Mahale Mountains National Park lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma Region, Tanzania. Named after the Mahale Mountains range that is within its borders, the park has several unusual characteristics. First, it is one of only two protected areas for chimpanzees in the country.
The chimpanzee population in Mahale Mountains National Park is the largest known and due to its size and remoteness, the chimpanzees flourish. It also the only place where chimpanzees and lions co-exist. Another unusual feature of the park is that it is one of the very few in Africa that must be experienced by foot. There are no roads or other infrastructure within the park boundaries, and the only way in and out of the park is via boat on the lake.
The Mahale Mountains were traditionally inhabited by the Batongwe and Holoholo people, with populations in 1987 of 22,000 and 12,500 respectively. When the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Center was established in 1979 these people were expelled from the mountains to make way for the park, which opened in 1985. The people had been highly attuned to the natural environment, living with virtually no impact on the ecology
Best to know in Mahale National Park
- Mahaleis also home to some of the last remaining strongholds of chimpanzees in Africa.
- In isolated rainforest some 1,000 of these fascinating primates roam the hills and valleys.
- A trip to see the chimpanzees is a magical experience as your guide leads you deep in the forest, indicating last night’s nests, scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung.
- Suddenly you are amongst a family of them – preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily or bounding and swinging effortlessly through the trees and vines.
- Other primates found in the Park are baboons and Colobus monkeys; and other animal species include elephant, buffalo, lion, giraffe, bushpig, and porcupine.
- Large numbers of bird species include African snipe, green sand piper, and the crested lark.
- Lake Tanganyika is home to some 250 species of fish in its clear waters
Accessible only by boat or by air, Mahale Mountains National Park is known to be among the most isolated and beautiful parks on the African continent. With dots of isolated, golden sandy beaches framed by jungle-covered peaks, Mahale covers 1613 square kilometres of rugged terrain along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Famous for containing some of the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa, Mahale is home to a population of approximately 800 to 1000 chimpanzees. Successive teams of Japanese researchers have quietly conducted some of the most important scientific work on these primates from as early as 1961, habituating what is known as the M Group, thus allowing for excellent encounters with this group of about 60 individuals.
Although the chimpanzees are the main attraction, and among some of the most studied primates in Africa, the rest of the region’s natural environment has remained relatively hidden from the outside world. The park protects at least 50 other mammalian species, many of which are primates but also leopard and different types of antelope.
During a morning walk in the forest it is not unusual to come across signs of other wildlife, such as troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys. Warthog and bushbuck wander along the fringes of the forest and are often spotted on the sandy beaches.
The birdlife in Mahale, although prolific, is more often heard than seen. A moment of stillness in the forest will reveal the calls of numerous bird species above the general hum. Birds include the malachite kingfisher, pied kingfisher, purple-crested turaco and narina trogon. Fish eagles and palm-nut vultures are often spotted along the shoreline, special sightings include the elusive pel’s fishing-owl. The warm, clear blue waters of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest and second-deepest lake, contains over 250 cyclid species found nowhere else on earth.