Conserving the Mahale ecosystem

At the western tip of Tanzania, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, lies a mountainous region boasting chimpanzees and rich biodiversity. Frankfurt Zoological Society has supported Mahale since the 1990s and our project started in 2004.

The forest meets the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika in Mahale Mountains National Park. Photo: Daniel Rosengren/FZS
The Greater Mahale Ecosystem, with the Mahale Mountains National Park at its core, covers an area of almost 20,000 square kilometres. It is an integral part of the of the globally recognised Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot. The region is still characterised by relatively low human population. Road access from Kigoma has been improved and tourism is growing, centred around the chimpanzees. Unplanned agricultural activities and settlement, immigration of cattle keepers and road construction threaten the ecosystem’s integrity.

Mahale boasts a rich diversity of habitats creating a unique mix of animal and plant species. It contains a mosaic of overlapping montane forest and mountain grasslands in higher altitudes, with bamboo and rainforest and woodland on the slopes. There are tropical rain forest animals, savannah and miombo woodland animals including resident elephants and the fauna of the unique aquatic ecosystem of the lake.
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Visitors to Mahale National Park can observe chimpanzees from quite close quarters. Photo: Daniel Rosengren/FZS
The Greater Mahale Ecosystem is home to one of the world’s largest populations of chimpanzees. Researchers began studying Mahale’s chimpanzees in the 1960s. One group of around 60 individuals has become well accustomed to human visitors.

What we do

Our objective in Mahale is twofold: to preserve the ecosystem’s biodiversity and to strengthen environmental security for the local communities. In recent years, we have been focusing on widening the area under protection within the ecosystem to include community forest and wildlife areas. We continue to work in the following areas:

Park Support

The Mahale Mountains National Park for many years has been protected by its remote location in western Tanzania. This situation is rapidly changing. Our support of the development of this park concentrates on infrastructure and equipment.

  • Development and implementation of a General Management Plan for Mahale Mountains National Park
  • Development and implementation of Mahale Ecosystem Management Plan
  • Carrying out of ecological research and assessment of the wider Mahale ecosystem
  • Support of tourism development and management
  • Training on environmental education

Community empowerment

As the population around the National Park grows rapidly, we are working to promote sustainable livelihoods that benefit both environment and people. Our activities include:

  • Community Conservation Banks: Now more than 2,200 people, 70% of the members are women, contribute to a group loans and saving scheme for conservation compatible activities
  • Village land use mapping and planning
  • Forest monitoring and protection under participatory forest management
  • Improving livelihood security in target villages
  • Environmental education
  • Supporting community based natural resource management and conservation-compatible development activities


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Nkondwe waterfall in the Tongwe West Local Authority Forest Reserve in western Tanzania. Photo: Magnus Mosha/FZS
Expanding protection to a larger part of the wider Mahale ecosystem is a challenge of integrating conservation with development. We have developed a management plan for the wider Mahale ecosystem and support its implementation. Additionally, we are carrying out ecological research to support assessments of the ecosystem with a view to assist in expanding the protected area.

Working with Mpanda District, we have gathered village agreements and documentation for the upgraded protection of the Tongwe West Local Authority Forest Reserve. The Mahale Katavi corridor has recently been surveyed and information is being used to protect the wildlife corridor identified there.