The Mahale chimp researchers have been in this remarkable place for over 20 years, and everyday they are still as in awe of it as they were when they first arrived. It’s impossible not to be. Greystoke Mahale shares the mountains and the lake with so many animals, but it’s the chimps that inspire; hard not to compare their daily lives, their movements, feeding, squabbling, foraging and grooming, with our own human day to day.
Time spent with them is time away from everything else that is ordinary. Over the years the camp and it’s staff have watched, as families have grown, alpha males have come and gone, bonds and friendships have been created and then broken, and then created again. They are not so different from us. It’s all acted out on this natural chimpanzee stage, and witnessing it is an indescribable privilege.
The guides get to watch again and again, through guest’s eyes, as the enormity of what they are seeing hits them for the first time. After tracking them, for an hour or two, maybe more, only aware of the sounds they are making ahead of us, we find them; suddenly they are everywhere. Sit quietly on the forest floor and take a deep breath, this is what it’s all about.
For the next hour it’s as if you scarcely breathe, so wrapped up are you in watching them go about their daily life. You become aware of the subtleties of different relationships, through gesture, sound and expression. One dictating the pace, another courting favor, yet another perhaps plotting a coup. There is humor too as the young chimps fall about the floor and play remarkably human games.
It’s all acted out on this natural chimpanzee stage, and witnessing it is something we are privileged to be able to do every day.