THE MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
This national park, like Gombe Stream, is mainly a chimpanzee sanctuary but you won’t find it marked on most maps since it was only created in mid-1985. It is on the knuckle-shaped area of land which protrudes into Lake Tanganyika about halfway down the lake, opposite the Zairian port of Kalemie. The highest peak in the park, Nkungwe (2460 metres), ensures that moist air blowing in from the lake condenses there and falls as rain. This rain supports extensive montane forests, grasslands and alpine bamboo. Numerous valleys intersect the mountains, and some of these have permanents streams which flow into the lake. The eastern side of the mountains is considered drier and support what is known as miombo woodlands. It is a very isolated area.
The animals which live in this park show closer affinities with western than with eastern Africa. They include chimpanzee, brush-tailed porcupine, various species of colobus monkey (including the Angolan black-and-white colobus), guinea fowl and mongoose. Unlike other national parks in Tanzania, this is one in many which you can walk around-there are no roads in any case. Very few tourists come here because of the remoteness of the area, but it is well worth it if you have the time and initiative and the best time to visit is from May to October.
You can get to Mahale national park by scheduled domestic flights from Kilimanjaro international airport (JRO) and Dar es Salaam airport (JKA) to Kigoma town where you can stay in standard hotel at Lake Tanganyika Hotel where they can arrange a boat for you to reach to the national park and for those who prefer backpacking you can use train or bus which might take 24 hrs to 48 hrs to reach in Kigoma and then you can organize boat to Mahale which can be arranged by the Kigoma tourist information centre.
Mahale Chimpanzee Lifestyle.
Chimps lifestyle almost resembles those of human beings, one of their culture which can be similar is that the younger chimpanzee must show respects to the older ones and if it happens that the oldest chimpanzee shows up in a group of other younger chimps then they must salute and show respect to the leader otherwise the leader of that group will be punished, the park ranger explained. for example, he said there is one leader called Primus who is leading a family called M group which has 57 chimps and one of the largest family in Mahale national park, when he appears in the group all other chimps will come and great him by doing different signs and gestures like touching the chin and legs or bring out a sound of respect and in case the top/first leader of the group is not around then the second leader who is called Alofu will be given the same respect as the first leader.
Chimpanzee Leaders in Mahale National Park.
In order for a chimpanzee to be a leader then one must possess high skills and have the ability to convince others as well as being strong enough and manage to fight from the first leader, second and third and after win he will be declared a leader of the family, again that chimpanzee should possess important techniques that others will appreciate acknowledge like knowing how to lead the group towards searching for food. At Mahale national park, the second leader named Alofu according to the park ranger, he is famously known for his great skills and with good memories especially the places with enough food which made him having more chimps followers by joining his family.
When Chimpanzee Search for Food.
One of the interesting activity that you can learn in Mahale is when chimps go looking for food, the park guide said they just don’t go without knowing where they will find food, always chimps know where the food is and in case a leader or any other male chimps arrive at that place with food before others then he will climb to the highest tree close by the area and start making sounds and gestures which will alert other groups of chimps around that he found some food and finally other groups will arrive and start sharing the food. The Mahale chimps always prefer to eat rubber vine fruit which is their favourite meal, ficus fruits and cord African fruit which they are all found in Mahale National park.
Must wear a surgical musk when visit Chimps so they don’t catch anything from us.
According to the rules of Mahale national park, you are required to wear a mask during the search for chimpanzee and you are supposed to wear it 50m before getting close to them, this is because some time ago 11 chimps found dead in the park and after a careful investigation they find out that the chimps died out of flue from people who were around the park and since that time the park authority made a rule that you are not allowed to come close to the chimpanzee more than 10m and must wearing a musk during the activities inside the park.
Understand the Mahale Chimpanzee Family.
There is only one type of Chimpanzee in Mahale national park but there are different communities or family that you can find inside the park and these families are named after alphabet even though there is long term for each letter. There is community M, Y, K, N and B community. Y community can be found in the Eastern Mahale and M community is the one that you can always observe when visiting the park and N community can be found in Ng’anja area, K can be found in Kajabala group. The park guide from Mahale national park can explain and teach you to understand which Chimpanzee belongs to which family whenever you come across them.
Mahale Chimpanzee Migration.
Not only you can find the Migration in Serengeti National park where millions of wildebeest and zebra migrate from one area to another but also in Mahale national park you can find the same thing but here the Migration of chimps move from one family to another family. The female one is the most migrated chimps in Mahale, for example, they will migrate from Y family to M family but for male chimps, they are not allowed to migrate and if they do so other male chimps will have to fight that particular chimps to death, explain the park guide.
Chimps will always use grooming for a main two reasons, first as a sign of strong relationship and second is for a cleaning purpose, when two chimps happen to appreciate, love or be close friends then they will always be grooming each other when they are resting especially during midday and this will increase their bond as a family or friend or lovers and for cleaning purpose, they will remove some parasites and insects as well as cleaning the wound from the fights as well as other dirty.
Mahale Chimpanzee Daily Life.
In Mahale national park chimps will start their morning by searching for food (breakfast) then they will rest for few hours until 11 am when they again get ready to search for day meal (lunch) then around 5 pm they will have their night meal and start preparing their beds around 7 pm.
Another interesting thing that our guide (Juma) explain to us is that chimps always make new beds every night, they never use a bed twice unless if they are sick and not able to make one and if that happens they will find any isolated bed left by others and get to sleep otherwise they will always make new bed every single night which they place them on trees so they can escape from enemies and wild animals that may hurt them.
The chimpanzee has almost the same period of gestation as that of a human being but chimps will be ready for reproduction at the age of 14 and they usually take 8 to 9 months for a gestation period and until the born chimps reach 5 years then he will be strong and have the ability to be independent and stronger than an adult human being. The chimps won’t be firtle until after 5 years when the born chimps are ready to be independent hence they will produce after every 5 years. Since Mahale chimps live together in the family both female and the male then female chimps will always mate with more than one male which will result in not knowing who owns the offspring afterward and only male chimps who will treat the offspring with care and love as they are his then he will be regarded as a owner of the offspring since it is hard to know who was.
Mahale Chimps Facts.
The main activity in Mahale National parks is observing the Chimpanzee while they go about their daily life like how they play around, search for food, take a rest as well as fighting. How they play around, their body shape and behaviour and how they go about their daily life they look 98.6% similar to those of human beings which make very exciting and interesting to see. Most of the chimps know only their mother and not father and mothers are the head of the family and all the chimps will respect the mother even if they have heat they will not mate with their mother since they recognize each other and they always live 55 to 60 and female live longer than male, yeah same as human.
One of the incredible experience in Tanzania is when national parks lie at the shore of the lakes, it is always a fantastic adventure to see this combination of lakes and wildlife and Mahale National park is one of them, located just at the shore of Lake Tanganyika which is the longest freshwater lake in the world and again second deepest, largest by volume and oldest freshwater lake in the world. The Mahale national park is the untouchable chimpanzee paradise and probably the best park to observe the high concentration of chimpanzee than any other places in the world. Contact us for free tips and information if this National park is in your bucket list.