Chimpanzees are native to sub-Saharan and Western Africa. This species belongs to the larger Hominidae family, along with orangutans, gorillas, and humans. In fact, chimpanzees and humans share approximately 98% of DNA. Today, this species is considered endangered and wild population estimates range from between 10,000 and 30,000. Because of this conservation status, many efforts are made at preserving and increasing their wild numbers. One way to do this is through sustainable tourism practices aimed at watching chimpanzees in their natural environment. This article takes a closer look at the best places to see chimpanzees as they eat, play, rest, and groom each other.
Gombe Stream National Park, Western Tanzania
Gombe Stream National Park is situated in the Kigoma region of western Tanzania, just along the eastern edge of Lake Tanganyika. This park covers a total area of 13.5 square miles that can only be reached by boat across the lake. The famous primatologist Jane Goodall carried out most of her research on wild chimpanzees at this location, making it one of the most well-known location in the world. Today, Gombe Stream National Park is one of the two conservation areas in this country that have been identified by the government in order to protect the remaining chimpanzee population. Once tourists arrive at this location on boat, their chimpanzee viewing safari begins on foot as they hike through the valleys, tropical rainforest, and grassland that make up this small area. Despite its relative isolation, Gombe Stream National Park is actually one of the easiest locations for chimpanzee safari tourists to reach, although hiking around the rugged terrain of this area can be difficult for some people.
Mahale Mountains National Park, Western Tanzania
Mahale Mountains National Park is also located along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma region of Tanzania. This park covers a total are of 637 square miles and is the other conservation area (along with Gombe Stream National Park) in Tanzania that was designated specifically for the protection of chimpanzees. Mahale Mountains National Park is actually one of the most important conservation areas in the world because it is home to the largest wild chimpanzee population on record. Like Gombe Stream National Park, the only access to this park is by boat across the lake. Exploration and safari tours are carried out on foot after arrival. According to some safari experts, the chimpanzees living here are more accustomed to seeing humans, which means that tourists are more likely to see these apes here than in other places. One Interesting fact about this location is that it is the only place on earth where chimpanzees and lions share the same territory.
Kibale National Park, Western Uganda
The Kibale National Park is located in the southern region of Uganda, where it covers a total area of 296 square miles. Within this area, the park is primarily covered in evergreen rain forest habitat, which is known as the Kibale Forest. This forest is home to a chimpanzee population of around 1,500, giving it the highest chimpanzee population density in the world. This park is the most popular chimpanzee viewing destination in Uganda. Safaris to the Kibale National Park offer a package known as the Habituation Experience, which means that tourists are given the opportunity to spend all day around the chimpanzees. This type of tour gives tourists a chance to more thoroughly observe the natural behavior of this species. Additionally, it works to make the chimpanzees feel more comfortable around humans, thereby increasing the chances that tourists will see chimpanzees during future safaris. When the chance to see chimpanzees or other wildlife on safari is increased, it means that more people are likely to pay for these tours over time. Increasing tourism activity is an important accomplishment for conservation areas, which rely on the money generated from tourism to continue their work in protecting chimpanzees and other endangered species.The habituation process also allows scientists to carry out more complete and accurate research on this species. Unfortunately, this park is threatened by logging and agricultural activities, which reduce and fragment the natural distribution area of chimpanzees.
Murchison Falls National Park, Western Uganda
Murchison Falls National Park is named for a large cascade located within its borders. This waterfall is situated along the course of the White Nile River that is located between Lake Albert and Lake Kyoga in the western region of Uganda. This park is made up of savannah and woodland habitats and in addition to chimpanzees, is home to giraffes, orbis, lions, elephants, and leopards. Most of the chimpanzee safaris in this park take place within the Budongo Forest. The population living here is recorded at around 600 and is considered habituated, meaning it is easier to come into close contact with the chimpanzees. Of all of the chimpanzee populations within Uganda, however, those inhabiting this area are considered the most recently habituated.
Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda
Nyungwe National Park is situated in the southwestern region of Rwanda, where it covers an area of around 374.5 square miles. This park is made up of several types of habitats, including: grassland, bamboo forest, swamp, and rainforest. The rainforest is the primary destination of chimpanzee safaris in this region, although it is not considered the best location for watching this species in its natural environment given the relatively small population here. Records indicate that only around 60 chimpanzees permanently inhabit the rainforest of Nyungwe National Park. This small population is, however, considered habituated as well. Safaris in this park may begin from one of three locations: Kitabi, Gisakura, or Uwinka. From these sites, tourists leave with park rangers in a vehicle until reaching the forest. From here, visitors begin hiking into the forest, following instructions given by trackers, who arrive at the location prior to the beginning of the safari. Although this park is home to a small population of chimpanzees, it is a popular destination in Rwanda because it is home to 13 species of primates, which represents around one-quarter of all primate species living in Africa. Many tourists choose to combine their chimpanzee safari with a gorilla trekking experience as well.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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