Deep in the wild green heart of Africa

Deep in the wild green heart of Africa

the chimps of lake tanganyika

The forest of Mahale is so dense that we can barely glimpse the sky through the green canopy. The air is humid and the trail is steep. This is the home of wild chimpanzees. How deep into this forest must we venture in order to find them? Not even our guide knows for certain. The chimps are nimble and move much faster through this vegetation than we humans ever could.

As we make our way slowly along the slippery path, my thoughts turn to Jane Goodall. How must she have felt, over 50 years ago, when she came here to begin her observations of our primate cousins? Her pioneering studies turned the world upside down for many people and shook the very definition of humanity. She was the first person to document wild chimpanzees making and utilizing their own tools.

As we climb higher, the forest grows even thicker. The path is all but swallowed by branches and creepers. But the promise of encountering wild chimpanzees in their natural habitat motivates us all to continue the trek. After about an hour and half, our efforts are rewarded. Before we see them, we can hear their calls. The sound sends a thrilling shiver down my spine. A few moments later, I find myself staring at a group of wild chimpanzees. It is an unforgettable moment. The chimps are casually sitting on the path. They cast indifferent glances in our direction, then continue about their business. These animals are far less impressed by us than we are by them.

At first, it is a quiet and peaceful scene. The chimps sit in groups of two or three, grooming eachother. Every now and then, one of them shifts positions. Suddenly, the mood changes. A few of the chimps dart up the trees and leap from branch to branch. Above us we hear frenzied screeches and scrambling. The chimpanzees are hunting! From the ground, it’s nearly impossible to see exactly what is happening in the branches.  Then all of a sudden, everything is quiet again. Despite the density of the leaves, we can see that the hunt was successful. The chimps are high above us, sharing their prey – a red tailed monkey.

I have never seen anything like this before. But now our time is up and we have to return to camp. We head back down the trail, silently, each one of us lost in our own reflections.

 

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