trees towering above the short buildings. There is no real town centre and public transport is essentially by bicycle, BodaBoda or Matatu. The BodaBoda’s are motor bikes on which passengers ride pillion – no helmets, what feels like break neck speeds and dirt cheap. A must for anybody in need a bit of an adrenaline rush!

The only worthwhile sights worth visiting in Entebbe itself are the Entebbe Botanical Garden and the country’s Wildlife Educational Centre (which apparently has some lions returned from zoos in Europe)?! It also has some rare rescued species from here and there in Central Africa including two shoebill, red forest hog, chimpanzees, otters and buffalo.

The Botanic Gardens themselves are very interesting; established in 1902 over around 30 acres on the edge of Lake Victoria. Hundreds of exotic and indigenous specimens with a fairly large area that’s been allowed to turn back to forest (an area that’s apparently been used for several Tarzan movie shoots) – loads of orchids, ferns, butterflies and birds. Entrance fee in early 2008 was $30 for an hour’s worth of wandering about the gardens which included an entrance fee, a camera charge and a guide fee.

One day fishing trips and half day or overnight trips to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary embark from the Entebbe jetty on the lakeshore and opposite the Wildlife Centre.

Lake Victoria

This is the world’s second largest fresh-water lake at 68,000 sq. km and is as large as Ireland. A shallow lake, its deepest part reaching 80m, the waters straddle the equator and consequently has a high rate of evaporation which has a major effect on the local climate causing cloudy skies in the mornings, clearing in the afternoons.

It is widely accepted to be the main source of the Nile. Rivers from west Kenya, north Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda all feed the lake and feeding the river as it journeys 6000km to the Mediterranean Sea.

Hundreds of islands litter the northern shore with swampy bays lying in between. These papyrus swamps provide an excellent habitat for the Sitatunga-antelope. Habitation is mainly small fishing villages that live off trading Nile perch, tilapia and the tiny Omena.

Transfers to Ngamba Island, the private chimpanzee sanctuary on Lake Victoria all depart from Entebbe slipway. The actual boat transfer is 23km that usually takes around an hour to do crossing rough and clear patches of water. A night on Ngamba Island is highly recommended at the end of a trip to experience all this sanctuary offers to orphaned chimpanzees.

Ngamba Island

Ngamba Island is part of the Koome group of islands located on Lake Victoria 23km south of Entebbe. It consists of approximately 100 acres, 98 of which are forested and separated from the visitor’s area by an electric fence. The island was officially opened to visitors in October 1999 and is currently home to 42 orphaned chimpanzees. Chimps need a range of about 100 acres each so this habitat is seriously inadequate.

The overnight enclosure has been designed to accommodate a maximum of 60 chimps which the keepers report could be filled within a day or two of having made a few phone calls! There is talk of another island having been earmarked as a chimp sanctuary to swell the land available for the chimpanzees.

Ngamba Island is a project of the Chimpanzees Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT), established in 1997 by the Born Free Foundation (UK), International Fund for Animal Welfare (USA), the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Education Centre Trust (UWECT) and the Zoological Board of New South Wales (Australia) and it provides these orphaned chimpanzees with a secure home to live out their lives, since a return to their natural habitat is not possible.

All activities on the island are conducted by CSWCT – half and full day trips, an overnight stay, “caregiver for the day”, “forest walks with the chimps”, extended caregiver stays. Special medical requirements and additional inoculations are required of anybody doing the forest walk or caregiver activities – these have to be dealt with well in advance.

What really strikes visitors is how dedicated these people are to the job and more so, how attached they are to the chimps themselves. These creatures are total dependents and are completely reliant on the individuals and team that takes care of them.

To some extent the chimps could be likened to convicts in a small jail or patients in an institution – each with strong characters, different personalities and varied needs, some can be a seriously violent bunch of delinquents! It is amazing how some of them go completely ballistic in the evening as they arrive back in the enclosure from the forest, flinging tractor tyres around like soft toys and screaming around like complete thugs. On the other hand the youngsters wake up in the morning and play confidently with different adults as they rest in their hammocks – the adults themselves totally chilled. Chalk and cheese by comparison with what happens at bedtime!

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