A Perfect Setting To View The Chimps

Posted On November 24, 2009 

Common Info

Mahale National park (area: 1,613 square kilometres) is located on the banks of Lake Tanganyika in western part of Tanzania. The national park has been named after the Mahale Mountain ranges that are located within its territory. The Mahale National Park is known to be one of the largest chimpanzee habitats in the world. In Tanzania, this national park is one of the only two protected areas for chimpanzees (thanks to its big size and remote location), the other being the Gombe Stream National Park. Mahale National Park has no road network and boat and light aircraft are the only means of communication to go in and out of the park. Small villages with around 40 people are found in this region. Watongwe and Waholoholo are the traditional inhabitant tribes of the region in and around Mahale. The national park was formed in 1985.

Country Info

Tanzania is located in central-east Africa and is bordered by Kenya and Uganda in the north, Rwanda and Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west while Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique flank its western boundaries. Dar-es-Salaam, which is the major seaport of the country, was its capital till 1996. Indian Ocean washes its shores in the east. Tanzania is one of the least developed and aid-dependent state in the world. National capital is Dodoma.

Mahale National ParkGeographical Features of Mahale National Park

Located 128 kilometres south of Kigoma town, the park forms a peninsula pattern jutting out into Lake Tanganyika. The park is mostly rugged and hilly for it is dominated by the Mahale Mountain Ranges. The park generally witnesses two seasons: a dry season extending from mid-May till mid-October and a rainy season from mid-October until mid-May. Temperature can fluctuate between day and night. The annual rainfall varies between 1,500-2,500 mm. The park has a unique combination of mountains and lake giving birth to a peculiar vegetation mosaic. The Albertine rift, an ecoregion stretching from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika, has a high number of plant species many of which are endemic to the region.

Mahale Mountains

Located in western Tanzania and eastern banks of Lake Tanganyika, the Mahale Mountains have a rich ecological diversity. The highest peak of these mountains is Mount Nkungwe that rises to 4,462 metres.


The park is mostly covered by Miombo woodland. There are also strips of riverine forest that grow along watercourses. At places where the Mahale Mountain Ranges meet the lake, there are lowland forest (locally called ‘Kasoge’) that extend upto 1,300 metres above the sea level. The lowland forest extends over 7 kilometres from Myako Valley to the Lubulungu River. The forest is mainly an enclave of the central-African, tropical and semi-deciduous vegetation. Tall trees like Canarium, Khaya, Xylopia along with evergreen vines like Saba and Landolphia are found to be co-existing in the forest. On the mountain slopes, bamboo bushland and montane forest (including plant types found on Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru) can be found. At 2,300 metres and above, the forest leads to montane grassland. Mahale Mountains National Park is said to have 1,174 types of plant species.


As many as 82 species of mammals are found in the Mahale Mountains National Park. The mammals are mainly classified into three types based on their habitats. All the three types of mammals are found to be existing in the same region which is a unique feature of the national park and is largely the outcome of a unique ecology found here. The mammals include tropical rain forest animals like chimpanzees, squirrels including red-legged sun squirrel and giant forest squirrel, monkeys, mongoose,rysbok Sharpe’s g and bush-tailed porcupine. Another class includes the savannah animals like lions, warthogs, Grant’s zebras and giraffes. Besides, antelopes like roan and sable antelopes and Lichenstein hartebeest are found. There are also bats and rodents. However, Black rhinoceros has been completely eradicated from the region. 26 species of reptiles and 20 species of amphibians have so far been recorded in the Mahale Mountains National Park. However, a lot is yet to be explored in this regard.

mahale chimpanzeeChimpanzee

As said earlier the chimpanzees are the star attractions of Mahale Mountains National Park. Western Tanzania is home to the ‘bald headed’ subspecies of the primates which are distributed over a vast stretch from western to eastern Africa. The Mahale chimpanzees are a subject of research by researchers form Kyoto University in Japan. The Mahale chimpanzees use certain medicinal plants to cure roundworm infections, studies have revealed.


About 355 kinds of bird species are found in the Mahale Mountains National Park. The maximum concentration of the avifauna is found in the Kabezi area in the north. The commnly found species are red-collared widowbirds, giant king fisher, speckled mousebirds, crowned eagle, crested guineafowl, white-browed robin chat, African fish eagle, redwing starlings, violet-backed starlings, Livingstone’s turaco, sandpiper, paradise fly catcher and trumpeter hornbill as well as ducks.


About 250 species of fish live in the Tanganikya Lake of which most are endemic. Varieties of fish are found in the abyssal and littoral areas.

Best time to visit the park

The dry season is the best period to visit the park. One can get glimpse of the chimpanzees in big groups during this period. Also it is the ideal time two relax on the lake beach. However, one can also visit the park during the monsoons as when the park assumes a different charm.

Reaching Mahale Mountains National Park

Tour operators conduct regular flights between the national park from Arusha during the peak tourist season. Flights are, however, unavailable between March to May due to heavy monsoons. Tourists can also arrange for their own private flights from Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Dar-es-Salam or Zanzibar. The expected cost would range between $5,000 and $10,000. One can also reach Kigoma town via air (schedule flights from Dar-es-Salam that take upto 3 hours time), by road (2-3 days from Arusha, road conditions not very good) and b y rail (about 3 days and 2 nights from Dar-es-Salam). From Kigoma, speedboats, timber boats and steamship leave for Mahale National Park. Speedboats generally take between 4-6 hours while the timber boats near about 15 hours to reach the destination. The steamship, MV Liemba, leaves Kigoma once in a week for Zambia. It stops at a place called Mgambo where passengers heading for Mahale avail the Mahale Mountains National Park boat to reach the park. Similarly, they catch the Liemba on its return journey on way back. Besides, there are light aircrafts that take 45 minutes to reach Mahale from Kigoma. Flight links are available from other national parks in western Tanzania as well.

Accommodation facilities in the park

There are adequate tourist facilities in the park. Besides, five tourist bandas, the park has three privatey-run luxury tent camps. They are; Nomad safaris Luxury Tented Camp, Nkungwe Luxury Tented Camp and Flycatcher safari Camp. There is also a lodge called Greystoke Mahale.

Other attractions at Mahale:
  • Walking trails in the Mahale Mountains. Visitors can enjoy glimpses of colourful butterflies and forest birds andMahale Mountains sometimes an otter en route.
  • Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitats
  • Snorkelling in Lake Tanganyika to get glimpse of the acquafauna
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain climbing
  • View the spectacle of ‘fishing fire’, i.e., kerosene lamps carried by small fishing boats in the night lighting up across the entire lake
  • Sportfishing under special license
  • One can also visit Gombe Stream National Park, the smallest of the national parks in Tanzania lying north of Mahale. The Kasakela chimpanzees here are world famous.
  • Katavi National Park located in the south of Mahale is also another major attraction. It is the third largest national park in Tanzania and is one of the biggest and richest wildlife reserves.

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