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Gombe Stream National Park
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp's eyes, assessing you in return - a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red colobus monkeys - the latter regularly hunted by chimps - stick to the forest canopy.
The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.
After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.
About Gombe Stream National Park
Size: 52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania's smallest park.
Location: 16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
What to do
- Chimpanzee trekking; hiking, swimming and snorkelling;
- visit the site of Henry Stanley's famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work. .
When to go
The chimps don't roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find;
better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December).
Strict rules are in place to safeguard you and the chimps. Allow at least 2 days to see them - this is not a zoo so there are no guarantees where they'll be each day.
Park Poster: Gombe Stream National Park
Source: Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA)