updated 12/22/2003 2:05:39 AM ET 2003-12-22T07:05:39

At Goualougo wilderness reserve in northern Congo, the forest exists as it once did millennia ago — virtually untouched by human influence. It may be the last place on Earth where elephants, leopards, chimpanzees and gorillas roam seemingly unaware of human beings and their trail of devastation. Scientists and conservationists are desperately trying to create more reserves like Goualougo before commercial logging, bushmeat and other trademarks of human encroachment erase Africa’s woodlands and wildlife forever.

Now, for the first time in her career, celebrated conservationist and chimp researcher Dr. Jane Goodall journeys to Goualougo to observe the reserve’s pristine habitat. She is joined by another of the world’s most influential conservationists, Dr. Michael Fay, of the Wildlife Conservation Society. They have come together in a collaboration that symbolizes what it will take to save Africa’s forests and wildlife; the challenge is so vast and urgent that it cannot be solved alone.

This expedition is also an opportunity for Goodall to meet a unique population of chimpanzees that live within Goualougo’s bounds. Unlike most chimps across Africa that have been heavily hunted by humans, Goualougo’s chimps have had little contact with their bipedal cousins and react with curiosity and interest instead of fear. Bearing witness to such a troop of chimpanzees is an emotional first for Goodall — even the chimps she met at Gombe 42 years earlier initially ran away in fear.

National Geographic Explorer Wild joins Goodall and Fay as they encounter the remarkable chimps of Goualougo and raise the call to protect more of the region’s rich, biodiverse forests before they are lost forever.

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