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Tanzania’s National Parks and Game Reserves

Arusha National Park

Arusha National Park is the closet national park to Arusha town (36 miles to the park gate) situated at the foot of Mount Meru, east of Arusha town. Arusha National park comprises 85 square miles of pristine wilderness and has a diverse topography that can catch your eyes and heart. The park is divided into three distinct areas: Ngurdoto Crater, the Momella Lakes and the rugged Mt Meru and ranges in altitudes between 4,950 feet up to 14,850 at Mount Meru. Ngurdoto Crater is surrounded by forest whilst the crater floor is a swampy area. The Momella lakes, like many in the Rift Valley, are alkaline, while Mt Meru is a mixture of lush forest and bare rocks. Associated with these different vegetation zones are different types of mammal species and outstanding bird life we are less likely to find elsewhere. Both migratory and residents water birds settle on the lakes, waterbuck and reedbuck are found near water, while bushbuck and duikers easily glimpsed between ancient cedar trees. Some of the nicest surprises are the black and white Colobus monkey as well as the Blue or Sykes monkey climbing along the branches in the forested areas. Within this wide range of habitats over 411 species of birds have been recorded in the park, including some forest species such as the silvery-cheeked hornbill and Hartlaub’sTuraco as well as the Narina and Bar-Tailed Trogons. Lake Longil is abundant with tilapia, attracting many fish eagles for feeding. Crowned eagle, Fischer’s Lovebirds and Chestnut-banded plovers and the more threatened Maccoa duck are often see in the park. More than 45 species alone can often be seen at the series of Momela Lakes. Other mammal species in evidence are elephants, giraffe (largest concentration of giraffes), hippos, buffalo, leopards, hyena, zebra and a wide range of antelopes. Predators are not easily seen and there are few in the park, but giraffe can be seen very close to the vehicles.

Katavi National Park

Tanzania’s third largest national park,comprise 4,471sq km ( 1,727 sq miles ), it lies in the remote southwest of the country. Katavi is a true wilderness providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Accommodation, the famous ChadaKatavi Tented Camp at chada area, The camp has 6 traditional double safari tents with spectacular views, complete privacy and pampered care.Other camps are, Katuma camp at katsunga plains, Palahala camp at kapapa river and Katavi wildlife (Fox) camp at ikuu.. The park is famous for large herds of buffalo, roan and sable antelopes, elephants, leopards and lion prides. The park remains outstanding for birding of all kinds.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is 80 miles from Arusha town. It is a small park of only 130 square miles and 80 square miles consists of the soda lake. Manyara is bordered by the western wall of the Great Rift Valley (3,150 feet altitude) and the shallow alkaline Lake Manyara. The park derives its name from the Maasai word “manyara” which is a species of Euphorbia plant used to build the Maasai stockades for their cattle and goats. Lake Manyara National Park is notable for elephants, hippos tree-climbing lions. Actually, it is quite hard to see tree-climbing lions in Lake Manyara, due to the brush and woodland. The behavior of lions climbing trees was first observed in this park, but lions do climb trees in Tarangire and the Serengeti as well. The park was first made famous by the elephant researcher Ian Douglas Hamilton and Manyara was established specifically to protect the elephants herds. This park has the highest density of elephants boasting 7 elephants per square kilometer. Manyara is a birding paradise more than 400 species are resident all year round. The species include a large variety of hornbill species including the huge and colorful ground hornbill, pied kingfisher, white and pink-backed pelicans, hamerkop, crowned eagle, long-crested eagle and a lovely variety of bee-eaters, sunbirds and whydah birds. The park is also known for its large troops of baboons and the famous Hippo Pool also providing over 40 species of waterfowl in the area. Lake Manyara is an excellent park to visit during the green season (November-June), but many of the mammals migrate to Tarangire during the dry season (July-October) for the water in the Tarangire River.

Loliondo Game Management Area

The Serengeti eco-system is much larger than just Serengeti National Park. The park is actually just the center of a vast natural ecosystem, which includes the area known as Loliondo, or more specifically, the Loliondo Game Management Area. Loliondo encompasses a vast area, from the north to the south, along the eastern border of Serengeti National Park. Although it is part of the Serengeti ecosystem, it is not subject to the same rules and regulations of the National Park system. This offers many benefits to visitors because there is more freedom of activities here, such as night drives, escorted walking safaris, and more authentic interactions with the Maasai. This magnificent area contains breathtaking scenery and a vast diversity of landscapes, including beautiful mountains, deep gorges, rivers, acacia and riverine woodlands, rolling hills and lush valleys, grassy plains dotted with rocky outcrops, and even a volcano (OlDonynoLengai). There is abundant resident game which enjoys the region’s many waterholes and river areas, as well as seasonal migratory herds, which pass Loliondo areas on the trek to the southern plains. Visitors who are here when the herds decide to cross the Mara River are in for a memorable sight, as thousands of wildebeest and zebra swim for their lives while crocodiles lie in wait for them to try to make this very dangerous crossing.In addition to the luxury of being able to enjoy walking safaris and night drives, visitors also enjoy the fact that there are fewer tourists in this more remote region of Tanzania. People who venture here experience a more private and intimate experience with the wildlife, and people who live in this spectacular region. Wild dogs have been populating this area as well, but they remain highly endangered. The population fluctuates but continues to survive, despite the threats from local pastoralist who have killed the dogs to protect their livestock. There are areas in northern and southern Loliondo that the wild dogs use for their dens when they have puppies, but they remain an elusive find.

Mahale National Park

Mahale National Park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in all of Africa, with crystal clear blue waters, sandy beaches and the impressive forested Mahale Mountains. This park was only gazetted in 1985 and has been slowly developed in the last 20 years, making it a haven from the tourist routes. Mahale also boasts 8 other primate species, including the yellow baboon, the red colobus, blue monkeys, red-tailed and velvet monkeys as well. Black and white colobus are found in the park but are a bit more elusive. Two species of galagos are more nocturnal and a rare find. Mahale also provides good mammal viewing with elephant, lion, wild dog, roan antelope, buffalo and giraffe.

Mkomazi National Park

East of the Pare Mountains, Mkomazi falls along the edge of semi-arid savanna that stretches from Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park. Mkomazi officially became a national park in 2005, after being designated as a Game Reserve since 1951. The park encompasses over 1200 square miles. In 1988, with Mkomazi on the brink of ecological disaster due to overgrazing, burning, indiscriminate hunting and poaching, the Tanzania government initiated a program of habitat rehabilitation and endangered species reintroduction, with the goal of re-establishing a viable ecosystem directly linked to Tsavo. As part of this plan, in 1989, the government asked the Tony Fitzjohn/George Adamson African Wildlife Preservation Trust to work in partnership to rehabilitate the reserve. Tony Fitzjohn created the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary and has attempted to breed and reintroduce wild dogs to the area. Other mammals found in the park include elephant, zebra, lion, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, buffalo, jackal, aardwolf and lesser kudu. There are 78 species of mammals in the park and more than 450 recorded species of birds. Of particular interest is the tall, slender-necked Gerenuk which stands on their hind legs to stretch for leaves of thorny bushes and trees. Gerenuk can survive in arid lands where other antelopes cannot. This is one of the only parks in Tanzania were Gerenuk can be found.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater is the jewel located within the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The NCA was the world’s first multi-purpose land use area with the goal to host not only tourism, research and conservation efforts, but also to allow local pastoralists access to ancestral grazing land and to protect explore archeological sites for early hominid discoveries. Within this large area, defined as from the Ngorongoro Forest in the Karatu region all the way to the Serengeti, lies Ngorongoro Crater – one of seven World Heritage Sites designated in Tanzania and the world’s largest intact and unflooded caldera. This means the entire rim of the old volcano is intact. The Crater is only 12 miles wide and 100 square miles in total with the floor at an elevation of 5,600 feet and the rim of the Crater walls reaching another 2,000 feet in elevation. The Crater floor provides six distinct habitats: acacia forest, swamp, short -grass, long grass, riverine and woodland. Each habitat attracts a variety of animals. The Crater is home to almost 30,000 animals in an area naturally enclosed by the slopes of the volcano. Despite the high walls of the Crater, approximately 20% of the herd animals do migrate in and out. However, the lion population remains rather steady between 55-65 individuals. The lions of the Crater lack genetic diversity because new males do not venture down in the Crater to challenge the males of these in-bred prides. Ngorongoro Crater boasts the highest density of hyena in any location in Africa. The Crater is one of the best locations for viewing black rhino and the huge old bull elephants. There is not enough vegetation or shade to support the large cow and calf herds, but the old males “retire” to the Crater for the wonderful swamp grass and acacia forest. The only animals you will not see in the Crater are the impala and giraffe. It is not known why impala do not inhabit the Crater, but giraffe are unable to descend the steep grade without lowering their heads, which raises their blood pressure to dangerous levels. Birding in the Crater is a delight, with over 500 recorded species and an ease in exploring different habitats all within rather close range of each other. Look for the golden-winged and Tacazze sunbirds, Rufoustailed weaver, Jackson’s widow bird and pallid harrier, as well as the grey-crested Helmut shrike and the beautiful crowned cranes.

Ruaha National Park

Ruaha National Park is Tanzania’s largest national park extending 13,750 square miles of wooded hills and open plains. In fact, Ruaha is the largest national park in all of Africa. The park was granted full park status in 1964 and was originally part of the Rungwa Game Reserve. It is located in a unique transition zone, where East & Southern African fauna and flora overlap and with its vast, unspoiled wilderness, protecting a variety of species virtually unequaled in East Africa. Ruaha is often considered the country’s best-kept game viewing secret with few tourist venturing to the park. The dominant geographical feature of the park is the Ruaha River in the southeast area of the park, flowing for 100 miles. Ruaha has a very hot and dry climate and you should be prepared for very early morning game drives with rest time back at the camp during the heat of the day. Animals are impacted by the heat and often will find cooler shady places to rest during the heat of the day as well. Daytime temperatures at this time of the year are typically in the upper 90’s and low 100s, but it cools down considerably at night. This particularly dry time of the year allows for some better game viewing, as the grass is low and easier to find predators, including wild dogs. Tanzania has the largest population of wild dogs in Africa, with over 1000 individuals recorded between Ruaha and the Selous. The Mwagusi River often is the territory for one large pack of wild dogs in particular. However, be prepared that the dogs remain difficult to find as they travel huge distances to hunt and the parks are very large. In addition to wild dog, Ruaha provides opportunities to see the beautiful greater kudu, roan and sable antelopes. The sable in particular prefers the higher ground along the ridge, also a favorite habitat for the tsetse fly. We recommend patience and a good fly swatter! These tsetses do not carry sleeping sickness, but have a difficult bite. Ruaha is also famous for its large elephant herds, numbering more than 10,000 individuals migrating through the park. This is the largest population in any Tanzanian park. The park has 571recorded species of birds with an interesting mix of northern and southern species. There are substantial populations of black-collared love birds and one of the few locations to hopefully see the crested barbet. Raptors are abundant with many bataleur and fish eagles throughout the park.

Saadani National Park

Saadani is the most recent addition to the vast national park system of Tanzania. It is East Africa’s only coastal wildlife reserve and offers the opportunity to see big game and bird life interacting with the sea. Geographically, Saadani falls under the East Africa coastal forest zone and became a national park only in 2003. The park is about 736 square miles. It is located 45 miles north of Bagamoyo and south of Pangani region. Currently, there are less than 1000 visitors per year. Activities in the park include game drives, boat safaris, walking safaris and bird watching. Big game inside the park include giraffe, buffalo, reedbuck, waterbuck, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, baboon, python, elephant(about 50 individuals recorded), hippos, Nile monitor lizards and crocodiles in the Wami River, black and white colobus monkey, blue monkey and tremendous bird life. Lion, leopard, hyena eland and yellow baboon can be found in the park, but not in large numbers. For a small park, the variety of eco-systems is impressive and this is the only location in the itinerary to learn about mangrove environments. Saadani also includes a green turtle-nesting site at Madete on the beach. Indigenous species include Liechtenstein’s hartebeest and the Roosevelt sable. There are a number of bird species in the Saadani eco-system that have a small distribution range. These birds are dependent upon the habitat that ranges from the sea to saline flats, open grassland, savanna and forest. Prominent acacia-savanna birds include lilac-breasted roller, weavers, fork-tailed Drongo, grey hornbill, ring-necked dove and grey-headed sparrow. Several species of bee-eaters are abundant in Saadani and the southern Ground Hornbill is numerous. Truly aquatic waders such as yellow-billed stork, grey heron, little egret, water dikkop and various species of sandpiper and kingfisher are common along the shore and banks of rivers. In terms of vegetation, Saadani offers four distinct areas – coastal forest, forest-savanna, mangroves and plantations. The vegetation in the coastal forest is under severe threat from expanding agricultural development and the cutting of trees for charcoal. The forest-savanna is dominated by palm grasslands, especially Hyphanae palms. Given the importance of mangroves to prawn fishing communities along the Saadani coastline, protecting the trees is a critical conservation issue. The type of vegetation in the plantations encompasses “exotics” or non-indigenous vegetation such as coconut plantations, mango trees, eucalyptus, Mvinje trees and Opuntia-a weedy cactus.

Nyerere National Park, former Selous Game Reserve

Selous Game Reserve is the largest protected wilderness area in Africa and indeed in the world. It is 21,100 square miles and the majority of land is reserved for hunting blocks . The park was originally gazetted by the German colonial government in 1905 and was renamed by the British after World War I when Germany lost the war. The park has undergone a number of changes and was originally created for hunters who were attracted to the huge elephant herds of southern Tanzania. After independence, Tanzania’s first President, Julius Nyerere, placed a high priority on conservation and protection of wildlife and expanded the Selous Game Reserve to its present boundaries. The primary purpose of the Reserve was for hunting and it was not until the late 1960s that a small area in the northern part of the Reserve was allocated for safari tourism. There are a total of 47 hunting blocks that have been allocated over the years, and 4 of these blocks are now reserved for safari tourism. So, although the Reserve is huge, it is a smaller area that is open for safari. Approximately 2,500 square miles in the northern “photographic” zone are dedicated to tourism. This is a little less than half the size of the Serengeti National Park. The primary difference between a national park and a game reserve is that hunting is allowed in reserves and prohibited in national parks. The majority of the income from this Reserve comes from hunting and is an important source of revenue for the government. The attractions of the Selous are its more remote location, fewer tourists, the ability to do game walks and boat safaris on the Rufiji River. The River has an incredible number of crocodiles, hippos and elephants. The Selous has the largest population of elephants in any protected area in Africa. In 1976, the elephant census was 110,000. Poaching and habitat destruction caused the herd to decrease to 30,000 by 1989. With increased anti-poaching efforts, the population in 2008 was back to 67,000 individuals. This accounts for over 50% of all the elephants in Tanzania. Elephants are rarely seen in large herds in the Selous, but rather in smaller groups led by matriarchs. The Selous also has the world’s largest population of wild dogs, estimate in recent surveys as high as 1,000 individuals. Ruaha NP has the second largest population of wild dog in Africa. However, due to the size of the reserve, it is often still hard to spot the wild dogs. The Selous is a birder’s paradise with more than 430 recorded species that have been positively identified in the Reserve.

Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park, recognized as a World Heritage Site, is one of the most famous wildlife areas in the world and is considered the world’s oldest protected eco-system. Serengeti National Park, as we know it today, was gazetted in 1951, but a smaller area first received protection between 1921-29, by the British to prevent decimation of the lion population from hunting. The park itself is 5,700 square miles, but the more extensive Serengeti eco-system is over 9,600 square miles of protected land from Ngorongoro all the way to Loliondo and Kenya (the smaller Maasai Mara) and including the Maswa Game Reserve on the southern boundary of the park. The Serengeti is the largest national park in Tanzania, with a staggering animal population of almost four million and 523 recorded species of birds! It is the largest wildlife sanctuary in the world and the site of one of the most breathtaking events in animal kingdom-the migration of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and another 400,000 zebra. The area consists of treeless central plain, savannah dotted with acacia and granite outcroppings called kopjes, and riverine bush and forest in the north. The park’s name is derived from the Maasai language “SIRINGET” which means endless plains. The famous “Migration” that people dream to experience, is actually a dynamic process taking a full year to complete. There are different ‘events’ that happen during the year and in different locations in this park. There are two primary “seasons” in the Serengeti. They are the green season and the dry season. During the green season (November-June), there are short periods of rain usually at night and in the late afternoon. During this time, the wildebeest and zebra herds leave the northern part of the Serengeti and travel east and south into the short grass plain of the central, southern and eastern Serengeti. The herd traditionally splits into two distinct migratory routes, with pregnant females and dominant males moving directly south, through the Seronera area and onward to the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti. The bachelor males move easterly around the Gol Mountains and then south through the Gol Pass, the Gol Kopjes and onto the southern plains. The female wildebeest need to be in this area to begin the calving, as they rely on this particular kind of grass for calving and milk production, that is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Wildebeest calving can begin anytime between January-March. More than 750,000 females will drop their calves within a 3-week period of time, so predator/prey activity is at a peak. The short grass plains also offer some of the best protection against predators, as they are more visible to the herd animals. Herd animals will remain in this area as long as there is decent rain that continues in the following months, although they only need short bursts of rain to be happy. The wildebeest rut, or re-breeding of the herd, usually begins near the full moon in April and last through the month of May and sometimes into June depending upon when the rut began. At this time the herd usually begins to move to the Central Serengeti but will travel large distances still following the best grazing and water. These are some of the most amazing herd sightings, as the male and females herd reunite for breeding. The herd movement continues both west and north between May usually to the end of July. At this point, the herd disperses a bit and males without females may migrate directly north to the Mara and some may move to the famous Western Corridor and remain year round in the Serengeti. During the dry season (July-Oct), we recommend significant time in the northern Serengeti to have the opportunity to witness river crossings. The majority of the wildebeest and zebra herds (65%) remain in the Serengeti all year round and often are seen in the areas of Lobo Valley, Bologonja and Kogatende, where grazing remains excellent. Herds now cross over the Mara River multiple times during the dry season and remain in the area until the short rains signal it is time to move onward. The area of the central Serengeti is a location to be enjoyed all year round, because of the large cat populations. Cats do not migrate with the herds, so during the dry season they are actually more actively searching for dwindling food sources. The Serengeti has the largest population of lions (3,200) inn all of Africa, primarily due to the abundance of food. We always recommend spending time in at least two locations in the Serengeti to maximize your wildlife viewing in this huge and spectacular park.

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is often referred to as the “Baobab Capital of the World”. The park is 75 miles from Arusha, which is approximately a 2-hour drive on a tarmac road and is one of Tanzania’s larger parks with over 1,100 square miles in size. Tarangire is renowned for its wild landscapes and diverse habitats. The Tarangire River, from which the park derives its name, is the only permanent water source within 1,600 square miles of protected wildlife area. In addition to numerous animals, the park has over 550 recorded species of birds and has the highest recorded number of breeding bird species of any habitat in the world. Tarangire is most famous for its elephants. There are 3,000 resident elephants in the park during the green season (Nov-May) and another 3,500 individuals migrate into the park during the dry season ( July-Oct). Elephants can begin to migrate into Tarangire as early as May and June as they follow the long rains and love the tall swamp grass found in Tarangire National Park and especially in the swamps. Elephant watching is excellent in Tarangire all year round as is bird watching as well. During the dry season, herd animals of all kinds (elephants, wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and antelopes) migrate from the surrounding areas for the water found inside the park. Tarangire is home to the greatest concentration of wildlife outside of the Serengeti eco-System. During the dry season, giant rock pythons leave the swamp areas to avoid being stepped on by herd animals and live in the trees on the edge of the swamp. These are amazing creatures and some of the most unusual wildlife viewing is of rock pythons killing large animals of all kinds! Tarangire is also home to the last remaining pack of wild dogs in northern Tanzania. They remain an extremely elusive find, but in the last few years one pack has been breeding successfully and has been seen in the Silale and Gursi Swamp areas of the park.

Usambara Mountains

The Usambara Mountains are a beautiful series of mountain ranges between Moshi (Mount Kilimanjaro region) and Tanga region in the east. The range is approximately 70 miles long and ranges 20-40 miles in width and is typically divided into West Usambara and East Usambara. Mountains in the range rise as high as 8,000 feet. They are home to an unspoiled tropical forest that is rare in East Africa and of great ecological interest. The valuable ecology of the Usambara is seeking increasing protection by conservation organizations and some donor countries like Norway. The tropical forests are home to endemic bird species including the Naduk eagle owl (Bubo vosseleri), the UsambaraAkalat (Sheppardiamontana), Amani sunbird, green-headed oriole, southern banded snake eagle and the Usambara weaver (Ploceusnicolli). Forest species that are endemic to the Usambara Mountains include the tree Calodendrumeickii. In addition to learning about the conservation needs of this mountain range and doing some spectacular birding, there are ample opportunities for hiking with stunning viewpoints over the forested mountains. The surrounding region was among the first to be settled in East Africa in 1902 by European farmers, especially German farmers. The nearby town of Amani was a popular German resort for many years in colonial times. Much of the mountain areas are used in the production of coffee, sisal, tea and some species of rice grown in the swampy foothills. The East Usambara Mountains are home to over 30 species of reptiles found nowhere else, 50 tree species and is home to the largest number of species of African Violets.