Where: Western Tanzania, East Africa
Go to see: Countless cheeky monkeys but essentially for chimp watching
Nature facts: There are less than 200,000 Chimpanzee left in the wild
Watch out for: Cheeky chimps!
Established in 1968, Gombe Stream National Park is the smallest national park in Tanzania, with an area of just 20 square miles, but it is nonetheless a very important safe refuge for chimpanzees, which are right at the easternmost limit of their range here. The chimpanzees at Gombe are the most extensively studied group of chimpanzees in the world, having been closely monitored on a daily basis since the 1960s, when Jane Goodall first started working here.
The focal point of Gombe are the of course the chimps. It’s reconciling their interests with those of tourism that has occupied the founder of the reserve, Jane Goodall, for 25 years. Here, in the 1960’s, Goodall carried out major research conclusively the unique relationship between man and chimpanzee, as we share 95% of our genes with them (some people may share more than others!) and they have similar hearing, smells and other senses to humans.
Today the Jane Goodall Institute Research Centre at Gombe continues her important work, which over the decades has become renowned amongst the scientific community for having challenged two longstanding assumptions: firstly, the former belief that only humans can construct and use tools (Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees at Gombe shaping and using twigs to scoop termites out of termite mounds), and secondly the former belief that chimps are peaceful vegetarians (Jane Goodall observed groups of chimpanzees at Gombe systematically hunting and then eating smaller primates, such as colobus monkeys).
Gombe Stream is now home of the world famous chimp reserve. Monkeys to see here include baboons, blue monkeys, red-taled monkeys, red colobus monkeys and of course,chimpanzees. When you come here, you’ve got to remember to bring all your provisions with you, and the accommodation is somewhat basic.
Today the closely observed population of chimpanzees at Gombe allows travellers an excellent opportunity to get a close-up sighting of these remarkable animals in the wild. Trackers monitor the whereabouts of chimpanzees each day, and as a result National Park guides are regularly able to lead visitors to the remote areas of forest where the chimpanzees are feeding or resting. Since the chimps here have been so extensively studied, they have become habituated, or accustomed, to humans, and as they aren’t scared of being hunted, it’s often possible to approach remarkably close to them without disturbing their behaviour. A trip to visit Gombe is highly recommended, and if you’re lucky enough to get a close-up view of a large group of chimpanzees like we were, it could be the experience of a lifetime.
Visiting the reserve
Tourists who come to chimp watch pay $100 a day just to come in whether they see the chimps or not, so be prepared; you may be disappointed. Some of the chimpanzees in the main study community are actually quite aggressive to strangers, so it can be dangerous. Care has to be taken not to pass on diseases to the chimps, as humans and chimps immunity systems are so similar that we can catch their diseases and they ours.
Threat of man
Habituating the chimps – getting them used to coping with people – involves living in the middle of dense jungle, often alone, and under trying conditions. Despite all this, the biggest threat to the chimps still comes from humans. In places like Saudi Arabia and Dubai, it’s the thing to have a little collection of exotic animals and you simply must have a chimp. Some chimps get smuggled through into eastern Europe, Mexico, Cuba or South America for medical research or for entertainment. The Goodall institute offer rewards to anyone who gives evidence of people who are abusing chimps or keeping them illegally. Because of rapid habitat destruction, the chimpanzee is an endangered species. Only around 100,000 – 200,000 exist in the wild.
Chimpanzees eat plants and meat, they are omnivores, eating forest fruits and ants, termites and small animals, and occasionally other smaller monkeys. They hang around in groups of around 50, and smaller sub gangs of 6 or 7 chimps. They use a complex language of sounds, the calls of the chimps are always in the air of the Gombe reserve, so you can be in the presence of the great monkey even if you don’t have a chance to see a wild chimp up close.
If you fail to spot a wild chimp, don’t get too disheartened, the landscape and flora and fauna is fantastic in and around the reserve. From Jane’s Peak you can see a stunning view of the entire park and Kakombe Waterfall.
All About Chimpanzees
Ultimate guide to chimpanzees, with a print out to colour and a chimpanzee quiz.
By Susi O’Neill