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Mahale Mountains National Park

Tanzania

Nestled on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, a key activity here is tracking one of Africa’s largest populations of chimpanzees as well as snorkelling and sailing.

Set among the forested slopes of the Mahale Mountains, the park combines rain forest, grasslands, alpine bamboo and woodland. Some 50 species of animals have been recorded in the park, predominant among these being representatives of various monkey and ape families, and over 90 unique species of fish swim in the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika.

Silky white coves hem in the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains. Accessible only by small aircraft, the park is the home of a large chimpanzee population that is well acclimatized to human contact. Observing the chimpanzees in their natural habitat, one cannot help but be touched by their natural grace and anthropomorphic features. Hikes to their habitation areas are not strenuous, although being in good physical condition will ease the strain of walking through the jungle! Up close, observing the endangered primates is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The park is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees: a population of roughly 800, habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience. The guides’ eyes pick out last night’s nests – shadowy clumps high in a gallery of trees crowding the sky. Scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung become valuable clues, leading deeper into the forest. Butterflies flit in the dappled sunlight. Then suddenly you are in their midst: preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily, or bounding into the trees to swing effortlessly between the vines.

While chimpanzees are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys and a kaleidoscopic array of colourful forest birds.

Mahale Mountains National Park is located in one of the most remote locations in Tanzania but is well worth the effort.