Imported from africa.wmf 25/05/2008 18:01:19

Mahale Mountains

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Home to Africa’s largest known population of eastern chimpanzees, the magical Mahale Mountains National Park on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika offers a rare opportunity to track these fascinating primates as they go about their daily lives. Accessible by boat and explored only on foot, this spectacular wilderness area has an otherworldly beauty.

On the pristine shores of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park is a secluded and pristine wilderness that is a stronghold of over 800 chimpanzees. Like its close neighbour Gombe Stream National Park, Mahale has been the site of scientific research into chimps and other primates since the 1960s. The habituated M-group – also known as the Mimikire clan – provides incomparable chimpanzee sightings. With no roads within 100km, you’ll find no safari vehicles in Mahale and all animal encounters take place on foot.  The park, located at an altitude between 750 and 2 250 metres, experiences two rainy seasons, the short rains from mid-October to November, and the heavy rains from March to mid-May. The best time to visit is in the dry season, from June to September.

Covering about 1 600km²,  Mahale takes its name from the chain of mountains that bisects the park from the northwest to southeast. The terrain is mostly hilly, and the highest peak is Mount Nkungwe. Interestingly, 96km2 of the park is aquatic, covering the portion along the shore of Lake Tanganyika and extending 1,6km into the lake. the lake itself is the second-deepest in the world and part of the Great Rift Valley. The main habitat covering the park is miombo (Zambesian) woodland. There are also extensive stands of lowland and highland bamboo, grassland, bushland, Albertine Rift forests, montane forest, lowland forest and aquatic habitats. This variety gives Mahale a unique assemblage of species. The park has 82 recorded species of mammal. Lucky visitors may spot ground and giant pangolins, and large African species from elephants and giraffes to Cape buffalos and lions (rarely seen). In addition to chimpanzees, Mahale’s primates include Central Africa red colobus and Angola pied colobus monkeys; vervet, red-tailed and blue monkeys; yellow baboons; and three galago species. The park is also rich with birdlife, with well over 355 bird species. European and Intra-African migratory birds depend heavily on the park.

Mahale is about more than chimpanzee-trekking, though. The park also offers great wildlife viewing. When you’ve finished your morning of trekking to visit the chimp families in the forested foothills and mountains, head to Lake Tanganyika for a dip in the crystal-clear waters. There are fabulous mountain hikes and nature trails to waterfalls like Ntale, Kasiha and Sansa. Swimming, kayaking, snorkelling, boat cruises, catch-and-release sport fishing, community visits to nearby villages, birdwatching and just relaxing on the lake’s powder-white sandy beaches all add to the experience of a lifetime.

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