South from Kilimanjaro – Amani Nature Reserve

12th March 2013

Amani Nature Reserve

The German colonial government soon realised the rich potential of this mountain region for growing crops, and although the coffee plantations in this region were not terribly successful, they had far greater rewards from plantations of sisal, tobacco, and spices. Their environmental studies developed the Arboretum at Lushoto, and they soon became aware of the unusual density of wildlife in the Western Usambara Range. In 1902, thirteen forest reserves were surveyed and gazetted, including 8,380ha at the Amani Nature reserve north of Muheza. This incorporates 1.065 ha now owned by private tea companies managed by the East Usambara Tea Company and the Amani Botanical Garden, one of the largest of its kind in Africa. A large number of indigenous species were left rooted, and over 1,000 species of exotic trees were imported from foreign climes. Many of these can still be identified by their ancient metal nameplates, still legible if a little dusty, but the botanical garden is now extremely overgrown and large areas are remain impenetrable. Walking paths that have been cleared enough to enjoy run from the top of the hill near to the Rest House and Research Centre, a steep climb by all accounts, even in a tough 4×4 vehicle in which you will be inundated by tea plantation workers desperate for a lift.

The Research centre was officially closed during World War II, although it made a contribution to the war effort in devising quinine from the local cinchona tree. When the British finally had time to invest in area after the war they planted 2,200 hectares of tea plantations in cultivated regions and built a hydroelectric power station, the remnants of which can still be seen. They reopened in 1953 the research centre with the emphasis only on Agriculture, and then moved this department to Kenya in 1961 and it finally became a centre for Malaria Research, and remains so to this day.

Despite concerted efforts to regenerate this resource for tourists today the Botanical Gardens and Forest Reserve still remain sorely under developed in this respect. The old German stationmaster’s house, dating from between 1905 and 1910 has been beautifully restored and converted into a fine Information Centre for the reserve. Plans are afoot to develop maps and a guidebook for visitors, although these were not available at the latter end of 1999.