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Among the Chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park:
by Abigail Lubliner

"The Chimpanzees are classified among the great apes, with the gorilla, orangutan, and bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee). Large, big brain and no tail. Chimpanzees live in lowland and mountain forests, dry woodlands, and open savanna country. They range across equatorial Africa from Senegal to Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania."

My dream came true; I visited the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park. Upon concluding ATA 7th Cultural & Ecotourism Symposium in Zanzibar at the Zanzibar Beach Resort, Zanzibar, Dec 2-7th, I flew with Precision Air from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, to Kigoma, with a short stop at Tabora. I started researching the park and the logistic how to get there, staying in camp and tracking the chimpanzees. I found out that the only tour operator who replied was the General Manager of Kigoma Hilltop Hotel, Mr. Imtiaz Lalji. Kigoma Town is the largest community on the shores of Lake Tanganyika; situated on the extreme north of the lake and it is the closest to both Gombe and Mahale National Parks. It is the gateway to both parks. Most itineraries will start at one night before going to either park and one night upon return, so not to miss any flight back. I chose the 5 Nights/ 6 Days program in which 3 nights were at Gombe National Park, and 2 Nights in Kigoma. This way one has more chance to see the chimpanzees.

The program was done by Chimpanzee Safaris, specialists in Chimpanzee Safaris to Gombe & Mahale National Parks on Lake Tanganyika.

Operators of: Kigoma Hilltop Hotel-In Kigoma Town

Nkungwe Luxury Tented Camp-At Mahale National Park

Gombe Luxury Tented Camp-At Gombe National Park.

P.O Box 1160, Kigoma-Tanzania

TEL: (255 28) 2804435/6/7

FAX: (255 28) 2804434

Mobile: (255 744) 617 077

E Mail: info@chimpanzeesafaris.com

Website: www.chimpanzeesafaris.com

Also at kigomahilltop@hotmail.com

I wired Mr. Imtiaz the money and I was on my way.

As I said, I flew on Dec 8th with Precision Air to Kigoma, It took about 2 hours from Dar es Salaam. Upon arrival at this very small airport (Kigoma 3 letter code is TKQ)

I was picked up from the airport to Kigoma Hilltop Hotel. It is a real gem. It is the only luxurious hotel in Kigoma, situated on the remoteness of an outcrop hill overlooking the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of the Congo on the other side. It is about 20 minutes drive from the airport. The hotel consists of 30 cottage type air conditioned rooms with en suite bathroom and toilet. All rooms have hot and cold running water, Satellite TV. The rooms has colonial ambiance, balcony that has the view of the lake and amazing sunsets.

The hotel has a flower shape swimming pool facing the lake and a multi Gymnasium, Tennis Courts as well as a private beach. All the meals included in the program. The meals can be taken at the restaurant or near the swimming pool.

The next morning I was transferred by a jeep to the boat jetty from the hotel. The transfer to Gombe National Park is done either by a speed boat or by a wooden boat. The speed boat will take about one and half hour and the wooden boat about two to two and half hours depends on lake condition and weather.

The wooden boat is more recommended because it is slower and you have a chance to go by fisherman villages and spectacular view of the mountains.

Since I was the only one on this particular program, I had my private boat, a cook a waiter and a personal guide. I really felt like an African Queen.

Gombe Stream National Park is situated 16 kms north of Kigoma, in western Tanzania, covering only 52 sq km (20sq miles) it is a narrow strip of mountainous country bounded in the east by the crest of the eastern Rift Valley escarpment, and in the west by Lake Tanganyika. The western boundary actually excludes the lakeshore,

Allowing local people to walk along the beach, and fishermen to camp there. The northern and southern boundaries are ridges separating the park from the villages of Mwamgongo and Kasinga. This is the smallest park in Tanzania.

The Luxury tented Camp is situated at the extreme north of the park at Mitumba. The camp consists of 6 Luxury tents, very spacious, 2 double beds, desk and ensuite shower and toilet, hot and cold water and a lock on each Zippered tent.

As I learned in camp, the Luxury accommodation just opened on June 19th 2003, due to the kind help and permission of Hon. Zakia Hamdani Meghji, MP, Minister of Tourism. Until recently the only accommodation were at the center of the park, at the research station, at Kasekela, and it was and still is a very rundown hostel without shower (using the lake for washing) and outside eastern toilet. It can accommodate low budget travelers or day visitors. The only plus about the location is, it is the beginning point for chimpanzees trekking.

In order to go trekking for chimps we had to leave the Luxury camp area, take the boat again for 15 minutes ride from Mitumba to Kasekela go to the ranger office, sign in, take a local guide and go through a list of dos and don'ts, sort of orientation, which is very important for the visitor and chimps safety.

Trekking without making sudden noises, chimpanzees are wild animals, although some were habituated, no flash photography,

and never get closer than 5m (16ft) The rules were made because there is considerable danger, both to the chimpanzees and to the visitor. Chimps share with us over 95% of our genetic material. We can catch their diseases, and they can catch ours.

The first day of trekking in the central area of the park in Kasekela, was pouring rain, there were few chimps in sights very high in the trees, chimps hate coming down on a wet ground, sight was not very good, later near the Kakombe Waterfall I saw them, about 20 climbing a tree from far away, the next day was a difficult trek and no sight of them, but on the third day, weather cleared we trekked in a different area at Mkenke south of Kasekela, we left at 7:00AM and trekked to the top of the mountain, steep, and slippery but luck was on our side, we came very close to the main central group, the Kasekela central group that was habituated by Jane Goodall. There were between 30-50 chimpanzees jumping, playing, screaming and grooming, and I was in seventh heaven.

We checked with the researchers the night before, and we went by the signs of their dropping and nest locations and their screaming. Upon returning to camp, I had another surprise, it was raining very hard, and when it stopped, my guide called me to come down to the beach and observe from a close distance, a wild chimpanzee using tools, she set near a termite mound with a long twig and fished for termites, it was unbelievable, it is known that after heavy rains the termites are in abundance and this particular activity is described by Jane Goodall in her books.

In 1960 a young British woman, Jane Goodall, arrived at the Reserve to begin a study of wild chimpanzees. She was sponsored by Louis Leakey, the palaeontologist, who believed that by studying the behaviour of the great apes, we could learn about our own evolution. The same Louis Leakey, chose also Dian Fossey, an American, to study the mountain gorilla in Rwanda and I was fortunate to trek the Mountain Gorilla in 1989, in Parc de Volcan in the Virunga National Park, and the third lady was Birute Galdikas, a Canadian, who studied the Orangutan (man of the forest) in Borneo, Indonesia. Again I was fortunate to work with Dr. Birute Galdikas as a volunteer for the project, through Earthwatch Organization in 1991.


"The Chimpanzees are classified among the great apes, with the gorilla, orangutan, and bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee). Large, big brain and no tail. Chimpanzees live in lowland and mountain forests, dry woodlands, and open savanna country. They range across equatorial Africa from Senegal to Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. The population at Gombe are the south eastern of the eastern race. PAN TROGLODYTES SCHEINFURTHII

The chimpazees are covered with long black hair except for their faces, ears, fingers and toes. After about 20-25 years, males tend to become brown or grey on the lower back and legs, and some may develop baldness or grey hair. Many chimps live to be 30 or more. Average weight 32-50 Kg. They walk on four. They live in communities of about 20-100 individuals. Share a common home range of about 10-30 sq km at Gombe. They roam together. If there is a lot of food in one area, most will gather in the same place and be extremely noisy.

In Gombe there are three distinct communities, known as Mitumba, Kasakela and Kalande. Adult male form the stable core of the community. And adult female do not permanently pair with males. Family ties are very close, infants are born after 8 months, baby clings to mother's belly.

One can be aware of chimps by hearing their calls, they communicate very loudly when separated by vegetation or distance. Their most common call is the "pant-hoot"

It may be accompanied by drumming on tree-buttresses, irregular, excited barks are given by chimps who have found a new food source. Loud repeated screams are given by a chimp who is being threatened. Chimps can sit hours and groom each other. Chimps feed for about 6 hours each day, fruit, leaves, and seeds and they can be also carnivorous. At the end of the day they prepare a nest in which they go to sleep. They sleep alone, but a mother shares a nest with her infant.

Chimps are known to use tools. He can pick up a vine stem and digs with its fingers to expose a tunnel in termite mound, and inserts the tool. Chimps can spend a lot of time fishing for termite after the rain.

Chimps are known to be engage in warfare and cannibalism."

(The description about the chimpanzees was taken from Gombe Stream National Park booklet, published by Tanzania National Parks in co-operation with the African Wildlife Foundation)

After 3 nights and 4 days at Gombe, I took the boat back to Kigoma for one more night at Kigoma hilltop Hotel.

Part of this package the visitor gets to visit the following sights in Kigoma:

Dr. Livingstone Memorial in the nearby twin city of Ujiji. The memorial houses some of the last remains of the surroundings of Dr. Livingstone's house. Visitors to the memorial are first given a lecture, under two historical mango tree, on the life history of Dr. Livingstone and his famous expedition into Africa. Ujiji was a collecting point for the African slave trade taken from the Congo and the surrounding going the 1,200 KM across Tanzania via Tabora, Bagomoyo and shipped to Zazibar and to the Sultanese of Oman.

Katonga Fishing Village , here you see most spectacular displayof tropical fish and all the processes involved catching, drying and selling of fish. This area is famous for the Dagga Fish, (looks like sardines)

Local Market, one may find kangas, vitenges, which are worn by the local women.

Slave Market remains at Ujiji including the original road that was used to ferry slaves from Ujiji to Bagamoyo and step into the colonial era by visiting the Railway Station,

The Keiser House.

After the half day sightseeing in Kigoma it is time to say goodby and take Precision Air back to Dar es Salaam.

Kigoma is the home of the HA tribe, descendants of the Bantu peoples who came into the area from West Africa They lived here for many centuries until Arab traders from Zanzibar began in the early 19th century to visit Ujiji to collect slaves. An Arab influence can be seen today in Kigoma and Ujiji for they brought Islam and Mango trees. There are also refugees camps around Kigoma, refugees from Burundi and Zair after the genocide in Rwanda .

The Article was written by Abigail Lubliner Adventure and Eco Tourism, an active member of ATA.

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