Intrepid explorers Roland and Zoe Purcell discovered the vast wilderness of Katavi in the 1980s when they were traveling around east Africa looking for the meaning of life. They had already found it on a white beach on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where they created the barefoot fantasy chimpanzee camp of Greystoke Mahale.
One day, when flying low over a stretch of wilderness that went as far as the eye could see, they spotted a seemingly endless herd of buffalo and landed their plane nearby. They set up camp for the night on the edge of the great Chada plain and from here they ventured out into this unknown landscape.
As they sat and studied their surroundings, they realised they had stumbled on a hidden paradise of game: hippos in their hundreds, not just in the rivers, but grazing on the banks in herds. The crocodiles were more circumspect, but so numerous that they couldn't easily hide And ranging across the open spaces were the largest herds of wild cape buffalo they had ever seen, shadowed by lion, leopard and hyena.
Flycamping Under the Stars
The camp 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.
Time spent with them is time away from everything else that is ordinary. The camp has watched, over the years, 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 something the camp and staff are privileged to be able to do every day.
The enormity of what the guests 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. You sit quietly on the forest floor and take a deep breath, this is what it's all about.