An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume, tempo, and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ 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, familiar with human visitors, were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall. In1960, it was Jane Goodall who founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, who is the last surviving member of the original community and was only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.
Science has supported evidence that chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans. It is interesting to clearly distinguish between the individual characteristics of each member; for they are all different. Perhaps you may also look for behavior that represents our own human behavior.
The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also belong to the primate family.. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally familiar with humans, 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 twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ center.
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.