gombe national park

DESTINATION | TANZANIA

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 ‘panthoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylizations.

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

Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika.

Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Dr. Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioral research program that now stands as the longest -running study of its kind in the world.

The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Dr. Jane Goodall first set foot in Gombe, born 1958 and died in 2004.

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 twin spots 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.