Navigation Menu

By Guest Blogger Lori Robinson

A deafening scream silences the cacophony of forest sounds – chirping, buzzing and rustling – we have been listening to for the past twenty minutes. Emmiti, our guide, nods to me, his way of indicating my safari group is about to experience what we have traveled by plane, boat and foot to see: wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream Reserve.

“We are very close, he tells my group of eight excited tourists.”

Gombe holds the distinction of being the smallest park in Tanzania, as well as the place Jane Goodall (under the direction of Dr. Louis Leakey) conducted her ground breaking research on chimpanzees.

The occasional screams from the chimps act as beacons for us to locate them. So does the walky-talky our guide carries to communicate with researchers who start before dawn to find where the chimps bedded down the night before, and then follow (and record) the animal’s movements the rest of the day.

Gombe Stream Reserve

Gombe Stream Reserve.  Photo: Flickr CC

Now, having hiked up hill, over creeks and fallen trees, and under thick twisted bushes for the past two hours, we still haven’t caught up to the chimps. We hear them moving fast ahead of us, leaping from branches, feeding on orange colored fruits. But we can’t see them. Yet.

Determined to intersect the troop, Emmiti leads us off the trail. We scramble up loose dirt, unwinding vines from our arms and faces as we bush whack up a steep incline. As Emmiti passes by me, spread eagle on the side of the hill holding onto a thin twigged bush searching in vain for my next foothold, I whisper to him, “I don’t think our group can go on like this for much longer.”

He looks at the others, all leaning against the hill, shirts stained with dark patches of sweat, beads of sweat dripping down their faces.

“Does anyone want to turn back?” I ask.

Water bottles held to their mouths, everyone shakes their head. No.

“OK. Let’s just rest here for a few minutes.”

Images enter my mind. Time lapsed Discovery Channel visions of army ants devouring flesh, one small chunk at a time, and strangler vines, like the one currently wrapped around my left foot, covering their ‘prey’ in a cocoon, converting it’s body to forest compost.

Emmiti is impatient with our need to stop, fearing it will put us too far behind the chimps, sealing our fate. “Everyone ready?”

Grabbing a tree trunk, I unwrap vines from my legs and pull myself upwards.

Within a few minutes, Emmitt says for the fourth time today, “We are very near.”

We haven’t heard the chimps for the past twenty minutes and I’m not convinced we are still on their trail. I wonder what Emmiti’s definition of ‘very near’ is. I prepare myself for the fact that this will be the first time in the eight years I have organized trips to Gombe that our group will not see the wild chimps. I hate to disappoint.

But Emmiti has slowed down his pace, and turns to our group with his forefinger placed over his mouth. Then, as if entering a village – the bushes around us come alive with movement and crashing sounds as chimps swing in the trees and walk on the leaf covered ground inches from us. One large male chimpanzee bounds down the hill toward me, climbing a tree to greet a baby and older chimp.

Our human group sits down, (careful to find places void of army ants), surrounded by (we count them) twenty-four chimps. A young male chimpanzee displays himself while whimpering.

“He can’t find his mother in all the confusion,” one of the researchers tells us.

Babies swing precariously from branches, older females nap in wide tree-notches, while adolescents romp and play and run around their human visitors.

A couple of chimps start yelling. One has a rock in his hands and he throws it to the ground. Through my binoculars I see a long gray python the chimps have discovered underfoot.

For an hour we sit in the chimps world. Sometimes they pass so near I could reach my hand out to touch them but I don’t. Too dangerous. And we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, making disease easily spreadable between our two species. We are told to suppress any coughing or sneezing while in the presence of the chimps.


Babies swing precariously from branches. Photo Flickr CC

My eyes meet several of the primate’s eyes as they walk around me, and I understand how twenty-six year old Dr. Jane endured years of living in this forest with little comforts or human companionship. I could easily have done the same.

Author, blogger and traveler, Lori Robinson is passionate about saving Wildlife and Wild places.

Find her at and join her tribe of like-hearted animal and travel lovers.


  1. Nice post, last year I was lucky enough to visit the chimpanzees in Kibale National Park in Uganda, so this brought back some fond travel memories. My lasting memory of visiting the chimps, as you mentioned in the post, is just how similar they are to us – their facial expressions, their mannerisms, and the way they care for their young. Anyone who ever gets the opportunity to visit chimps in the wild – do it!

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree, if you get the chance, do it.

  2. Wow, what an amazing experience. Great read!

    • I hope you have the chance to do it someday.

  3. Great piece, Lori! Smiles re: army ants devouring flesh. Many tourists choose to see chimps in Uganda instead of Tanzania. Glad to read about your experience at Gombe! How many hours did your group trek for? Have you also been to Mahale Mountains?

    • I had to smile at the army ants as well! You’ve interested me now in the Mahale Mountains – will have to look them up! Thanks!!

    • I have led many tours to Gombe for the Jane Goodall Institute and each time is different in terms of how long it takes before we see the chimps. On this trip we thought we were going to see them after about 20 minutes but they were moving too fast up hill and it took us about 3 hours to catch up to them. Well worth it though. I have not been to Mahale since I work for Dr. Goodall and her research and chimps are only in Gombe. But I have heard it is beautiful.

  4. After learning about them in school and working closely with a professor who used to do work with them. I have since wanted to visit Gombe and see the chimps, great story about our relatives, how hard was it to locate a troop before the calls became apparent?

    • Each time it is different but we are helped by the researchers who follow them all day and make it easier for us to know where to go. Thanks for your comments.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *