Gombe National Park in western Tanzania is another place in East Africa where you will enjoying seeing humans closest living relatives – the chimpanzees.
Gombe National Park is one the smallest of the many parks (52 sq. Km) in Tanzania and its fragile strip of chimps straddles the steep slopes and river valleys. These hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika – one of Africa’s deepest lakes.
Gombe national park’s chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall. In 1960, she founded a behavioral research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi , the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return – a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
The other most visible mammals of Gombe national park are the other primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red collobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy. The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twin spots that hop tamely around the visitors’ center. After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.
The chimpanzees don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find; better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December).
ACTIVITIES IN GOMBE NATIONAL PARK
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the chimpanzees to identify each other through their individual vocal stylizations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative – the chimpanzee.
HOW TO ACCESS GOMBE NATIONAL PARK
Gombe national park is located 10 miles north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. Kigoma is connected to Dar – es – salaam and Arusha by scheduled flights and to Dar and Mwanza by a slow railway service. It is also connected to Dar and Mbeya by rough dirt roads and to Mpulungu in Zambia by a weekly ferry. From Kigoma, local lake-taxis take up to three hours to reach Gombe, or motorboats can be chartered, taking less than one hour.