Gombe National Park is located in the west of Tanzania at Lake Tanganyika, 10 miles (20 km) north of Kigoma Town. Kigoma can be reached by plane and by train from Dar es Salaam. Established in 1968, Gombe National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Tanzania, with only 13.5 square miles (35 km2) of protected land along the hills of the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The terrain is distinguished by steep valleys, and the forest vegetation ranges from grassland to woodland to tropical rainforest. Accessible only by boat, the park is most famous as the location where Jane Goodall pioneered her behavioral research conducted on the chimpanzee populations. The Kasekela chimpanzee community, featured in several books and documentaries, lives in Gombe National Park.
Gombe Stream National Park’s high levels of diversity makes it a true hidden gem at the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Besides chimpanzees, primates inhabiting Gombe National Park including beachcomber olive baboons, red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, and vervet monkeys. Red-tailed monkeys and blue monkeys have also been known to hybridize in the area. The park is also home to over 200 bird species and bushpigs. There are also many species of snakes, and occasional hippopotami and leopards. Visitors to the park can trek into the forest to view the chimpanzees, as well as swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika with almost 100 kinds of colorful cichlid fish.
Jane Goodall first traveled to Tanzania in 1960 at the age of 26 with no formal college training. At the time, it was accepted that humans were undoubtedly similar to chimpanzees – we share over 98% of the same genetic code. However, little was known about chimpanzee behavior or community structure. At the time she began her research, she says “it was not permissible, at least not in ethological circles, to talk about an animal’s mind. Only humans had minds. Nor was it quite proper to talk about animal personality. Of course everyone knew that they did have their own unique characters – everyone who had ever owned a dog or other pet was aware of that. But ethologists, striving to make theirs a “hard” science, shied away from the task of trying to explain such things objectively.” However, her research eventually proved just that the intellectual and emotional sophistication of non-humans, chimpanzees in particular. With the support of renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey, Goodall set up a small research station in Gombe in hopes of learning more about the behavior of our closest relatives. There she spent months tracking the elusive chimpanzee troops, particularly the Kasekela chimpanzee community, and observing their daily habits until she was slowly accepted by one troop and was allowed rare and intimate glimpses into chimpanzee society.
Dr. Jane Goodall lived at Gombe almost full-time for fifteen years and the long-term data she accumulated is still of value to scientists today. In 1967, the Gombe Stream Research Center was established to coordinate ongoing chimpanzee research in the park. Run mostly by a team of trained Tanzanians, the GSRC is the longest running field study of an animals species in their natural surroundings, now over 40 years. This long-term data has provided scientists with insight into chimpanzee demographic patterns, male politics, hunting, culture and mother-infant relationships over multiple generations – rare and valuable data. The ongoing research is also providing information on the current threats to chimpanzees, such as disease, poaching and habitat disturbance, which affect other species at Gombe Stream National Park as well. The research of Goodall has also drastically changed ethological thinking and how behavioral studies are conducted. Where once talk of animal emotion was dismissed as anthropomorphism, her observations of animals in their natural habitat show that societies, behavior and relationships between animals are quite complex.
Her research of chimpanzee habitat (food and special) requirements also aid in improved design for new protected areas. The GSRC also conducts research on the baboon population, led by the Jane Goodall Center for Primate Studies.
Visitors can only arrive by boat to Gombe National Park starting from Kigoma town. Flights to Kigoma are provided from Daressalaam. There are small private boats and a bigger boat from the National Park Authorities to arrive the entrance gate. Depending on the speed of the boat the travel takes about 2 hours. Local boats will take up to 4 hours to arrive and are not safe. Tanzania Horizon Safaris is arranging private boat trips to Gombe National Park starting from Kigoma town and including pick up from your hotel.
The chimps tend to stick to the lower slopes of the escarpment during the drier months (May to October), so this is the best time to track them. And hiking through the forest is certainly easier when the tracks are firm and dry. By contrast, in the Wet season (November to April) you’re more likely to slip, and the chimps require a lot more effort to find.
Please contact us for further information about Gombe Stream National Park Safari!