Gombe Stream National Park Trails:
Gombe Stream National Park
Gombe Stream National Park Overview
When you walk up the valley from the hostel, you will find yourself in evergreen forest. Tall straight trunks support a high canopy; tangled vines clamber up the trees to seek more light. In the cool gloom below, amid shrubs and ferns, here and there a patch of sunlight illuminates a resting butterfly or a delicate flower. Along the trail, fallen blossoms and fruits are the crumbs of a feast in the upper layers. Through the noise of the stream the calls of unseen birds echo mysteriously, and a frantic chirping and swishing of foliage marks the retreat of a troop of monkeys.
This is a riverine forest rather than a rain forest, as it is sustained by the permanent stream that carved out this steep-sided valley. It is an evergreen forest because the trees can draw enough water to grow all year round, unlike the trees higher up the slopes that must "shut down" in the dry season.
Originally these forests of Western Tanzania were part of the great forests of Central and West Africa, and they have only been isolated by climatic change during the last 8,000 years, and by human activity in more recent centuries. However, they have been separated for much longer (millions of years) from forests in northern and eastern Tanzania, by a broad band of drier woodlands that covers much of the interior. Forest trees, by whatever means, cannot easily send their seeds across such a barrier. Thus many trees widespread in the West African forests (such as Anthocleista, Elaeis, Myrianthus, Pseudospondias, Pycnanthus) are common in Gombe and Mahale but are not found farther east.
Walk slowly and softly through the forest and appreciate its intricacy. It is like a vast and complex organism, whose parts cannot be separated. Like a cathedral, it has an atmosphere that its individual building blocks have not. A forest literally creates its own climate; outside there may be glaring light and heat, drying wind or pelting rain, but the canopy shields the forest dwellers from these extremes. Few of them can live for long if parted from that protection. Even the forest trees cannot stand alone; they need the cool moist shade in which to germinate and flourish.
The economy, too, of the forest is marvelous to contemplate. Its raw material is the same thin soil that supports a meager cassava crop in the crowded valleys beyond the park. Its income is the same sunlight and rainfall. But a forest is an investment, the sun and rain and wind of many seasons stored as roots and trunks and branches. Everything that the forest produces—the leaves and fruit that fall, the rotting branch, the bones of the colobus, the dung of the chimp, the wing of the butterfly—everything is returned to the soil and invested once more in the forest.
Nature's cathedral, nature's bank, the forest is also nature's laboratory and library-every species of animal and plant is a unique experiment. Here we may find things of great value—new foods, new medicines, new materials. Here too are things to excite our curiosity and wonder; insects that scream, pods that explode, butterflies with false heads, bats that sing, spiders that pretend to be ants, apes that use tools... And we, cousins of the chimpanzee, can actually choose whether to learn from those priceless volumes, or to burn them all in our cooking stoves!
Special thanks to Thomson Safaris and Tanzania National Parks for contributing Tanzanian information.