VISITING CHUMFUNSHI CHIMPANZEE SANCTUARY IN ZAMBIA
I never knew there was so much left to look forward to in Africa until I heard about Chimfunshi.
I had hiked an active volcano and slept on the rim of the largest lava lake in the world, I had trekked the jungles of the Congo to meet mountain gorillas in the wild, I had spent a week living in an authentic Maasai village and my car had gotten chased and almost trampled by an angry elephant in Tanzania. I mean, how could anything in this world make me feel excited after the madness that had been the last six months of my life backpacking Africa?
I was completely beaten up and looking forward to spending my last days in Africa chilling by my hostel's pool before my flight out of the continent.
But then I ran into Karo, a Polish girl who was doing a similar route in Africa. I first met her in Tanzania, and we both happened to run into each other again in Malawi. While we were catching up on our journeys, she mentioned this chimpanzee sanctuary in the Congolese border with Zambia she had heard about.
A few days later, we found ourselves venturing into northern Zambia to meet the chimps. As we got deeper into the Copperbelt Region, our phone signals completely faded, the pavement on the road dissolved into soil, and all we could see in either direction was a chunky forest.
The Copperbelt region in Zambia is rarely visited by tourists. There isn't actually much there other than copper mines and unimpressive landscapes, but we had both grown obsessed with the idea of seeing human's closest relatives that we didn't mind the long journey to and fro.
As we looked out the windows of the bus for any sign of life, we were laughed at by the passengers in a language neither of us could comprehend. There was virtually nothing around, our signal was void, and the sun was setting quickly. In silence, we were both plotting where we would spend the night and whether or not it'd be safe to pitch our tent on the roadside.
But as it always does, things worked out in the end. We spotted Chimfunshi's sign on the road and sighed a sound of relief.
Next on our schedule was the reason we had actually come so far – Chimps! We were driven around the massive sanctuary to see the chimpanzees eating, climbing trees, and more often than not, throwing rocks and branches at our car.
I tend to be very skeptical of animal tourism, but Chimfunshi has been one of the few places I've visited with animals involved that didn't leave me wondering if I had just contributed to some evil scheme.
The chimpanzees have an area of 4,200 hectares to roam around. We only saw around 20 chimps from the 120 that reside there because most of them prefer to stay away and just roam around in what really is the jungle and natural habitat. The only difference from an actual forest is that it's gated to prevent poaching.
A little view of how huge this place is. This is just a tiny section of the area where the chimps live! They really have so much space to roam about freely, way more than I've ever seen in any animal sanctuary around the world.
I was so impressed by how similar to humans they are. You could see how each chimp had a distinct face and their personalities really radiate through their facial expressions and actions. Some chimps were shyer and kept to themselves, while others didn't hesitate to throw sticks at us.
It was kind of like watching life inside a Kindergarten – you can tell right away who the bullies are, who the rejects are, and who owns the place around there.
One of the highlights of our visit was watching the chimps eating. The team at Chimfunshi invited us to take part in the feeding routine and we arrived a few minutes later. The chimps were FURIOUS about the delay and they were throwing tantrums as they demanded their food.
And once they got their food, it got even more hilarous. Some would actually gather around in groups and engage in what seemed like a pretty gossipy conversation.
Others would cut their meal into pieces to share with the rest and it was just incredibly heart-warming to see them stuffing food into each other's mouth.
And of course, a few wanted their share all to themselves and refused to share their scrumptious snacks.
Another highlight? Getting the chance to meet the legendary Sheila Siddle. Together with her husband, she transformed her family's cattle ranch into Chimfunshi after a ranger brought in an injured chimpanzee.
Sheila is known for inviting Chimfunshi's guests in for a cup of coffee, and she will not hesitate to tell you the wildest of stories of her life in Zambia. It all began when she was just a little girl and her parents decided to immigrate and build a farm on the shores of the Kafue river, driving all the way down there from the UK.
If you visit Chimfunshi (and you definitely should), make sure to ask her about Billie, the Siddle's hippopotamus and partner in crime.
And the chimps? They were amazing. I was so in awe at their human-likeness that I began dreaming of becoming a primatologist. Since I was little, I always envisioned myself working with wild animals so don't be surprised if I slow down on my travels and enroll in university again, as this thought has not been able to leave my mind ever since my visit to Chimfunshi.
My favorite thing about Chimfunshi was how raw it felt.
Karo and I were the only visitors there aside from the volunteers who resided at the sanctuary.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING CHIMFUNSHI
If you spend the night here, you will definitely need:
→ Toilet paper
→ Food to cook your meals
→ Mosquito repellent
Water is available for sale in reception, and we were told that the tap water is actually safe to drink. However, if you're skeptical, you can always bring a few bottles from Lusaka or get yourself the GRAYL (I recommend it for anyone traveling to Africa). It's a bottle that purifies water in just a few seconds.
If you want to spend the night at Chingola instead, there are several hotels there.