Chimpanzees – our closest relatives …. watching them in the wilds of Africa is indeed a humbling experience. There are very few places remaining where sustainable populations of these animals live and two of those places are in western Tanzania.
At Gombe Stream Reserve and Mahale Mountains National Parks, both on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, research has been carried out on the Chimpanzee populations since the 1960s. Jane Goodall made a name for herself and put Chimps firmly on the map when she took on a challenge from Louis Leakey and lived with the chimps deep in the rainforest for decades where she documented their behaviour, and through her books – starting with In the Shadow of Man – explained the complexities of the social hierachy and how these fascinating animals exist within their African homes.
Gombe Stream is still a research centre and there is basic accommodation here and it’s a fabulous place to meet the real personalities of the families which have taken over the life of Jane Goodall and the Institute that dedicates it’s life to the conservation of the Chimps. To get there you have to fly to Kigoma and take a boat.
To get to Mahale Mountains, there is an airstrip reasonably close but arrival at your choice of camp still entails a boat ride on Lake Tanganyika. The scenery here is dramatic and there are a couple of high end safari camps, from which you can trek the chimps in the mountains, enjoy lazing on the beaches and boat trips up and down the lake. July to October is the best time to tackle Gombe or Mahale when the trails are easier and the chimps are usually found on the lower mountain slopes.
It is also possible to have fabulous Chimpanzee tracking experiences in Uganda. Head to Budongo Forest (on the way to Murchison Falls) for a truly dramatic forest environment or further west on the way to the Gorillas, stop at Kibale Forest National Park, where you can do forest walks to track the Chimps there. If you are keen to find out about Chimpanzee conservation, take the time to visit (and stay overnight) on Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria if you are going on a primate holiday to Uganda – this is an island sanctuary for many rescued Chimps and has a great education centre, plus the opportunity to ‘be a keeper’ and help the orphaned chimps or take an early morning forest walk with the infants.
As with gorilla trekking, a good level of fitness is required and if you have any kind of cold or flu you will not be permitted to track the apes as they easilly pick up human diseases. There are a few opportunites to see Chimpanzees in Rwanda, in the Nyungwe Forest Area, but the terrain is difficult and groups are fairly small. However, more groups of Chimps in Rwanda are being habituated to visitors, so watch this space! Take a look at the Rwanda Primate Safari which includes chimp trekking.
There are also destinations in West Africa where I can arrange Chimpanzee Tracking for you, such as Sierra Leone, ask me for details.
With a zoology background and having worked with great apes in conservation, I am well placed to put together a tailor made holiday to track Chimpanzees as part of your African Safari. Get in touch for a quote or to chat through what you want to do.