Set deep in the heart of African interior, inaccessible by road and only 128km (80miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting ‘‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’’, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll.
Mahale Mountains National Park is home to some of the Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees; a population of roughly 800 (only 60 individual forming what is known as ‘‘M group’’) habituated to human visitors by a Japanese researchers in the 1960s.Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience.
Mahale’s mountain ridge is around 50 km in length and runs across the park from the northwest to the southeast. Its tallest peak, Mt Nkungwe, raises 2462m a.s.l, the highest point on Lake Tanganyika shoreline.
The western slopes of the bridge form a gigantic wall that plunges into the Lake, continuing down under the water and creating the lakes enormous depths. Numerous rivers cascades down from the mountain tops, carving deep valleys and gorges into their slopes.
One of the unusual things about Mahale vegetation is the wide array of habitat types that it contains. The park is a mosaic of overlapping rainforest, woodland, bamboo forest, montaine forest and grasslands meaning that can support a unique mix of Flora and Fauna that rely on the various different habitat.
The lowland forest (locally known as ‘Kasoge’) that grows on the western slopes of the Mahale Mountains in an enclave of Congolese forest. It flourishes here because of a suitable, humid micro climate that is the result of the warm, moist air over the lake colliding with cold air blowing down from the mountains. The presence of this tropical forest allows Mahale to support many west and central African animals and birds such as the giant pangolin, a forest species found through central and West Africa.
Vegetation at altitude above 1500m in the Mahale Mountains is composed of wetter, more luxuriant forest than the lowland type. The very tops of the ridge are covered with high altitude grassland, with a few scattered small trees. This area turns to a beautiful, colourful carpet of flowers towards the end of the rain season in May.
Most of the eastern slopes, as well as the lowland areas to the north and south of Kasoge forest are covered with a type of woodland known as miombo, in some areas interspersed with expanses of lowland bamboo bush. These areas support Mahale’s east African savannah species including buffaloes, wild dogs and many varieties of antelopes. The vast areas of woodland are criss-crossed by narrow belts of riverine forest that has a very similar composition to lowland, lake shore forest and which provides important food sources and migration corridors for several species including key species of chimpanzees.