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National Parks - Striving To Protect Wildlife and Encourage Responsible Tourism Practices Thu, 20 Jan 2022 17:24:26 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Mkomazi Game Reserve - A Forgotten Wilderness?

Mkomazi Game Reserve - A Forgotten Wilderness?

Arusha Times (Arusha)
9 August 2008
Charlotte Kingsman


Everyday thousands of people pass near Mkomazi National Park gates at Same Town, on one of Tanzania's busiest highway. Only a few of them, however, know of its rugged acacia-covered beauty beside Usambara and Pare mountains, with Kilimanjaro in the distance.

Black Rhino

East of the Pare Mountains, Mkomazi falls along the edge of a semi-arid savanna arc that stretches into bordering Kenya's Tsavo East National Park. Together with Tsavo Park, Mkomazi now represents one of the largest protected areas in all of Africa.

Although it hides merely a few minutes away from Same Town, the road to Mkomazi leads you to an entirely different world. The park, vast yet dense, is overwhelming with beauty. We do not need to lament that Mkomazi is forgotten as it only gives us a better feeling of what it is to be lost into the Wild.

The park's name comes from the Pare tribe's word for "water source", referring to the Umba River on Mkomazi's south eastern border. The river and other water holes keep the park abounding with small and big mammals, including silver backed jackals, lions, cheetahs, leopards, lesser kudus, giraffes, buffalos, elephants and zebras. The Park is also a birdwatcher's paradise with over 450 avian species from tawny eagles to kingfishers and many different kinds of parrots.

Mkomazi is the place where the black rhino and the wild dog have returned to roam. Indeed, the highlight of the journey is the 30 square mile Black Rhino Sanctuary. The sight of the endangered specie makes you forget that the sanctuary is surrounded by an electrified fence and heavily patrolled by armed guards. Built over 5 years it now houses a population of eight rhinos, the first of its kind in Tanzania.

Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, Mkomazi suffered a dramatic decline due to inadequate protection and severe mismanagement. During this devastating period the population of black rhinos fell from over four hundred individuals to zero. Previous to that, the park held one of the largest numbers of breeding rhinos.

The government recently promoted the reserve into a national park and extended the Ruaha Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania by incorporating Ihefu and Usangu basins. Thus Mkomazi Game Reserve is now the country's 15th national park.

Article at:

National Parks Wed, 20 Aug 2008 00:58:45 +0000
Selous Game Reserve and Rufiji River

Selous Game Reserve

The vast untamed paradise of Selous is the largest unexploited wildlife area in Africa, and the second in the world. Its general inaccessibility, combined with the fact that no human habitation is allowed within its boundaries, has ensured a magnificent refuge for animals, birds, insects and reptiles. Here some of Africa's finest virgin bush, unchanged throughout thousands of years, is inhabited by three-quarters of a million wild animals. Second in number only to the Serengeti.

The isolation of the area is accentuated by the Rufiji River system; East Africa's largest. Its massive tributaries, the Great Ruaha, Kilombero and Luwegu, flow through the centre of the reserve. Although opened in 1905, Selous has remained one of the least known reserves. The reserve was named in honour of Frederic Courtney Selous, a naturalist, explorer, hunter and soldier, who was killed in 1917, during World War One. His grave lies inside the Selous Game Reserve, close to a ridge of hills known as Beho Beho.

Only the comparatively small portion of the reserve to the north of the Rufiji- Ruaha River systems and the Mgeta-Ruvu River systems is open as a photographic area. The vast south remains largely unfrequented.

The Great Ruaha flows into the Rufiji at spectacular Stiegler´s Gorge. The gorge was the site where German explorer Stiegler was killed by an elephant in 1907. After the Ruaha flows into the Rufiji river system, the waters have formed a string of lakes where schools of hippo up to 50 in number are frequently encountered, together with a wealth of other game animals and birds.

Tanzania is home to one of the single largest remaining elephant populations in the world. Most of these elephants are found in the Selous Game Reserve. Elephant may be seen bathing in the Rufiji River and the other rivers, browsing in the palm swamps, or crossing the track just ahead of you.

Lion are frequent, as also are vast herds of buffalo, the most numerous animal in the reserve. A pack of wild dogs may be observed. One of the last places in Africa where one may encounter the wild dog. In the savannah and woodland one may observe wildebeest, zebras, giraffe, waterbuck, baboon or eland, just to mention a few of the species found in the Selous. An extremely rich birdlife includes goliath heron, open billed stork, hammerkop, fish eagle, sunbird, kingfishers and many others to excite the ornithologist and nature lover alike. The Selous is best visited from June through to March, as during the remaining months, which are rainy, a large part of the area becomes inaccessible due to flooding.

The Selous Game Reserve was declared a "WORLD HERITAGE SITE" by the United Nations in 1982.

The Rufiji River

The largest river in Tanzania with its spectacular array of plants and animals can be devided into four distinct parts.

Starting up river where rivers like the Luwegu and Kilombero (Ulanga) form to become the Rufiji River at the Shuguli falls. Then flowing North- East through the Selous Game Reserve to be joined by the Ruaha River, entering its second part when entering the Stieglers Gorge. Here the Rufiji River makes his path through a 8 km narrow canyon, only approximatly 100 metres wide. In this gorge the river heads down over rapids known as "Pangani Rapids", Conman´s Foil and Ropeway Rapids.

Finally flowing out into a wide area where it splits into many different channels and lakes known as Lake Tagalala, Lake Manze, Lake Nzelekela, Lake Siwandu and Lake Mzizimia, the actual photographic tourist game viewing area within the Selous Game Reserve. All this time the river has been flowing through an area only inhabitat by plants, animals and birds, with the occasional tourists doing a boat safari.

As soon as the river leaves the Selous Game Reserve, the first village shows up on its banks, with fishing canoes and village farms. The Rufiji is free of swamps such as the Zambezi which prevent human appreciation of its waters from shore, and thus the Rufiji is also free from extensive mosquito breeding in this area, and many a village is prettily situated on his banks facing the river.

The river passes Utete, the starting point up river of larger canoes or boats, having travelled roughly half of its journey towards its delta from the Selous Game Reserve, and supporting grasslands, woodland, forests, swamps and thirteen other permanent lakes. Finally it reaches its delta which is the home to the largest mangrove forest on the eastern coast of Africa- a massive 53,000 hectares.

In the delta is also the last resting place of the "Königsberg", a German Cruiser sunk there by the British during World War 1 after sustaining damage and trying to fight off a superior force of attackers, it has however sunk even deeper into the Rufiji sands & silt, obscuring it entirely from view. Also the "Somali´s" last resting place is in the delta, being a coal ship to the "Königsberg" and also being sunk there.


National Parks Sun, 17 Dec 2006 20:52:37 +0000
Ngorongoro Conservation Area by Safaridude

Ngorongoro Crater – the Garden of Eden or Disneyworld?

by Safaridude

This was my second pilgrimage to the Garden of Eden. What can I say about the Ngorongoro Crater that hasn’t been said? The circular caldera of approximately ten miles in diameter is in one word, dizzying: open savannah here; an acacia forest there; a dry soda lake here; a swampy hippo pool there; and don’t forget the patch of rainforest on the rim. Flying in from Meru-Nairobi-Kilimanjaro to the Ngorongoro airstrip on the rim of the Crater in record time, we wolfed down our picnic lunch at the airstrip as we met our private guide who would be with us the rest of the way in Tanzania. Dominyk (or “Dom”), is a quick-witted Australian with a particular fondness for snakes and, for the next eight days, would serve as a tireless caretaker for the five American tourists. Eager to get down to the floor of the Crater for the afternoon, we cut the acquaintance session short.

The Crater is indeed a sensory overload. As soon as we descended, we saw a pride of lions resting, a hyena chasing a wildebeest, and zebras scratching their hides against rocks right next to our vehicle. Crowned cranes to the left, flamingoes to the right, a bull elephant emerging from Lerai Forest in the distance, and soon I begin to wonder if I brought enough flash memory cards for my digital camera. Something is amiss though, when you can practically reach out and touch a wildebeest without its batting an eye. Is this real or is this Jungle Cruise at Disneyworld? Do these wildebeests get paid at the end of day when all the tourist vehicles must leave the Crater?

In terms of phantasmagoria, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge somehow manages to outdo the Crater itself. Run by CC Africa, the Crater Lodge, in my opinion, is completely over the top – and I don’t mean that in a good way. There is a telephone in every room; serviced laundry is brought back to the room accompanied by a long-stemmed rose; and while you are at supper, unbeknownst to you, the staff draws you a rose pedal-sprinkled hot bath – even though you may have had the intention of just taking a shower. I wonder if CC Africa (“CC” by the way, ironically, stands for “Conservation Corp”) knows about the power rationing going on in much of Tanzania. A vast majority of power generation in Tanzania is hydroelectric. The recent drought and mismanagement have led to a shortage of electricity, and even significant towns such as Arusha are experiencing scheduled blackouts. I know there is rarely a water problem at the Crater, and the water from the Crater probably doesn’t end up in a hydroelectric power plant, but the nightly bath water thing seems out of place, at least, at this particular time.

The second day (a full day game drive) at Ngorongoro was, of course, spectacular. Lions and black rhinos are always special. But at the end of the day, as I sipped Moet & Chandon Champagne in the highly ornate dining room, I knew I wasn’t coming back. That’s just me though. Many of the local guides feel the same way I do, but they all agree that Ngorongoro should be seen at least once. It is akin to a serious recreational golfer paying $500 to play Pebble Beach once to see what it’s all about.

Read the full trip report by Safaridude


National Parks Mon, 23 Oct 2006 13:34:00 +0000
Ugalla Game Reserve - Travel Report by Safaridude

Ugalla Game Reserve – The Wild Thing

Travel Report by Safaridude

I’ve had lousy luck with wild dogs. Not that I had never seen them. I actually have had two quality viewings in my five previous safaris. Both times though, it was the case of what might have been. On other occasions, I simply missed them by a hair.

In June 1989, I saw a pack of them near Aitong, just outside Maasai Mara. Having just graduated from business school, deep in debt but with a job offer, I was part of a dirt-cheap, lorry safari. A few days later, everything I brought, including my camera and rolls of film, was stolen out of the lorry near Lake Naivasha. The entire pack of dogs apparently died of canine distemper about two weeks after I photographed them; they are the last known pact to roam Maasai Mara. Somewhere around Naivasha, I am convinced, there is a garbage dump where a roll of undeveloped film containing deteriorating images of those dogs is buried.

In 1997 while at King’s Pool in Linyanti, Botswana, a pack of wild dogs appeared out of nowhere, closely circled our vehicle a few times, plunged into the Linyanti swamps, and chased after some lechwes on the other side (Namibia), never to be seen by me again. Unfortunately, I had a very long lens loaded onto my camera at the time, and most of the images I took are not sharp because the dogs were too darn close!

In 1993, while at Tsaro Camp, Botswana, I just missed by less than a minute a pack of nine dogs that came into camp. In 1995, at Swala Camp in Tarangire, Tanzania, a pack of four dogs apparently came to the waterhole in front of camp at sunrise. The camp manager, with whom I shared my fondness for the dogs the night before, inexplicably decided not to alert me. It was the closest I’ve ever come to being homicidal.

About a month before the trip, I was told by the folks who operate the Ugalla concession that there was a known pack of dogs there. But, I knew that was a long shot. Wild dogs always are. The main reason for going to Ugalla for me was the healthy population of sable antelopes (my personal favorite) and a chance to see a real miombo park. The dogs would be gravy.

In Tanzania, unlike Kenya, hunting is legal. Obviously, hunting is illegal in the national parks, but strangely, photographic safaris are also prohibited in hunting areas such as Ugalla. I don’t hunt, but through a special arrangement, I was able to accompany bird shooters to Ugalla, a big-game hunting concession located in western Tanzania. Hunting in Tanzania, as it turns out, is a precisely managed affair. Each hunt must be accompanied by a PH (professional hunter) and a government game scout who monitors the hunt. There are stringent regulations and ethics, closely monitored game quotas, and stiff penalties for violations. I don’t pretend to have visited every hunting concession in Tanzania with every hunting operator, but my view of hunting is vastly different (much more positive) now that I had the chance of witnessing it firsthand. I, personally, could never shoot anything, and I don’t understand the psyche of those who do – but in terms of conservation and the love of animals, hunters and photographers have a lot more in common than we realize. Someone once said “when the question is black or white, the answer is usually grey”. As an example of that, I asked the PH, Craig, what he thought of elephant culling. His answer was “where?” “Depending on where, yes and no”.

I have never been to Ruaha or Katavi, but I imagine that Ugalla is a cross between them. The Ugalla River runs through the concession, whittled down to pools in the dry season. Extensive floodplains, some of them miles wide and dotted with borassus palms and topis, flank the river. Away from the river, combretum/terminalia woodlands give way to mature brachestygia (often called “miombo”) forests. These dense woodlands are interspersed with open plains (locally called “mbugas”) where sable and roan antelopes and Lichtenstein’s hartebeests can be found. The local western Tanzanian sables belong to the “Kirki” race, with the frontal white nasal stripes being abbreviated. The “Kirki” race occurs also in western Zambia, but the ones in western Tanzania are somewhat smaller and some fully mature males stay dark brown unlike the jet-black Zambian ones.

I never had so much fun tracking animals as I did at Ugalla. As you can imagine, the animals are extremely skittish, because they are being shot at., but, ironically, the best way to approach them is by foot. Luckily, there is a lot of cover and there are some gigantic termite mounds on the floodplains and mbugas. Once we spotted an animal, such as sable or roan, that we wanted to get closer to, Craig and the game scout would lead us on a track. Craig, with his rifle loaded, and the head tracker would be in the front, the government game scout, with his rifle loaded, would bring up the rear, and me and the bird shooters would be sandwiched in between. When the sable or roan turned away or began to graze, we would carefully walk single-file to the next strategic termite mound – then wait until the next opportune moment and head for the next mound and so forth. Why the single-file? In case the animal detected our presence, we wanted to give it a view of one person rather than a group. A conga line is a more accurate description. We must have looked pretty silly going from one termite mind to the next.

We saw roan twice, and we saw sable on every game drive. But the fully mature jet-black male eluded me (of the four fairly mature males we saw, two of them were black and two of them were dark brown – again characteristic of the sables in western Tanzania) -- except at the dinner table. There was plenty of leftover game meat in the refrigerator, thanks to the previous hunting party. It was certainly strange eating sable, my favorite animal. I relayed that experience to my young sons by satellite phone, and they thought I had gone nuts. Sable was better than I thought, but still tough. Reedbuck, on the other hand, was outstanding, rivaling kudu and eland I had on previous safaris to Namibia.

The next to the last morning, we followed the Ugalla River downstream toward the rarely visited western corner of the reserve. On the open floodplain, we came upon a fresh carcass of a young topi. Craig thought it looked like a cheetah or hyena job, although hyenas are rare in Ugalla and cheetahs may not occur there at all. As we left the carcass, one of the trackers in the back of the vehicle yelled out “fisi” (meaning hyena in Kiswahili), pointing toward a large termite mound. In the dappled shade of a borassus palm tree, indeed a hyena-shaped face peered at us. A split second later, my heart began to race as it always does when I see those large, round ears. It was no fisi. It was a wild dog pup. For the next twenty minutes, we would follow the pack composed of four adults and eight pups. Against all odds, somehow these survivors were carving out an existence in this remote hunting reserve.

The last morning was a sad one. What is it about East Africa that tugs at your heart? Whenever people ask me what the difference is between East Africa and Southern Africa, I always answer “Southern Africa fulfills you – you feel like you were in absolute paradise; East Africa breaks your heart”. Unlike the end of my previous safaris though, I absolutely knew I would be back again -- soon. I also knew that when I got back home, I would spread the word (in formats such as this site) about the special places in East Africa that need our patronage. For every sad story like Nairobi National Park (see Part I of my trip report in a separate thread), there were two successful stories like Campi ya Kanzi and Meru, but places such as those constantly need the tourist revenues. Late morning, waving goodbye to the game scout, the trackers and camp staff of Ugalla, heart-broken but completely satisfied with the trip, with a picture of my lovely wife and children in my head, I stepped into the waiting Cessna Caravan and headed north toward civilization.

Read the full Trip report by Safaridude


National Parks Wed, 25 Oct 2006 12:55:00 +0000
Udzungwa Mountains National Park

Udzungwa Mountains National Park

Brooding and primeval, the forests of Udzungwa seem positively enchanted: a verdant refuge of sunshine-dappled glades enclosed by 30-metre (100 foot) high trees, their buttresses layered with fungi, lichens, mosses and ferns.

Udzungwa is the largest and most biodiverse of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, this archipelago of isolated massifs has also been dubbed the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly the delicate African violet.

Udzungwa alone among the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc has been accorded national park status. It is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 250 metres (820 feet) to above 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) without interruption.

Not a conventional game viewing destination, Udzungwa is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges 170 metres (550 feet) through a misty spray into the forested valley below.

The more challenging two-night Mwanihana Trail leads to the high plateau, with its panoramic views over surrounding sugar plantations, before ascending to Mwanihana peak, the second-highest point in the range.

Ornithologists are attracted to Udzungwa for an avian wealth embracing more than 400 species, from the lovely and readily-located green-headed oriole to more than a dozen secretive Eastern Arc endemics.

Four bird species are peculiar to Udzungwa, including a forest partridge first discovered in 1991 and more closely related to an Asian genus than to any other African fowl.

Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey both occur nowhere else in the world – the latter, remarkably, remained undetected by biologists prior to 1979.

Undoubtedly, this great forest has yet to reveal all its treasures: ongoing scientific exploration will surely add to its diverse catalogue of endemics.

About Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Size: 1,990 sq km (770 sq miles).
Location: Five hours (350 km/215 miles) from Dar es Salaam; 65 kms (40 miles) southwest of Mikumi.

Getting there
Drive from Dar es Salaam or Mikumi National Park.

What to do
From a two-hour hike to the waterfall to camping safaris.
Combine with nearby Mikumi or en route to Ruaha.

When to go
Possible year round although slippery in the rains.
The dry season is June-October before the short rains but be prepared for rain anytime.

Camping inside the park.
Bring all food and supplies.
Two modest but comfortable lodges with en-suite rooms within 1km of the park entrance.


National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 13:03:00 +0000
Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park

Day after day of cloudless skies.

The fierce sun sucks the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shrivelled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometres knowing that here, always, there is water.

Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the shrinking lagoons. It's the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem - a smorgasbord for predators – and the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.

During the rainy season, the seasonal visitors scatter over a 20,000 sq km (12,500 sq miles) range until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls once more. But Tarangire's mobs of elephant are easily encountered, wet or dry.

The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.

On drier ground you find the Kori bustard, the heaviest flying bird; the stocking-thighed ostrich, the world's largest bird; and small parties of ground hornbills blustering like turkeys.

More ardent bird-lovers might keep an eye open for screeching flocks of the dazzlingly colourful yellow-collared lovebird, and the somewhat drabber rufous-tailed weaver and ashy starling – all endemic to the dry savannah of north-central Tanzania.

Disused termite mounds are often frequented by colonies of the endearing dwarf mongoose, and pairs of red-and-yellow barbet, which draw attention to themselves by their loud, clockwork-like duetting.

Tarangire's pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards, lounging in the branches where the fruit of the sausage tree disguises the twitch of a tail.

About Tarangire National Park
Size: 2,600 sq km (1,005 sq miles).
Location: 118 km (75 miles) southwest of Arusha.

Getting there
Easy drive from Arusha or Lake Manyara following a surfaced road to within 7km (four miles) of the main entrance gate; can continue on to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.
Charter flights from Arusha and the Serengeti.

What to do
Guided walking safaris.
Day trips to Maasai and Barabaig villages, as well as to the hundreds of ancient rock paintings in the vicinity of Kolo on the Dodoma Road.

When to go
Year round but dry season (June - September) for sheer numbers of animals.

One lodge, one tented lodge, one luxury tented camp inside the park, another half-dozen exclusive lodges and tented camps immediately outside its borders.
Camp sites in and around the park.

National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 13:01:00 +0000
Saadani National Park

PROPOSED Saadani National Park

Palm trees sway in a cooling oceanic breeze. White sand and blue water sparkle alluringly beneath the tropical sun. Traditional dhows sail slowly past, propelled by billowing white sails, while Swahili fishermen cast their nets below a brilliant red sunrise.

Saadani is where the beach meets the bush. The only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa to boast an Indian Ocean beachfront, it possesses all the attributes that make Tanzania’s tropical coastline and islands so popular with European sun-worshippers. Yet it is also the one place where those idle hours of sunbathing might be interrupted by an elephant strolling past, or a lion coming to drink at the nearby waterhole!

Protected as a game reserve since the 1960s, in 2002 it was expanded to cover twice its former area. The reserve suffered greatly from poaching prior to the late 1990s, but recent years have seen a marked turnaround, due to a concerted clampdown on poachers, based on integrating adjacent villages into the conservation drive.

Today, a surprisingly wide range of grazers and primates is seen on game drives and walks, among them giraffe, buffalo, warthog, common waterbuck, reedbuck, hartebeest, wildebeest, red duiker, greater kudu, eland, sable antelope, yellow baboon and vervet monkey.

Herds of up to 30 elephants are encountered with increasing frequency, and several lion prides are resident, together with leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed jackal. Boat trips on the mangrove-lined Wami River come with a high chance of sighting hippos, crocodiles and a selection of marine and riverine birds, including the mangrove kingfisher and lesser flamingo, while the beaches form one of the last major green turtle breeding sites on mainland Tanzania.

About the Proposed Saadani National Park
Size: 1,100 sq km (430 sq miles)
Location: On the north coast, roughly 100km (60 miles) northwest of Dar es Salaam as the crow flies, and a similar distance southwest of the port of Tanga.

How to get there
Charter flight from Zanzibar or Dar es Salaamwith possibility of scheduled flights in the future.
Thrice-weekly road shuttle from Dar es Salaam, taking four hours in either direction.
No road access from Dar es Salaam along the coast – follow the surfaced Moshi road for 160km (100 miles), then 60km (36 miles) on dirt.
Road access from Tanga and Pangani except after heavy rain. 4x4 required.

What to do
Game drives and guided walks.
Boat trips. Swimming.
Visit Saadani fishing village, which lies within the reserve, where a collection of ruins pays testament to its 19th century heyday as a major trading port.

When to go
Generally accessible all-year round, but the access roads are sometimes impassable during April and May.
The best game-viewing is in January and February and from June to August.

One luxury tented camp.
Campsites planned.


National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 12:59:00 +0000
Rubondo Island National Park

Rubondo Island National Park

A pair of fish eagles guards the gentle bay, their distinctive black, white and chestnut feather pattern gleaming boldly in the morning sun. Suddenly, the birds toss back their heads in a piercing, evocative duet. On the sandbank below, a well-fed monster of a crocodile snaps to life, startled from its nap. It stampedes through the crunchy undergrowth, crashing into the water in front of the boat, invisible except for a pair of sentry-post eyes that peek menacingly above the surface to monitor our movements.

Rubondo Island is tucked in the southwest corner of Lake Victoria, the world's second-largest lake, an inland sea sprawling between Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. With nine smaller islands under its wing, Rubondo protects precious fish breeding grounds.

Tasty tilapia form the staple diet of the yellow-spotted otters that frolic in the island’s rocky coves, while rapacious Nile perch, some weighing more than 100kg, tempt recreational game fishermen seeking world record catches.

Rubondo is more than a water wonderland. Deserted sandy beaches nestle against a cloak of virgin forest, where dappled bushbuck move fleet yet silent through a maze of tamarinds, wild palms, and sycamore figs strung with a cage of trailing taproots.

The shaggy-coated aquatic sitatunga, elsewhere the most elusive of antelopes, is remarkably easily observed, not only in the papyrus swamps it normally inhabits, but also in the forest interior.
Birds are everywhere.

Flocks of African grey parrots – released onto the island after they were confiscated from illegal exporters – screech in comic discord as they flap furiously between the trees.

The azure brilliance of a malachite kingfisher perched low on the reeds competes with the glamorous, flowing tail of a paradise flycatcher as it flits through the lakeshore forest. Herons, storks and spoonbills proliferate in the swampy lake fringes, supplemented by thousands of Eurasian migrants during the northern winter.

Wild jasmine, 40 different orchids and a smorgasbord of sweet, indefinable smells emanate from the forest.

Ninety percent of the park is humid forest; the remainder ranges from open grassland to lakeside papyrus beds.

A number of indigenous mammal species - hippo, vervet monkey, genet and mongoose - share their protected habitat with introduced species such as chimpanzee, black-and-white colobus, elephant and giraffe, all of which benefit from Rubondo's inaccessibility.

About Rubondo Island National Park
Size: 240 sq km (93 sq miles).
Location: Northwest Tanzania, 150 km (95 miles) west of Mwanza.

Getting there
Scheduled flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Mwanza in peak season, charter flights only in low season.
By road from Mwanza and then boat transfer. Contact the Park for transport details.

What to do
Walking safaris, boat excursions, sport fishing, chimpanzee treks, plans for canoe trips.

When to go
Dry season, June-August. Wildflowers and butterflies
Wet season November-March. December- February best for migratory birds.

One luxury tented camp, park bandas and campsite.


National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 12:58:00 +0000
Ruaha National Park

Ruaha National Park

The game viewing starts the moment the plane touches down. A giraffe races beside the airstrip, all legs and neck, yet oddly elegant in its awkwardness. A line of zebras parades across the runway in the giraffe's wake.

In the distance, beneath a bulbous baobab tree, a few representatives of Ruaha's 10,000 elephants - the largest population of any East African national park, form a protective huddle around their young.

Second only to Katavi in its aura of untrammelled wilderness, but far more accessible, Ruaha protects a vast tract of the rugged, semi-arid bush country that characterises central Tanzania. Its lifeblood is the Great Ruaha River, which courses along the eastern boundary in a flooded torrent during the height of the rains, but dwindling thereafter to a scattering of precious pools surrounded by a blinding sweep of sand and rock.

A fine network of game-viewing roads follows the Great Ruaha and its seasonal tributaries, where , during the dry season, impala, waterbuck and other antelopes risk their life for a sip of life-sustaining water. And the risk is considerable: not only from the prides of 20-plus lion that lord over the savannah, but also from the cheetahs that stalk the open grassland and the leopards that lurk in tangled riverine thickets. This impressive array of large predators is boosted by both striped and spotted hyena, as well as several conspicuous packs of the highly endangered African wild dog.

Ruaha's unusually high diversity of antelope is a function of its location, which is transitional to the acacia savannah of East Africa and the miombo woodland belt of Southern Africa. Grant's gazelle and lesser kudu occur here at the very south of their range, alongside the miombo-associated sable and roan antelope, and one of East AfricaÆs largest populations of greater kudu, the park emblem, distinguished by the male's magnificent corkscrew horns.

A similar duality is noted in the checklist of 450 birds: the likes of crested barbet, an attractive yellow-and-black bird whose persistent trilling is a characteristic sound of the southern bush, occur in Ruaha alongside central Tanzanian endemics such as the yellow-collared lovebird and ashy starling.

About Ruaha National Park
Size: 10,300 sq km (3,980 sq miles), Tanzania's 2nd biggest park.
Location: Central Tanzania, 128km (80 miles) west of Iringa.

Getting there
Scheduled and/or charter flights from Dar es Salaam, Selous, Serengeti, Arusha, Iringa and Mbeya.
Year-round road access through Iringa from Dar es Salaam (about 10 hours) via Mikumi or from Arusha via Dodoma.

What to do
Day walks or hiking safaris through untouched bush.
Stone age ruins at Isimila, near Iringa, 120 km (75 miles) away, one of Africa's most important historical sites .

Best time
For predators and large mammals, dry season (mid-May-December);
bird-watching, lush scenery and wildflowers, wet season (January-April).
The male greater kudu is most visible in June, the breeding season.

Riverside lodge;
three dry season tented camps;
self-catering bandas, two campsites;
Ruaha Hill Top Lodge

National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 12:57:00 +0000
Mikumi National Park

Mikumi National Park

Swirls of opaque mist hide the advancing dawn. The first shafts of sun colour the fluffy grass heads rippling across the plain in a russet halo. A herd of zebras, confident in their camouflage at this predatory hour, pose like ballerinas, heads aligned and stripes merging in flowing motion.

Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa's biggest game reserve - the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre (47,000 square mile) tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.

The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centrepiece of Mikumi, draw frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.

Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes, during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favoured also by Mikumi's elephants.

Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders.

More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colourful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated longclaw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of waterbirds.

About Mikumi National Park
Size: 3,230 sq km (1,250 sq miles), the fourth-largest park in Tanzania, and part of a much larger ecosystem centred on the uniquely vast Selous Game Reserve.
Location: 283 km (175 miles) west of Dar es Salaam, north of Selous, and en route to Ruaha, Udzungwa and (for the intrepid) Katavi.

How to get there
A good surfaced road connects Mikumi to Dar es Salaam via Morogoro, a roughly 4 hour drive.
Also road connections to Udzungwa, Ruaha and (dry season only) Selous.
Charter flight from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Selous. Local buses run from Dar to park HQ where game drives can be arranged.

What to do
Game drives and guided walks. Visit nearby Udzungwa or travel on to Selous or Ruaha.

When to go
Accessible year round.

Two lodges, two luxury tented camps, three campsites.
Guest houses in Mikumi town on the park border.


National Parks Sat, 29 Jul 2006 12:56:00 +0000