Tracking Chimpanzees in Tanzania
In truth, the best months to track the chimpanzees at Mahale is from mid-August to October, with September being the best month followed by October. This is because it is traditionally seen as the driest months in Mahale and the chimpanzees are likely to have moved down from the steep ravines and gorges and into the lower parts of the forest, generally making it an easier all round experience.
It was now June, generally regarded as one of the worst months to track the chimpanzees in Mahale National Park. Despite being largely dry, having recently exited what is traditionally termed as the wet season (mid-March, April and May), in June the chimpanzees are still likely to be high in the steep ravines, far from the shores of Lake Tanganyika, possibly a 1,000m climb. Out of the possible three full days of trekking, we managed to successfully track and find the chimpanzees twice, on the first two consecutive days, but the chimpanzee experience on both days were very different.
On the first day, the excitement grew as we learnt that after a couple of days of not being seen, the chimpanzees had finally been located. Added to this, they had been located, uncharacteristically for this time of the year, on the lower slopes of the forest, about an hour away. We didn't need any persuasion, and rushed down the rest of our breakfast and left the sandy lake shores for the dense rainforest.
After an hour of tracking, we were told to put on our surgical masks in preparation of spending the hour or so with our closest relative. All trackers, including researchers and the Tanzania National Park Authority (TNPA) park rangers have to wear mouth and nose masks in order to reduce the chances of chimpanzees contracting human diseases. This is now mandatory after a relatively recent flu outbreak amongst the chimpanzee population, thought to be caught from the human population.