By the steep slopes and river valleys that hem the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika is where you can find the remote and fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat called Gombe Stream National Park. Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks.
You can visit Gombe as a detour when you have been visiting Rubanda Island, or any of the other northern parks. Often we combine Gombe with its sister park Mahale Mountain National Park.
You feel the excitement rising in your body while walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream. Startled for a second by the excited whoop that 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.
What you now are hearing is the famous “pant-hoot” call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations.
This spine-chilling outburst also indicates the imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.
We, as humans, share about 98% of the chimpanzee’s genes. You don’t need to be a scientist 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.
Visiting Gombe you are also most likely to meet some of the other mammals. Most visible is the other primates beachcomber olive baboons, red-tailed and red colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.
More than 200-odd bird species is colouring this small national park. Birds in range from iconic fish eagle to jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre is what you can expect to see.
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.