Caitlin Hackett

I have stood in the pouring rain looking up at chimpanzees in Mahale National Forest, climbed mountains with chimpanzees in Gombe National park, and have seen giraffes, elephants, and other savannah animals roaming the vast area in Selous Game Reserve.  Traveling to Tanzania, Africa has shown me the greatness of different ecosystems in a distant land.  There is a deep connection that can be seen between all living things; an intricate web of plants and animals is woven in these ecosystems.  The web of life connects organisms to one another by providing resources and nutrients to promote the life of other organisms.  It is this connection that makes conserving the ecosystems around the world so important.  If even one strand in the web is disrupted, tension is placed on the other connections and could cause harm to a multitude of living things. 

We, as humans, should respect these webs of life because all living organisms are important to the ecosystem no matter how large or small the organism.  And we, as humans, should respect these woven webs because all living things are important, no matter how large or small, to their ecosystem, whether it is as faraway as the African forests and savannah or as close as our backyards. 

 

 

Mahale

Mahale has been an experience like nothing else I have ever experienced in my life.  As I sit here writing this, I am looking out and can see Lake Tanganiyka, the small secluded beach at which we are staying, the secondary forest in which we went on treks to find chimpanzees, and the far off mountains covered with thick green rainforest.  I am amazed by how much life there is here.  I have seen life from the cichlid fish in the lake to the chimpanzees and mushrooms in the forest.  My experiences here have made me see the great connection between its environment and living things. 

There was one moment on our second day of viewing chimpanzees that this great connection became deeply planted in my heart and mind.  We were off the trail with the forest ranger and guides.  They told us where we were allowed to stand to view the chimps and we were deep in the forest and looking at the chimps high above in the trees.  It had been thundering during the entire hike in to see the chimps, but it was while we were staring up at the chimps that it began to rain.  The scene was amazing.  There were connections all around.  The rain, the trees, and the chimps are connected.  Without the rain, the plants in the forest could not grow good and strong to give the chimps some place to live and something to eat.  It was not only the rain and chimps that I saw a connection between, but I also saw a connection between the humans and the chimps. 

Looking up I could see that chimps’ hand look very much like human hands as well as other body parts like their face and feet.  This makes sense since the chimps are relatives to humans.  I also saw a connection to humans in behavior during the rain, when one of the females broke some branches to cover the nest she was building for that day.  (They make a new nest every night!)  She seemed to be creating an umbrella for her nest.  You and I also use umbrellas when outside on a rainy day! 

To me, Mahale has been about connections; the connection between the rain and the chimpanzees as well as between you and me.  Chimpanzees may seem distant, but they are closely connected just as the lake is closely connected to the distant mountains by the forest and beach.

Gombe

Gombe National Park is a beautiful and amazing place.  Along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, it has been the second place we stopped on our safari (which means travel in Swahili, the language of the people in Tanzania).  There is so much life and importance within the forest which, from the boat ride in, seems like a normal forest covering the mountains running along the shore.  From stepping off the boat and walking up to the main headquarters to walking trails in the forest, there is life all around.  There are fish in the water at the dock, plants and baboons along the beach, birds in the sky and chimpanzees in the forest.  And there is much more including insects and plants all around. 

Even with all this life surrounding the park, though, the life in the forest needs conserving and preserving.  There are only 106 chimps in the forest and there is no way for the chimps in the forest to move to other forests because the park is surrounded by small villages.  The forest is only lined by water on one edge but the chimps are on an island, separated from other forests and limited to only the land within the park for food and habitat.  After watching these animals for only a short time, it is evident that they cover a large area of land in their day and that they eat a lot of food.  Bernard, our guide in the park, taught us about the different foods they eat.  It can be seen on the forest floor that they eat a lot from all the leftover outsides of fruit on the ground.  He also took us to Jane’s peak which is a point on top of a small mountain that Jane Goodall used to sit on to hear where the chimps were in the forest.  At first, the group seemed to be in front of us when we followed their sounds, and after only a short time, the group seemed to be far off to the left of where they were first heard.  This made it clear that the chimps cover a large area of land and that if the park stays as an island, the 106 chimps could begin to disappear from the park. 

The park is aware of this concern and along with the Jane Goodall Institute, efforts are being made to inform surrounding villages to allow a portion of their land to re-grow to its natural state.  This will hopefully create a sort of path (called a corridor) between two larger forested areas that allow the chimps to move into new areas of land and no longer be limited by what is found in the island that is Gombe. 

Gombe is a place for growth.  The land area can be connected by others and grow in size. The chimp populations can also then grow.  Also there is a great amount of growth in knowledge of humans that occurs at Gombe.  Humans study the behaviors of their close cousins, the chimpanzees.  Gombe National Park is a great and beautiful place that tries to provide the opportunity for growth in nature by providing growth in human knowledge and a sense of connection to nature as a whole and most importantly to our closest cousins, the chimpanzee. 

 

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.