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Chimp Trekking

Noisy and curious, intelligent and social, the chimpanzee is the mammal most closely related to a human than to any other living creature. Chimpanzee share more than 98% of their genetic code with human beings.

The chimpanzee has a thickset body with long arms, short legs and no tail. Much of the body is covered with long black hair, but the face, ears, fingers and toes are bare. They have hands that can grip firmly, allowing them to pick up objects. The discovery that they used "tools" for certain purposes surprised the world Chimps live in groups called troops, of some 30 to 80 individuals. These large groups are made up of smaller, very flexible groups of just a few animals, perhaps all females, all males or a mixed group.

Prior to Jane Goodall’s study in Gombe Stream National Park, very little was known about the intelligent and social behaviour of the chimpanzee. Thanks to the ongoing work by the Jane Goodall Institute, more research is being done into the behaviour and conservation of this endangered primate.

Chimpanzees live in large communities sometimes up to 40 members and more. They are most of the time moving in different smaller groups looking for food especially in the morning hours. The adult males travel together, sometimes hunting or patrolling the borders of their territory. The other groups are female groups or families. The community comes together periodically and the groups change from day to day.

Three subspecies of common chimpanzees are distributed across the forest zone of Africa from Guinea to western Tanzania and Uganda. Another species of chimpanzees, the bonobo (Pan paniscus), is found exclusively in central Democratic Republic of Congo. In East Africa the chimpanzee is found in the wild in Tanzania and Uganda, but only in captivity in Kenya. Gombe National Park in Tanzania is the first park in Africa specifically created for chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees walk on all fours, or "quadrupedally," on the ground and in the trees. They use their knuckles for support while walking on all fours, and are called "knuckle-walkers." This form of locomotion gives chimpanzees longer arms than legs. The chimpanzees can use these long arms to reach out to fruits growing on thin branches that would not usually support their weight and "brachiate" (swing from branch to branch by their arms).

Chimps have opposable thumbs, although these are much shorter than human thumbs, and their opposable big toes enable a precision grip. Chimpanzee males are slightly larger and heavier than females. At Gombe, adult males weigh between 90 and 115 pounds and measure about 4 feet high when standing upright. Females are slightly smaller. Chimpanzees in West Africa, and in captivity, may be larger. Chimpanzees in the wild seldom live longer than 50 years. Some captive individuals have lived more than 60 years.

Gombe National Park , where the Jane Goodall Institute continues more than 40 years of study of one community of chimpanzees, is a mixture of woodland, some open areas on ridges and peaks, and thick riverine forest in the many valleys. Chimpanzees need a water supply and many kinds of fruits. They are omnivores, and eat not only fruits, nuts, seeds, blossoms, and leaves, but many kinds of insects and occasionally the meat of medium-sized mammals. Chimpanzees, like humans, have such catholic tastes that they are able to live in a wide variety of habitats, unlike gorillas and orangutans, which have more specialized diets in the wild.

One of the first and most significant discoveries made by Jane Goodall was that chimpanzees hunt for and eat meat. During her first year she observed a male chimp, David Greybeard, an adult female, and a juvenile eating what Jane realized was a young bush pig. Before this, it had been assumed that chimpanzees ate only fruit and leaves.
On that first occasion it was not clear whether the chimpanzees had caught and killed the prey, or merely come upon a carcass. But a short time later Jane actually observed the hunting process when a group of chimpanzees attacked, killed, and ate a red colobus monkey that had climbed high into a tree. The hunters covered all available escape routes while one adolescent male crept up after the prey and captured it, whereupon the other males instantly rushed up and seized parts of the carcass.

Successful hunters typically share some portion of their kill with other group members in response to a variety of begging behaviours. Most of the captured animal is eaten, including the brain. Meat is a favoured food item among chimpanzees, but does not make up more than two percent of their overall diet.

Chimpanzee Tracking

Chimpanzee tracking will typically start at 8 a.m. with a guided nature walk in the forest. Your guide is a very knowledgeable person having a lot of interesting information to tell about the forest. He knows many of the flora and fauna species, he is able to identify the primate and bird calls. You will be surprised that he knows most scientific or local names of the trees. Not all trees have been identified with English names. In Bwindi for example you have more than 200 native trees recorded while the richest forest in the Appalachian Mountains, the USA has only about 25 tree species!

After your pre-trek briefing, you will walk through a network of forest paths and gradually penetrate the rain forest. Your guide will ask you to listen out for the calls of birds and the distinct call of the chimps! Your guide will then try to locate the chimps somewhere deep in the forest!

You follow your guide who will attempt to locate one of the habituated groups. Chimpanzees have a very good communication system. They have a wide range of calls and will even drum one of the large trees to communicate with the other groups. But most of the time you will hear the “wraaaa” call. This alarm call is a very savage sound used to alert the other groups. This scream can take you by surprise – so be prepared!

Chimp Calls

Dr. Jane Goodall’s long-term study of chimpanzee behavior at Gombe National Park helped scientists understand more about the diversity and meaning of chimpanzee calls. There are two types of chimpanzee calls:

Intraparty Calls – These calls take place between chimpanzees that are in the same group.

Distance Calls – These calls are made between groups that are separated, sometimes by a great distance.

One of the chimpanzee calls is the “pant-hoot.” Each individual chimpanzee has his or her own distinct pant-hoot. This helps other chimpanzees tell who is making the call even if they can’t see who is calling.

Dr. Goodall often begins her lectures with a pant-hoot. Watch this video to listen to her say “hello.”
Watch a video here.

Feeding Habits

sually feed on fruits, their principal diet, and on leaves, buds and blossoms. After a while their feeding becomes more selective, and they will choose only the ripest fruit. Their diet consists of up to 80 different plant foods. They also use grass stems or twigs as tools, poking them into termite or ant nests and eating the insects that cling to them. They are able to wedge nuts between the roots of a tree and break the shells open with a stone.

Chimps are agile climbers, building nests high up in trees to rest in during midday and sleep in at night. They construct new nests in minutes by bending branches, intertwining them to form a platform and lining the edges with twigs. In some areas chimps make nests on the ground.

The number of chimps in the wild is steadily decreasing. The wilderness areas necessary to their survival are disappearing at an alarming rate as more forests are cut down for farming and other activities. As the human's closest relative the chimp is vulnerable to many of the same diseases, and their capture for medical research contributes to their decline, especially in West Africa. as more forests are cut down for farm activities. In addition, recent outbreaks of the incurable disease Ebola hemorrhagic fever, threaten to decimate important chimpanzee populations in the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

View Chimps in East Africa

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are found in 21 African countries - from the west coast of the continent to the far eastern part of Africa - western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. Chimps live in the greatest concentrations in the rain forest areas in what used to be the equatorial forest "belt." Unfortunately, rapid deforestation in Africa has eliminated the belt, leaving only fragmented patches of forest which is the home of these endangered primates.

In East Africa, one can track and get up close to man’s closest relative in the following areas:
Western Tanzania – Mahale Mountains, Gombe Stream and Rubondo Island
Uganda – Kibale Forest and Kyambura Gorge
Rwanda - Nyungwe Forest
Kenya - Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Jane Goodall

This amazing woman began her journey into the lives of chimpanzees in the wild during her stay in Western Tanzania, Initially working as an assistant to Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey, Jane Goodall first visited Africa to learn about wildlife and joined the Leakeys in their excavations at Olduvai Gorge.

Jane Goodall uncovered many aspects of chimpanzee behaviour during her first years at Gombe National Park. In October 1960, she observed a chimpanzee using and making tools with which to fish for termites.

Because of her research, we now know that chimpanzees hunt for meat, use tools, and have diverse personalities. The longer Jane's research continues, the more it becomes obvious how like us chimpanzees really are.

An endeavour that some people predicted would last only a few months has now become the longest field study of any animal species in their natural surroundings. Research at Gombe continues to this day, mostly by a trained team of Tanzanians and with the tremendous benefit of moral support from the Tanzanian government.

The Jane Goodall Institute
In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall
Collins Guide to African Wildlife
African Wildlife Foundation Website
Magic Safaris Ltd
Chimpanzee Safaris Ltd

Interested in Chimpanzee Tracking?
Contact us for details of our popular itineraries incorporating chimpanzee tracking in East Africa. enquiries@aim4africa.com or Telephone 0845 4084541 ( UK) or +44 114 255 2533 (from outside the UK)