Chimp Empire is a fascinating nature documentary series that gives viewers an intimate look into the lives of chimpanzees. If you’re curious about where this incredible show was filmed, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Chimp Empire was filmed in various locations across Africa, primarily in Uganda’s Kibale National Park and Budongo Forest Reserve.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore all of the key filming sites for Chimp Empire and learn more about these chimpanzee habitats across Africa.
Kibale National Park, Uganda
Overview of the Park
Kibale National Park is a lush rainforest located in western Uganda that protects a large population of eastern chimpanzees. Spanning 766 square kilometers, Kibale contains one of the highest concentrations of primates in Africa, with 13 species present including chimpanzees, red colobus monkeys, and L’Hoest’s monkeys.
Established as a national park in 1993, Kibale is home to about 1,500 chimpanzees that have been extensively studied by researchers. The park provides critical habitat for these endangered great apes that live in communities and construct sleeping nests high in the forest canopy.
Chimps are highly social and intelligent, using tools to acquire food and exhibiting complex social dynamics.
In addition to primates, Kibale National Park contains over 375 species of birds and many other mammals like forest elephants, bushbucks, and leopards. The park has a network of hiking trails open to visitors who want to spot wildlife and experience the rainforest environment firsthand.
With eco-tourism on the rise, Kibale provides an important protected area for chimps and other species.
Chimp Filming Locations in Kibale
Within Kibale National Park, there are a few key spots that offer the best chance to observe and film chimpanzees in their natural habitat:
- Kanyanchu Tourist Area – This is the most popular spot for chimp tracking. Guides lead small groups on hiking tours to locate and watch chimp communities. The open grasslands here provide good visibility.
- Sebatoli Area – Home to several habituated chimp communities that are accustomed to human presence. Chimps here are easier to film and observe at close range.
- Ngogo Camp – Situated near the center of the park, this area contains the Ngogo chimp community of around 150 individuals that is well-studied.
In addition, Kibale has a Chimpanzee Habituation Programme that allows researchers long-term access to chimp groups in order to habituate them. This facilitates up-close video recording and observation.
Film crews need to work with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to arrange permits and guides for filming within the park.
By capturing chimps in their natural forest home, documentaries filmed in Kibale provide invaluable footage of chimpanzee behavior and social dynamics. Kibale offers filmmakers a primate wonderland in which to record extraordinary chimp encounters in the wild.
Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda
Overview of Budongo Forest
The Budongo Forest Reserve is located in northwestern Uganda and covers an area of 793 square kilometers. It’s the largest mahogany forest in East Africa and home to over 600 chimpanzees as well as many other primates like baboons and monkeys.
The forest is composed of moist, semi-deciduous tropical rainforest with trees reaching heights of over 50 meters.
The Budongo Forest Reserve was established in 1932 by the British colonial administration primarily to protect the mahogany trees that were commercially valuable at the time. Today, the forest is managed by the National Forest Authority for the sustainable extraction of timber and fuelwood resources.
Eco-tourism activities like chimpanzee tracking have also become an important source of revenue and help promote conservation efforts.
Researchers have been studying the forest’s chimpanzee population since the 1990s. Long-term research projects by Budongo Conservation Field Station and Kibale Chimpanzee Project have revealed important insights into chimp behavior and ecology over the decades.
Chimp Filming Sites in Budongo
Within Budongo Forest Reserve, there are a few key sites where chimpanzee troops have been habituated for research and tourism purposes, making them excellent locations for filming documentaries like Chimp Empire:
- Busingiro – The largest habituated chimp community with over 70 individuals that live on the eastern side of the forest.
- Sonso – A smaller chimp community located in the central part of Budongo with about 60 members.
- Kaniyo-Pabidi – An area in the north of the forest with several chimp groups totaling 100+ individuals that are less habituated to humans.
These sites provide open “chimpanzee highways” that allow the apes to move freely through the forest canopy. Film crews can set up camera traps along the trails to capture excellent footage. The Budongo Forest Reserve has the ideal environment for observing chimps display their full range of natural behaviors.
By working closely with researchers, documentary producers are able to achieve intimate portrayals of chimp communities. Landmark series like BBC’s Chimp Empire (2020) showcase Budongo’s chimpanzees and help bring international attention to protecting this critical forest habitat.
Gombe National Park, Tanzania
Background on Gombe National Park
Gombe National Park is located in western Tanzania right along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika. This small national park covers only 52 square kilometers, but it is home to Africa’s famous chimpanzees.
Gombe National Park was established in 1968 and was Tanzania’s smallest national park for many years until it expanded in the late 1980s.
Gombe National Park is probably most famous for being the site of Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking research on wild chimpanzees which started in 1960. Goodall immersed herself in understanding chimpanzee behaviors and interactions, and her research showed the world how similar chimps are to humans in terms of emotions, intelligence, and social relationships.
Today, around 100 chimpanzees live in Gombe National Park. Tourists can visit the park and hopefully observe the chimps going about their daily lives. Seeing chimps in the wild is an unforgettable experience!
Chimp Empire Filming Locations in Gombe
The BBC documentary series Chimp Empire closely follows the lives of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park over four episodes. Filming took place entirely within the small national park from late 2004 to early 2005.
During the months of filming, the crew stayed at a research station in the center of the park. This allowed them to be immersed in the chimps’ habitat and follow them from when they awoke in the morning nests till sunset.
The chimps of Gombe live in three major communities, and the documentary crew was able to film a different community in each episode. This provided an intimate look at the power struggles, alliances, and family bonds within each group.
Key filming locations that appear throughout Chimp Empire include:
- The shoreline of Lake Tanganyika where chimps fish for algae
- The open grassland valleys where rival communities come into contact
- The forested hills and ridges where chimps build their night nests
- The Kakombe Waterfall and stream where chimps drink and play
Gombe National Park provided an ideal filming location to closely follow chimp lives. The small size allowed the crew to swiftly move between communities, while the diverse habitats captured the full range of chimp behaviors across the day.
Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
About Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. Established in 1985, the 1,613 square kilometer park protects stunning scenery and incredibly biodiverse forests that are home to chimpanzees, monkeys, and many unique species of birds, plants, insects, and trees.
Mahale has the largest known population of eastern chimpanzees, with around 1,000 chimps living in groups across the park. Visitors can track and observe the chimps going about their daily activities like feeding, grooming, playing, and sleeping high up in the forest canopy.
Seeing the human-like behaviors of our genetic relatives is an unforgettable experience.
The park contains the Nkungwe and Kungwe Mountain ranges which rise from the lakeshore to over 2,460 meters above sea level. These isolated mountains have fostered the evolution of many endemic species over time.
The mountains are covered in evergreen rainforests, bamboo thickets, grasslands, and woodlands that create a mosaic of diverse habitats.
Access to Mahale is very limited with most visitors arriving by boat across Lake Tanganyika. This has helped preserve the pure and pristine wilderness of Mahale. The chimps exhibit very natural behaviors as they have had little previous human contact or observation.
For researchers and conservationists, Mahale provides a unique window into wild chimpanzee behavior and ecology.
Chimp Filming Sites in Mahale Mountains
As part of the famous “Chimp Empire” documentary series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, Mahale Mountains National Park served as one of the key filming locations. Small crews embedded within chimp communities across Africa, with Mahale providing some of the most stunning footage.
In Mahale, the crews filmed the Mimikire chimp community which inhabits the central woodlands and high mountain slopes. Some key behavior and events captured on film included:
- Daily feeding and foraging for fruit, leaves, nuts, and insects
- Complex social grooming sessions for bonding and hygiene maintenance
- Play sessions like wrestling among adults and young chimps
- New chimp births and mating
- Territorial patrols and encounters with other chimp troops
- The use of tools like sticks to extract honey from bee hives
- Lots of resting and sleeping high up on branches and in tree nests
The isolated and hard to access filming sites meant the crews had to hike long distances carrying heavy gear. But the ability to record natural behaviors largely unaffected by humans made it worthwhile. The series won numerous awards and has brought valuable attention to chimp conservation issues.
Mahale Mountains National Park remains a haven for our closest genetic relatives on this planet.
Other Chimp Empire Filming Locations
The west African country of Senegal is home to numerous chimpanzee populations that were featured in Chimp Empire. Film crews traveled to the Fongoli Savanna chimpanzee habitat in southeastern Senegal near the Gambia border.
This community of around 40 chimps was studied extensively by primatologist Jill Pruetz. Her groundbreaking research uncovered fascinating tool use and hunting behaviors amongst the Fongoli chimps not seen before in other communities.
Additional chimp communities call the Niokolo-Koba National Park home. This World Heritage Site is Senegal’s largest national park at over 9,000 square kilometers. Primatologists have identified four distinct chimp troops here, though habitat loss threatens their future.
Breathtaking scenery including baobab trees,Termite mounds, and watering holes provided scenic backdrops for filming chimp interactions.
The remote forests of southeastern Guinea offered film crews rare glimpses into the daily lives of western chimpanzees. The impenetrable jungles here are challenging to navigate, helping protect chimp communities from poaching and deforestation threats.
Researchers have identified over 500 chimps inhabiting the isolated slopes of the Nimba Mountains on the borders of Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Liberia.
Additional chimp strongholds in Guinea include the Mafou Forest and Diécké Forest Reserves. These intact forest ecosystems are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, offering vital habitat for chimps and other endangered wildlife.
Guinea chimps demonstrated tool using behaviors like termite fishing and ant dipping for audiences.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the largest population of chimpanzees in Africa. Chimp Empire film crews traveled deep into the Congo Basin rainforest to profile these eastern chimpanzees in their natural habitat.
Researchers estimate over 200,000 eastern chimps inhabit this central African nation.
Salonga National Park, located in the Congo River basin, provided exceptional footage due to its remote, unspoiled forests. Chimps were captured displaying rarely seen behaviors like cave use and waterfall interactions.
Additional filming occurred in the remote jungles of Kahuzi-Biega National Park near Bukavu. Congo’s political instability makes studying and protecting these chimp communities extremely challenging.
In summary, Chimp Empire takes viewers across Africa to document the lives of chimpanzees in their natural habitats. Key filming locations included Kibale National Park, Budongo Forest Reserve, and Gombe National Park in Uganda and Tanzania.
But the show also traveled to Senegal, Guinea, and the Congo to capture diverse chimpanzee communities across the continent.
We hope this look at where Chimp Empire was filmed gave you insight into the incredible chimp habitats showcased on the series. Next time you watch the show, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the locations and the chimps that call them home.