Mahale Mountain National Park
Mahale Mountain National Park is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the rift lake valley of Tanzania. Mahale Mountain National Park is well known for its population of wild chimpanzees. Mahale Mountain National Park is only accessible by airplane or boat, and travel within the national parks forests is mainly on foot. A visit to the Mahale Mountain National Park is about as off the beaten track as national park visits come. It is truly a magical experience when you come face to face with wild chimpanzees in their native habitat. The Mahale Mountains, from which the national park gets its name, runs diagonally, from northeast to southwest, across the park, rising to an elevations of more than 7,500 feet above sea level. Above 7,000 feet montane grasslands can be found in the national park. Montane forest, featuring Podocarpus, Bersama, Nuxiacongesta, Macaranga and Croton trees are found between elevations of 7,000 feet and 4,000 feet, along with bamboo bushlands. Below this the Kasoge forest begins on the western slopes and stretches down to the lakeshore. The Kasoge forest covers much of the valleys and lowlands of the national park with Canarium, Albizia, Cynometra, Khaya, Xylopia, Pseudospondias, Ficus, Pycnanthus and Garcinia trees that form the canopy of this lowland forest.
Mahale Mountains National Park has more than 350 species of birds and over 40 species of reptiles and amphibians. Around 250 species of freshwater fish are found in the waters around the Mahale Mountains National Park and most of these species are endemic to Lake Tanganyika, one of the oldest lakes in the world. Lake Tanganyika is also the world’s longest lake and the second largest and second deepest freshwater lake in the world, behind Lake Baikal in Siberia.
Over 80 species of mammals are found in Mahale Mountain National Park. Some of these mammal species include the lion (Panthera leo), Grant’s zebra (Equus quagga boehmi), hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), leopard (Panthera pardus), warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus), sable antelope (Hippotragus niger), Lichtenstein hartebeest (Alcelaphus lichtensteinii), southern or mountain reedbuck (Redunca arundinum), blue duiker (Cephalophus monticola), Sharpe’s grysbok (Raphicerus sharpei), Harvey’s duiker (Cephalophus harveyi), giant forest squirrel (Protoxerus stangeri), red-legged sun squirrel (Heliosciurus rufobrachium), brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus sp.), Angolan black-and-white colobus monkeys (Colobus angolensis), bushy-tailed mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda), banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), marsh mongoose (Atilax paludinosus), Smith’s red rock hare (Pronolagus rupestris) and, of course, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii),
The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is found as far west in Africa as Senegal and ranges east into Congo, Uganda, Tanzania. Tanzania is home to the “eastern’’ or “bald-headed’’ chimpanzee subspecies, (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). Mahale Mountains National Park is the home of one of the most studied chimpanzee populations. These wild chimpanzees have been studied since 1965. The ability to conduct chimpanzee research in the wild depends on the habituation of the individual chimpanzees that are being studied. Habituation of the Mahale chimpanzee population was initially achieved by providing the chimpanzees with food, such as sugarcane and bananas. By 1987, provisioning had ceased and researchers have been able to follow the chimpanzees as they range freely in the national park’s forests. By observing chimpanzees in these natural conditions, it has been possible to learn much more about their natural behavior, ecology and social structure. Some of these behaviors, including the use of tools for fishing and termite foraging and the use of plants for medicinal purposes, were previously thought to be attributable only to human beings. The financial support that visitors provide through their park entrance fees enables the safeguarding of this unique population of chimpanzees and the beautiful forest which they inhabit within the Mahale Mountains National Park.
The habituation of the chimpanzees that live in the Mahale Mountains National Park has also allowed national park visitors to enjoy the wild chimpanzees in a more intimate way. Visitors can hike to the chimpanzee’s natural habitat and stand within a few feet of these wonderful animals and watch the chimpanzees feed, play, fight and do what chimpanzees do naturally. This would not be possible if the chimpanzee population had not already been habitualized to human beings.
The best time of the year to see chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park is during the months of August and September when the chimpanzees have moved down the mountains in search of food at the lower elevations. At these lower elevations it is easier to reach the chimpanzees and which can take as little as one hour of hiking. Visits to the national parks during earlier times of the year can require nearly a full day of hiking to reach the chimpanzees. The national park does have a one hour limit on the time that each group of visitors can stay with the chimpanzees.
While the chimpanzees are the main draw, Mahale Mountains National Park, offers many other activities including hiking and birdwatching in the park’s wonderful forests; and kayaking, fishing and snorkeling in beautiful Lake Tanganyika.
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