Mahale Mountains National Park

Destination Introduction

Chimpanzee in Mahale
The Alpha Male of a Chimpanzee troupe

The Mahale Mountains National Park is located on the eastern shores of lake Tanganyika. It is home to many chimpanzees which live in the safety of the protected park. Access is restricted so that only those with permits may enter the park, however these can be produced by the few lodges that exist in the area. The park receives less than 200 visitors per year making it a unique and remote location. Where the steep forested mountains plunge into the clear lake, white sandy beaches line the coast. Intimate encounters with the chimpanzees in the thick jungle setting offer the experience of a life time and a chance to get truly stunning photographs!

Photographic Subjects

Chimpanzee using a 'tool'
Chimpanzee using a 'tool'

The Mahale National Park is simply the best location in the world for viewing and photographing chimpanzees in the wild. Each day, you can trek after the chimpanzees either in the morning or in the afternoon – it can sometimes mean a two or three hour walk to reach them, although they could be right by the camp. You and the guide are allowed to be around the chimpanzees for a total time of 1-2 hours, during which you can get extremely close to them. This means you get amazing photographs of the chimpanzees acting naturally – sometimes noisy disputes or even fishing for termites using ‘tools’. Only some of the troupes in the park are habituated but each troupe consists of around 40 animals. There exists a strict hierarchy within the group, with the alpha male at the top. The jungle canopy can provide an interesting back-drop for photographs.

Photography Tips

Chimpanzee in Mahale
A bright, well-lit photo of a chimpanzee

Whilst with the chimpanzees, the use of flash is not allowed. Due to the thick canopy, light filtering to the ground is restricted. Therefore, adjustments have to be made to the settings of the camera to allow enough light for the exposure. A tripod is a necessary piece of equipment as it allows you to minimise camera shake with slower shutter speeds. The digital ISO (light sensitivity) can be raised for extra brightness however if it is too high (over 800), then significant noise may reduce the quality of the photograph. It may be best to keep the camera on the manual setting so that you can adjust aperture and shutter speed manually – the camera can often get confused by the low light and their dark coats. It is also vital to have enough storage as you will be taking plenty of photographs! The amount of memory cards can be reduced by purchasing a portable hard-drive. A spare battery can be very useful (keeping one fully charged at a time) as there is nothing more frustrating than the camera not working! A medium length zoom lens is best – around 200mm, to capture more intimate images.