Some say that if you don’t believe in evolution, you just have to visit Mahale and you will reconsider your position! The wild chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains are the proof you need to see humanity in chimps. If you get the chance to see them in this environment, you’ll immediately notice that these chimps are just like humans, down to adults who disagree with the same passion as us, while children are just having fun and playing “outside”. Or, probably, the best way to put this is “how humans are just like chimps”, since they were the first on our spectacular Earth.
Japanese primatologists have dedicated more than 60 years to studying the Mahale chimpanzees and they are not at all tired to continue doing this, especially since in the last 20 years, the chimps got used to human company. Chimps in Mahale Mountains allow humans to get quite close to them and, when they are fed up with being watched, they just start playing tricks and having fun on your account. Basically, they are a blast to be around and you’re in luck because tourists have access now to their community. However, the number of visitors is limited to protect the chimps and allow them to remain wild and beautiful.
There are a few places in Tanzania that offer the perfect setting for chimpanzee trekking, one of the best places being situated on shore of Lake Tanganyika, in the far west of the country. The Greystoke Mahale camp is luxurious and houses only six rooms for the motives mentioned above. The rooms are camouflaged so they can fit in in the jungle setting and have no phone, internet or mobile reception, so basically this is also a great place to be cut off from the rest of the world and literally be away from it all. The camp is offering views of a pale sand beach and the transparent and immense Lake Tanganyika, reaching the far away hills of Congo.
Roland Purcell founded the Mahale camp about twenty years ago and made sure that it would be hard to access. That’s why the nearest town is two hours away. Getting here usually involves small planes and boats, so planning is definitely necessary.
But, all your efforts will be immediately forgotten, once you get to see the Mahale camp. A quiet cove, not at all attractive to crocodiles, the camp seems royal and reminds visitors of the architecture of the Tongwe tribe.
It will take you a good, long trek to get and see the wild chimps. Yes, you could walk for many hours and not spot them. You will however be surrounded all kinds of insects and you will probably realize that rainforests are actually more noisy than you’ve been expecting. And you probably might see some red-tailed monkeys along the way. However, out of nowhere and usually when you less expect, you will just look up and spot the chimps. They will notice you and have nothing against being watched, so they will continue feeding, playing and, why not, fighting a bit, maybe just a few feet away from you. It will be a one-of-a-kind show, unique and memorable!
Your guides will tell you all about their characters and relationships, because they already know them very well. As a matter of fact, you might feel that this is less game viewing and more soap opera watching. They speak stories through gesture, sound and expression, with one maybe asking for a favor, another setting the pace, while another is probably planning for coup. It’s fascinating and absolutely exhilarating!
Chimp trekking is different than the traditional forms of safari because chimps are…so human. They will probably ignore you, but you will still feel privileged that they have accepted your presence there.
Finding them is usually a matter of luck because they can be anywhere from the top of the 8000 ft mountains to the lakeshore, but the trackers know their tricks, so they will definitely make things easier. You need not to worry because the paths are well defined and the pace is set by the slower members of the group. It’s not a competition, it’s exploration!
You can only admire the chimps for one hour per day, so make the most of your time spend around them. Be ready to wear a face mask to protect the chimps from human diseases. And, of course, do not use the flash when photographing them!
The Mahale Mountains spread over 1,613 square kilometers and you will find absolutely no road there. Just forest paths and tracks created by animals. Even though you will come here for the wild chimps, prepare to encounter many other animals and landscapes that have no equal in the world. Nature’s greatness will invade your sight and heart and, for many reasons, you will feel that you belong there.