The Mahale Mountains National park, Western Tanzania. Many guides will melt at these words. Mahale's chimps have almost mythical status; this is one of Africa's most exceptional experiences. Fig trees, silk trees, mahogany, nutmeg… all enchant with their colours and scents. Perhaps you pause to point out a forest giant squirrel to your fellow explorers, as it sits eating nuts or scampers merrily along the high branches. Maybe a colobus monkey is just visible, foraging for seeds in a lower part of the forest. You enter a small clearing… and a group of chimpanzee is there to meet you, their faces intrigued, curious!
You might have already enjoyed some superb safari featuring the Big Five and any number of predators and herbivores within Africa’s other national parks and game reserves. However, there really is something extra special about meeting the family in their natural habitat, the lowland forest of Mahale. It is a privilege to spend time in their company!
The Mahale Mountains
Mahale Mountains N.P. is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world, with approximately 1,600 square kilometres of jungle-clad mountains rising to peaks as high as 2,400 metres! The forest ranges from nutmeg, mahogany, silk trees, fig trees, and evergreen vines on the lower slopes to brittlewood, rushfoil, pines, and bamboo bushland above. As well as the chimps, there are squirrels, porcupines, two types of mongoose, antelopes, blue duiker, yellow baboon, and the vibrant black-and-white colobus monkey. The bird count is impressive and there are plenty of colourful butterflies too!
The park also includes Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-deepest lake! This is home to roughly 250 species of fish. The white-sand beach and the clear turquoise waters are absolutely gorgeous, a joy to behold. During the dry season, the chimps tend to come close to the lakeshore and even all the way into some camps in the area! If you would prefer your safari to involve a 30-minute stroll into the rainforest rather than a 3-hour trek, you might like to consider travelling here between August and October. Of course, whatever the time of year, seeing the chimps is always a pleasure!
The chimpanzee M-group
There are about a thousand chimps living in Mahale Mountains, divided into groups. One group – known as the Mimikire clan or the M-group – is accustomed to the presence of humans, because they have been close to Japanese researchers for decades. In fact, this group of 56 chimps is so comfortable around their relatives, they will walk up to you and look you in the eye!
Other chimp behaviour observed on treks includes rushing through the forest on a hunt, communicating with shouts and screams. In quieter moments, chimps like to groom each other, as well as squabble and forage. They have even been seen using twigs to fish for termites. Watching the youngest members of a group playing together is particularly rewarding! We highly recommend taking your camera, and also a good pair of binoculars so you can really make the most of your time – usually an hour – with these amazing animals.
If this experience appeals to you, just get in touch with a member of our team! We are happy to offer advice on where to stay and when to travel, and we look forward to hearing from you.