Katavi & Mahale National Park
“I have always known that animals possess intelligence, feelings and personalities…
From the chimpanzees we learn that we are animals.”
Mahale is a physical place, but strangely undemanding. Perhaps this is so, because it seems to have been created for Great Apes; figs, flowers, sun, shade, water. There are no roads or other infrastructure within the park boundaries, and the only way in and out is via boat on the lake. A stunning tropical forest covers the slopes of the mountains, with eight different species of primate living there, as well as leopard, bushbuck, shyer forest mammals, birds and butterflies. Giant vines impress the eye, while waterfalls roar in the background.
The local tribe believes that chimpanzees were once people who retreated into the forest. Chimpanzees love grooming, wrestling, bickering, foraging, eating and mothering. They are naturally gregarious, and when food sources are abundant, they gather in large groups, frequently calling each other and making a lot of noise. But there are fluctuations of available food, mainly depending on seasons. When food resources are lower, the chimps tend to split up into small groups, and as such can be less easy to find since they tend to vocalize less. Adult males particularly will often travel singularly when fruit is very scarce in their area. In August, various fruits become more abundant in the lower ranges – fig species and lemons are the main attractions, and it is the time when the chimps supplement their diet with protein in the form of Red Colobus monkeys.
From December to March, the green season brings butterflies and wild flowers in abundance, and the haze, which is often prevalent during other times of the year, is gone, leaving the air clear and bright. The lake with its abundant tropical fish in all colors and shapes is clearest in these months, often with breathtaking views of the mountains of the Congo in the distance.
Katavi is dramatic, wild.
Here you remember that the world is one living, breathing entity – man is only a detail!
Thousands of buffalo come out onto a lighting, leaving the swamp behind. A pack of lion is hiding behind a thicket of shrubs and trees, patiently waiting for dusk so as to attack. They have turned into specialized buffalo hunters in this vast land, in which time does not exist.
We arrive in immense wetlands, pass by roaring waterfalls and hot springs, come into miombo woodlands with their tall trees, where Sable antelopes often hide. The rivers are abound with crocodile and hippo, surrounded by shrublands that are home to some endangered and unusual species: wild dog, cheetah, eland. The variety of grasses, herbs and flowers in the flat and inundated areas is amazing, whereas the slightly undulated terrain in the valley floor is well drained and therefore supports the growth of woody vegetation.
We are in Katavi.
We may meet large herds of zebra, elephant, roan, bohor and many others, leopard, spotted hyena.
But we are not likely to meet another human being here, although stone age and iron age sites witness to human presence already in ancient times, and the sacred sites and places of worship inside the park are still used by members of the surrounding tribes of the Fipa and Gongwe and others. In fact, this National Park is named after an ancient local spirit, Katavi, who is still worshipped today.
Katavi is green and lush after short rains, with great elephant and plains game sightings. It’s a good time for birding, and the plains are covered with wild flowers. From July to October, the weather is hot, and the plains dry out. The rivers and pools dry up, and the game concentrates in specific areas, allowing amazing sightings of animals.