Mahale National Park Official Website

Mahale Mountains NP

Female bushbuck near Bilenge
Villagers selling sardines (Limnothrissa miodon) outside MMNP boundaries

Sustainable Life Style of the Tongwe People in the 1960s

  • Virtually no commercial fishing or hunting
  • Prohibition of any form of fishing in some parts of rivers believed to be the home of guardian spirits (e.g. some falls of the Lubulungu and Lubugwe Rivers)
  • Small scale herding of animals
  • Small scale villages (up to 40 people)
  • Shifting cultivation with the reuse of regenerating forests only after 30–50 years had passed
  • No large scale use of fish nets and restriction of mesh size to 12 cm
  • Prohibition of cutting down large trees believed to be the home of guardian spirits (mashetani)
  • Prohibition of cutting (and even entering for some people) of some parts of the terrain believed to be the home of guardian or ancestral spirits (e.g. the forest fringing the summit of Mt. Nkungwe and the Sinsiba Forest area)


Source: KUAPE exhibition, Bilenge

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History of conservation efforts

Chronology of Conservation and Management Efforts at Mahale

1965 Beginning of research by Kyoto University Africa Primatological Expedition (KUAPE) / Kyoto University Ape Expedition to Africa
1967, 1973 First and second petition to Wildlife Division by T. Nishida and his colleagues to establish a game reserve in Mahale
1974 Tanzanian Government’s request to Japan to send experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to Mahale for basic research of chimpanzee ecology
1975 Beginning of JICA project implemented by Wildlife Division Prohibition of field fire within the study area
1979 Establishment of the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Centre (MMWRC) as one of the research centres under TAWIRI
  Arrival of the first acting director of MMWRC (E. Tarimo)
1980 Prohibition of residence within the proposed national park and demolition of village houses
1985 Gazetting of Mahale Mountains National Park
1988–1994 Discontinuation of the JICA project
1989 Arrival of the first park warden from TANAPA (A.K.Seki)
1994 Establishment of the Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society
2003 Start of the Mahale Ecosystem Management Project (MEMP), a 5-year integrated conservation, development and landscape management initiative being jointly implemented by Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), with co-financing from the European Commission’s Programme on Tropical Forests in Developing Countries

Economy and Population

Anthropological history of the Mahale Peninsula and hinterland

The anthropological history of the Mahale peninsula and hinterland is one of successive waves of immigration from across the lake in Congo, south from the Malagarasi River basin and north from Ufipa and northern Zambia (Hatchell 1941). In most cases, the immigrants either conquered or absorbed the inhabitants that they found in the area.

Up until 1974 the Baholoholo or Wasowa people inhabited many parts of the Mahale Peninsula. These people came from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo 16 generations ago, having been driven out by the Wemba tribe who were being driven north by the Angoni. The Baholoholo drove the original inhabitants, the Wamahare (Wanyakungwe) from the lake shore up into the Mahale Mountains and later on, absorbed them entirely (Hatchell 1941).

The area to the south and east of Mahale from the Lubugwe to Karema and inland to Mahale, was formerly known as Ubende or Ukabende. The people of this area originated from Congo or came south from the Malagarasi Valley (Hatchell 1928). The area north of Ubende and east of Mahale was known as Tongwe. The Waganza and Wagalawa who also came across the lake from Congo around the same time as the Baholoholo inhabited this.

In 1925 when the British Administration established governmental control over Tongwe and Ubende, there were dozens of small chieftainships in the area and no cohesive tribal identity. This has changed considerably, and today the Baholoholo, Waganza and Wagalawa speak a common language known as Tongwe and are collectively know as the Watongwe people. However, dialectal differences are still evident in slightly different names and/or pronunciations used for animals and plants in disparate parts of Mpanda and Kigoma districts inhabited by Tongwe-speaking people.

Many parts of the Mahale Mountains National Park were once inhabited and under cultivation and nowhere does one have to look far to find the evidence of this. The Kasoge Forest was formerly covered in cultivation, and old cultivation mounds are still evident in the flatter areas. Many exotic and cultivated plants remain in Kasoge to this day. The most obvious are oil palm, mango, guava, lemon, sisal and the invasive Senna. The latter has become the focus of an eradication campaign by Tanzania National Parks (Wakibara & Mnaya 2002).

In the 1960s there were at least 5 hamlets in the eastern areas of the park. Ilumbi was located at the source of the Kabezi, Ntondo was further down along the ridge from Ilumbi towards the present day village of Mgambo, Ujamba was on the western side of the Mahale Ridge at 2000 m, and Kasangazi was on the path from Ujamba to Kapala on the shore of Lake Tanganyika (Itani 1990).

Today’s communities living adjacent to the park

The National Park itself no longer contains settlements, with the exception of park administration on the northern border at Bilenge, and four small tourist camps on the edge of the Kasoge Forest.

Most of the people living on land adjacent to the Park are farmers who cultivate small-scale farms, growing mainly cassava (manioc) as their staple food, along with beans, rice, maize and sweet potatoes. Fishing is the principal economic activity. The main fish catches are freshwater sardines (Limnothrissa miodon), known as dagaa in Swahili. They are fished at night by small-scale operators who suspend a pressurised paraffin lamp from their boat to attract the fish, and scoop up their catch in encircling nets. They are sold to markets across Tanzania, and are exported to several countries, including Congo, Zambia and Burundi. The production of palm oil, or 'mawese', is the second most important economic activity. Oil is extracted from the palm fruits, and visitors to the area can ask to see one of these small-scale industries in operation.

Further reading

  • David C. Moyer (2006). Biodiversity of Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Unpublished Report, Wildlife Conservation Society Tanzania Program.
  • Kyoto University Africa Primatological Expedition Exhibition at Bilenge.
  • Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society. Vegetation and area map for MMNP. Brochure.
  • Hatchell, G. W. 1941. Some Account of the People Living Under the Protection of Mount Kungwe. Tanganyika Notes and Records. 11: 41-46.
  • Hatchell, G. W. 1928. Vibangwa: A form of Insignia Used in the Eastern Hinterland of Lake Tanganyika. Man. 28: 27-30.
  • Itani, J. 1990. Safari Surveys of the Vegetation and the Chimpanzee Groups in the Northern Half of the Mahale Mountains. In: The Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains: Sexual and Life History Strategies. T. Nishida Ed. University of Tokyo Press.
  • Wakibara, J. V., and B. J. Mnaya 2002. Possible control of Senna spectabilis (Cesalpiniaceae), an invasive tree in Mahale Mountains National Park. Tanzania. Oryx. 36: 357-363.