The single word that motivated me to fly across the world. Our closest living relative, the crown jewel of Tanzania’s Mahale National Park, and the animal I have most wanted to meet since I was a kid.

I met a chimpanzee once before, in a dark research laboratory cage while I was thinking about specializing in laboratory animal medicine. He peered at me through the bars with such heartbreaking knowledge, sadness, and resignation, that within 5 seconds I knew that I could never, ever do that for a living. They are so beautiful, so intelligent, and so very like us. This was where I needed to meet them.

 Seven days a week, ten months a year, the trackers rise at 7 am, and they run. 

They run because there are three camps that allow visitors in Mahale National Park, and each has eager tourists who can’t wait for the chance to meet the chimpanzees of the M community, the only one of the 20+ communities in Mahale that are habituated to humans. Tanzania is understandably protective of the chimpanzees, particularly after an influenza outbreak in 2006 that killed several chimps. The night before our first trek, the guides outlined the rules to which we must adhere:

  • Surgical masks when within 50 feet of the chimpanzees.
  • Stay at least 30 feet away (though if they approach you, you don’t have to move.)
  • No more than six people allowed to watch a group at any one time.
  • You must leave after one hour with the chimps.
So the trackers run, searching through the 15 square kilometer mountainous range through which the M community travels for signs of activity. The first group to get there gets dibs on the most active group for viewing. They radio back to the guides at camp, who have the tourists up and ready to go when the chimps are located.

So it was that at 8 am on September 27th, I anxiously hooked a water bottle over my shoulder, set my iphone to video setting, and took my first step on the journey to find the chimpanzees.

I embedded the YouTube video but you might be able to see it a little larger if you view it on YouTube.

I know it’s cheesy to say it was a magical experience, but to me, there is no other way to explain it. There were so many things that had to fall into place for me to get to be there on that day, and the fact that I got to do so was a privilege and a moment I will treasure always.
Filed: Adventures, Blog, Features, Photography, Picks of the Litter, Videos Tagged: , , , ,
  • Cathey

    This whole trip has been so incredible and to be there, to actually BE there – that must have been unbelievable! Thanks so much for sharing & congratulations on achieving your #1 Bucket List Item! Thanks so very much for sharing!

    • JaneK

      sorry… “can’t add a new comment”; can just “reply” That is sooooo amazing and how incredibly special – truly – I am really excited for you and am glad you are sharing your journeys!!

  • Vonny

    Oh those chimpanzee faces, especially the dude on the blog entry picture, so beautiful. And your face with that smile at the end of the video, Dr.V, is worth much more than 1000 words. Thank you.

  • That was the next best thing to being there. Thanks for all your effort in putting it together. The still shots are spectacular, and the last one says it all.

  • Leigh

    Very cool! Congrats on fulfilling a lifetime dream.
    So glad to hear that they take so many precautions regarding the chimps’ heatlth and safety.

  • Anonymous

    You are just adorable! And what an experience! Those baby chimps are the cutest things. How fun to “live” this adventure through you!

  • Wow! What an amazing opportunity to meet such majesty.

  • Oh my gosh! How amazing! I don’t know if I would have been able to breath with those males walking so close, I would have been so thrilled. Thank you so much for going through the work of putting all this together to share with the rest of us.

    • I don’t know if you can hear it, but when Pimu is walking by, the guide says, “take a picture! Take a picture!” and I was laughing because I was hiding behind him, paralyzed with fear the chimp would charge me. 😀

  • Tamara

    I’m sure that being in their living, breathing presence is beyond magical 🙂 I’m so glad that you were able to experience that, and THANK YOU for sharing!

  • Melanie

    Fascinating stuff… I’m so glad that you’re sharing it with us!

  • Meredith

    what an amazing trip! So glad all the travel angst paid off. I was actually nervous when I was watching the video so I completely understand how you might be unlikely to take a picture 🙂