July 2015

July 17, 2015

Katavi National Park

Thirty-one years after his first visit, Andrew Sharp returns to Katavi National Park, in the remote far west of Tanzania, to see if it still has the same magic

HR-Sharp-VehicleIt was June 1983. My wife and I were young, venturesome and travelling from Zimbabwe to Uganda in a Land Rover that was scarred from the Rhodesian war years and weighted with mine-proof steel plates bolted to the footwells. The road north through remote western Tanzania was deeply rutted, dusty and deserted, and for six hours we ground our lonely way past miles of miombo woodland whose dry leaves seemed primed to catch fire in the heat.

Inside the vehicle we sweltered, with the windows shut to prevent an invasion by the tsetse flies swarming furiously around the spare wheel on the bonnet. There was no air con in those days. As evening approached, exhausted and drained, we looked for a place to camp and turned off the road onto a faint, narrow track.

We ascended a low hill, but there was no let up in the thorn scrub. It seemed most unpromising. Little did we know that we were about to stumble upon one of the most alluring places in Africa.

We crested a sandy ridge and came to a standstill, stunned by the sight that opened up before us: a vast open expanse stretching to the horizon, verdantly green and threaded with silver waterways, streaked in black by huge herds of buffalo and liberally humped with hippos and elephants, all under a soft, pinking sky. We had arrived at Katavi, one of three floodplains that form Katavi National Park, the third largest in Tanzania.

Later, watered and cool, and breathing in the honeysuckle scent of nearby mahogany blossom, we lay in our little tent listening to the stealthy army of hippos grazing all around us. Out on the dark plain, under the bright constellations, lions rocked the night with their roars and hyenas yodelled. It was probable that we were at least a hundred miles from any other human being. This, surely, was the wild whose call the nineteenth-century explorers and hunters would have felt. We vowed that one day we would be back.

It took us more than thirty years to fulfil that dream. This time there was no gruelling journey to make. We could now afford to fly in with a safari company, and would be ‘glamping’ rather than crawling into a two-person tent. Despite our comparatively luxurious transport we still caught a sense of Katavi’s remoteness as the Cessna made its way west from Dar es Salaam. En route we landed on dirt airstrips to drop off fellow tourists in Selous Game Reserve (described in guidebooks as ‘remote and wild’) and then in Ruaha National Park (‘even remoter and wilder’), and then flew for another two hours with barely a scar of human habitation below. Still we wondered if our memories of Katavi were rose-tinted or whether our Eden was gone. Three decades is a long time in the modern world.

After the steep Mlele Escarpment on the park’s eastern boundary came into view we descended in a gentle arc, down to the tiny airstrip, our eyes drawn compulsively to the great floodplains spreading north and south. Our safari camp was on the edge of one of the park’s three main mbugas (or ‘marshy plains’) of the 4471 sq km Katisunga, which is, incidentally, larger than Rutland. From our canvas-and-thatch room we gazed out over the plain to distant lines of zebra and giraffe that resembled flotillas of sloops on a wide sea.

In 1983 we had been the only people camping in the park, and even now there are just four permanent tented camps. The network of game-viewing roads is confined mainly to the centre of the park. The south is largely trackless, and passing another safari vehicle is uncommon enough to prompt mutual interest. We explored our wilderness, armed against the flies with Dettol spray, fly whisks, Maasai blankets and smouldering elephant dung in a pot on the back of the four-wheel drive. Katavi isn’t famed just for its insects but also for the huge pods of hippos that crowd the Katuma River. Nothing prepared us for the gloriously thick muck and muddle of such tight presses of the beasts. Stubble-headed marabou storks stood, hunched as always, wobbling their fleshy gular sacs and relieving themselves shamelessly on their hosts. Forced into ever-smaller stretches of dark-brown, glutinous water as the dry season progressed, the hippos grunted and jostled, sharing their pools uneasily with five-metre-long crocodiles.

At night, sitting around the fire at Foxes’ Katavi Wildlife Camp, Nick Greaves (camp manager, writer, photographer and all-round bush expert) traced for us the constellation of Scorpio that arched over the plains like an ancient and wise protector. Katavi abounds with big beasts such as lion, roan antelope, buffalo, elephant and more. But when our guide showed us the clever architecture of a weaver’s nest, we had an overwhelming sense that every single blade of grass in the wide expanses of the park, living and dead, and indeed every invisible bacterium in the dung-enriched earth, every ant, tsetse fly, scorpion, mongoose, sandgrouse, wild sesame, acacia and palm, is vital for the health of the whole ecosystem and its astonishing biodiversity. While tracts of our world such as this remain, there seems hope for the survival of our planet.

Our six days in the park were not long enough to explore its far reaches, but we could not leave without attempting to find our campsite from thirty years before. It’s a two-hour drive from Katisunga to the Katavi plain, travelling first south and then west around the huge floodplain, before finally heading north. There is no convenient shortcut. With our guide, Whiteman, we started early, to avoid the tsetses, and journeyed through beautiful forests of umbrella acacia, ashy-barked marula and then Cape chestnut, their pale branches stretching gracefully upwards into the blue sky. Even the stinging flies could not dampen our mood as we drew closer to our destination.

We finally joined the old main road that we had taken three decades before. It was still dusty and bumpy: that much at least had not changed. The side track was instantly recognisable, though now it was signposted ‘Lake Katavi’, raising our excitement to new levels. Slowly we crested a sandy ridge and — yes! — the same stunning sight, just as we had remembered it, crossed with strands of water, despite it being so late in the dry season. We found the precise spot where we had camped in 1983, recognising the lie of the land and remembering the crackle of the leaves under our groundsheet and the sweet aroma of mahogany blossom.

Soon coffee was served, and we sat and watched waterbuck and baboons sipping from the water channels while a 25-strong herd of male elephants lumbered past.

On the far horizon zebras shimmered in the sunlight. A pair of noisy blacksmith lapwings harassed an African marsh harrier that was hunting for eggs, just as they have done in Katavi for tens of thousands of years. It seemed then that three decades was not such a long time to have left it to come back.

Andrew Sharp and his wife travelled with Africa Odyssey https://www.africaodyssey.com/

Ode to Katavi
The scenery here is spectacular, both in scope and drama. The Katuma River flows into Chada Lake, an amphitheatre framed by the Mlele Escarpment. Wedge-shaped Kipapa Hill stands sentinel over herds of animals that roam the region in a never-ending quest for grazing. And faraway horizons, bruised purple at dusk, remind you that you’re tucked under the western arm of the Great Rift Valley.

Katavi shouldn’t be beautiful — its remoteness and wildness should give it teeth — but with its tamarind trees blushing at the prospect of rain, the marula, terminalia and pod mahogany trees shivering with similar anticipation, the rattle of the parchment fronds of borassus palms and the long pod cassia festooned with sunshine-yellow blooms, it is. Very.

But it’s scorched. Its low elevation means it’s simmering. You can hear it in the pressure-cooker hiss of a thousand invisible cicadas. You can see it when mirages dance an agitated, shimmering distortion at the edge of the earth. You can feel it when your hair sticks to the back of your neck. The sky seems to be pulled taut, with a few faint, teasing wisps of cloud that are nudged along by the reluctant exhalations of an enervated breeze. The savannah is the colour of cracked poppadums. The star-chestnut trunks are bleached bone white.

Elephants lumber down the Katuma’s bank to drink and slap mud onto their sunbaked skin. Crocodiles snap shut jaundiced, malevolent smiles and then slither into the water as you approach. Lions snooze in the shade of sausage trees, observing rare visitors with slit-eyed interest. Everything pants, willing the rain to hurry up.

Anthea Rowan

Safari Planner
• Getting there The writer travelled with Africa Odyssey, who can arrange all your transport and accommodation. By road, the journey from Dar es Salaam to Katavi takes three days. Safari Air Link flies twice a week from Dar es Salaam to Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale on Lake Tanganyika, and many travellers visit all three parks on one trip.
• Where to stay The two longest-established camps are Foxes’ Katavi Wildlife Camp, on the edge of the Katisunga plains, and Chada Katavi, run by Nomad Tanzania. Alternatives are Flycatcher Katavi Camp, Palahala Luxury Tented Camp and Katuma Katavi Tented Camp. All include game drives and most offer fly-camping adventures.
• When to go In the dry season (May-October), when the floodwaters retreat and animals congregate around the rivers.
• Health Check with your doctor or a travel clinic at least two months before you go to be certain which vaccinations are currently required. Antimalarials are essential and tsetse flies can be a nuisance, so be sure to pack effective insect repellent.

February 26, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Lake Manyara National Park

Filed under: Lake Manyara National Park — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:03 pm

Lake Manyara National Park

Manyara is a small but scenic park, excellent for birdwatching, a good area to find elephant, which offers the chance to spot a legendary Lake Manyara tree-climbing lion. Manyara is often visited for half a day at the start or end of a safari, as it lies on route to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

On reaching the National Park you first encounter a small museum, or rather a room packed with an ageing and dusty collection of badly stuffed birds and animals. It is probably a better idea to continue into the park and take a chance with whatever might come your way in its full bodied and living form. The park is often awash with butterflies, particularly just after the long rains, at the end of May and through June. Manyara is a good soft introduction to the safari experience, a pretty park through which a mainly forested driving route wends its way between the banks of the soda-water Lake Manyara and the impressive rise of the Great Rift escarpment. Elephant, giraffe, buffalo and wildebeest can be found grazing in unexpected clearings or heading towards the water to drink or wash, and the rivers and riverbeds provide scenic vistas for animal-spotting. Warthogs seem to thrive here, growing fat and tuskered, and it is a natural playground for baboons and monkeys. The legendary tree-climbing lion of Lake Manyara, although notoriously rarely seen, have inspired extensive theorising about the wonders of evolution. It has been suggested that they may have developed their scrambling skill to escape the tsetse flies that bite below, or to get a better view of prey amid the denser thicket. Lions have also reportedly been seen up trees in Tarangire Park and the Serengeti, although these are even more rarely spotted than those in Lake Manyara, where the low branches of the numerous spreading acacia provide a fine frame for apprentice climbers.

February 24, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Tarangire National Park – Babati

Filed under: Babati — Tags: , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:25 pm

Tarangire National Park – Babati

Meriting the long, hard journey to get there, the Babati region is a place of great natural beauty and interest, much of which is provided by its unusual combination of resident peoples. Three main distinct tribal groups live on these hills and plains in the shadow of MountHanang, most of whom settled here following unfortunate conflicts with the Maasai tribe elsewhere. This is the land of the Barbaig, Nilo-hamitic-speaking pastoralists with similar social structures to their successors, the Maasai, historically reputed for their power as rainmakers. It is also home to the Tatoga people, who are renowned for their skill in developing terraces and in agriculture. It is hard to get either tribe to admit to being the subject of a local story which tells how a certain local tribe became known as ‘Man’gati’, and this region called the Man’gati plains, until they made an eventually successful public appeal against the name, which, tellingly, translates as ‘cattle-stealer and trouble-maker’. This does seem to point to one tribe in particular, as one group consists of nomadic cow-herders, and the other pastoral agriculturists.

The area also extends into the greater territories of the Iraqw tribe, who are thought to have originated from the Arabian Gulf region, and yet are also said to have migrated down  the Nile and on into the Ngorongoro regions, from where some were forced [by what/whom?] further west to settle here. It is thought that the Hadzabe people, now largely settled around the LakeEyasi region, and Sandawe bushmen ranged freely around this region before the advent of the Bantu tribes 2,000 years ago. Nowadays they tend to stay further north, but these descendants of early San-Bushmanoid groups are the most likely people to have created the unusually varied collection of rock paintings around Kolo.

The Northern Circuit – Tarangire National Park

Filed under: Tarangire National Park — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:22 pm

Tarangire National Park

To the south of the large open grass plains of southern Maasailand, Tarangire National Park covers 2,600 sq km of grassland and floodplains, and a large area of tall acacia woodland. It is beautifully unspoilt, and the wide views to distant, variously purpled formations of volcanic mountain ranges along the drive are superb. Tarangire also has regions of quite dense bush, but with high grasses and huge old baobab trees instead of the green forests of Manyara. The land is hilly and dominated by the impressive valley of the Tarangire River, which attracts numbers of migrant animals during the dry months, especially between July and September, when the concentration of animals around the Tarangire river is almost as diverse and as reliable as in the Ngorongoro crater. Again, though, the ecosystem is balanced by a localised migration pattern followed by most animals other than lion, who don’t tend to abandon their territory. The animals mostly disperse during April and May, when widespread greenery and standing water encourages all the grazers further afield. In June the eland and oryxes begin to return, followed by elephant towards the end of the month. Tarangire has quite a reputation for elephant ‘pow-wows’, when different herds congregate in one area around the end of the rainy season, and the dominant males take advantage of the situation to sow seeds for future generations. The following 22-month gestation period is timed so that the birth coincides with the rainy season two years later. Zebra and wildebeest return through July, and by mid-August all the animals are congregating around their last reliable water source, the Tarangire River. The calving season falls in the early months of the year, through January, February and March, and so makes the most of the fresh grass during the rainy season.

But there are always a fantastic number of colourful birds swooping and strutting along the rough paths in front of your vehicle in Tarangire, with likely spots including the Paradise Whyder and endearing Yellow-collared lovebirds. There are a few resident lion, easier to find when the migration arrives to excite their taste buds. In other months they look quite mean and lean and slip easily between the grasses.

The park has become a wildlife conservation area because of its resident tsetse fly population. (Domestic animals do not have the same resistance to trypanosomiasis—sleeping sickness—as wild animals, who have become immune.) They are a pest, with an irritating stinging bite, but tend to hang out in swarms, and a well-planned ‘windows up’ approach seems to be the way to survive. They do not seem prevalent around any of the lodges. Recently the woodland habitat of fever trees, umbrella acacias, along the Tarangire river has been made more open, primarily a result of fire and heavy use of the area by elephant.

February 23, 2013

The Northern Circuit – Tarangire National Park – The Kolo Rock Paintings

Filed under: The Kolo Rock Paintings — Tags: , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:26 pm

This extremely rare collection of rock paintings, at Kolo near Kondoa, remains another mystery of Tanzanian history, with no real verification for the date of their conception or the identity of their originators. It seems likely that the images were originally the work of the hunter-gatherer Bushmanoid tribes, who have an ancestral history of rock art, and some Sandawe clans claim that their ancestors were responsible for the paintings. But as the collection varies so greatly in age and style, it might be that later Bantu-speaking peoples added their own handiwork to the older images. It is estimated that many of them are between 200 and 4,000 years old[200,000 years old, or really 200 years?] and the research carried out by Mary Leakey in the 1960s identified nine different styles that may relate to different eras and artists. Some of the work is black and white and some in varying orange- and brown-tinted ochres, and many of the older images have faded and suffered through the course of time, while others have been painted over by successive generations. Many of the images could have inspired Lowry in his famous stick men paintings thousands of years later; while some are simple images, others depict oddly moving scenes, such as a group of two masked men abducting a female, while two other men try to hold her back. Others show local animals, such as giraffe and hunting scenes with antelope racing away. There are also images of people playing musical instruments and those that seem to anticipate some kind of abstract expressionism.

Some of the paintings are quite easily accessible, following a quarter-mile walk across fields, and some a bit harder to get to, requiring a rocky climb. Typically the most interesting and worthwhile paintings in the series are the most difficult to reach, but at least these are slightly better protected from the recent vandalism and graffiti and the weathering that has been the sad fate of many of them. There is a very helpful guide working for the Antiquities Department in Kolo who can lead you to each of the sites, but apart from his invaluable presence little is being done to preserve this ancient artwork. The paintings are described in detail and painstakingly recreated in Vanishing African Art which contains the research materials carried out by Mary Leakey.

February 22, 2013

Central Tanzania – The Southern Highlands – Mikumi National Park

Filed under: Mikumi National Park — Tags: , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:35 pm

Back on the road again, 96 miles south of Morogoro and north of the Selous Reserve lies Mikumi, the most accessible of all Tanzania’s National Parks. Mikumi National Park has the attraction of being an easy driving distance from Dar es Salaam with a couple of good options for accommodation, which makes it a fairly inexpensive option for a self-drive weekend safari in scenic wide open savannah.

The park actually straddles the highway near the Uluguru Mountains south of Morogoro, and offers the chance of a brief safari thrill for anyone travelling through by bus or truck. Unfortunately in the past vehicles used to thunder through this 50km stretch heedless of the speed restrictions, and road kill has been a major problem. This has recently been addressed with the introduction of a number of brightly painted speed bumps that might increase the chance of seeing something still alive.

Mikumi is remarkably the 3rd largest park in Tanzania, enclosed to the south and east with a semicircle of Uluguru Mountains, rising to 2,743m, and the Vuma Hills. These look down across the wide, flat expanse of the Mkata flood plains, which provide a good spotting ground for a variety of larger animals. Lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo range among the numerous baobabs and palms around the edge, while unusually large herds of up to 100 impala range across the plains. Towards the centre of the park, water collects into watercourses and swamps attracting hippopotamuses, as well as the odd monitor lizard and various water birds. The close proximity to the northern border of the Selous means that a number of animals migrate between the two areas, including the Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and African Hunting dog. The miombo woodlands in the south east are also a stalking ground for sable antelope and families of shaggy white-collared Colobus monkeys, and herds of eland and small family groups of Greater Kudu may also be seen between these two areas.

The Northern Circuit – Serengeti National Park

Filed under: Serengeti National Park — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:11 pm

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate name than Serengeti, from the Maasai word meaning ‘endless plains’. Russet and green grasses and trees spread like a sea beyond each distant horizon. Although this is the most famous and well-visited of all the Tanzanian National Parks, it remains a land of surprises and unexpected discoveries. Its vast expanses often appear to be havens of peace and quiet from a distance, and then reveal themselves to be alive with wild, expectant or predatory energy when scrutinised at all.

The Serengeti National Park is one of the most celebrated wildlife reserves in the world. Some credit for such wide acclaim must go to the Kenyans for so diligently promoting their own tiny corner of it, but the recognition it receives from nearly every wildlife filmmaker, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, tourists and the Tanzanians themselves has ensured a conscientious approach to preserving and restoring this stunning tract of land in as close to a natural state as possible. The Serengeti covers nearly 15,000 square kilometres of magnificent Tanzanian land, and its rolling miles of short grass plains provide an exceptional landscape for wildlife viewing. This land is justifiably famous for its huge concentrations of wildlife, especially the big cats, as well as for being the stomping ground of the great Migration, a massive accumulation of 1ð million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 gazelles, stretching their legs over 1,200 miles in an annual race to find enough water and green grass for their survival.

Serengeti National Park – History

A sign hangs in an entrance gate to the Serengeti proclaiming, ‘This is the world as it was in the beginning’. While it is hard not to romanticise the likelihood of this claim when alone among its vast ancient boulders strewn between land and sky, this single expanse of world has had its fair share of history. Around two hundred years ago these wide plains, the realm of various pastoral nomad tribes, became Maasailand, or ‘Seringit’, as the Maasai called it, as the tribe swept in southwards from Kenya. The Maasai lived at one with the natural order, and created their homes from the wood and mud of the land. Armed only with a spear at the best of times, they made little or no adverse impact on the environment, killing only the odd lion in a show of bravery or for self-protection.

The first organized safaris began here in the 1920s, when international professional hunters became aware of the rich game pickings and forged routes in. Rumours of the large population of lion brought the area to the attention of the world, and in 1929 the central section of the present park, around the Seronera Valley, became a full game reserve. In 1950 the Serengeti was made a closed game reserve, in which certain species were fully protected, and a year later it was established as a National Park. Until 1959 this included the Ngorongoro Highlands and crater, but these were then sectioned off as a conservation area and used to re-house any Masaai remaining within the Serengeti’s boundaries. Its perimeters were also extended to the north and south, after the importance of these areas as the path of the annual migration were highlighted by the head of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Professor Bernard Grzimek.

The Serengeti National Park is broadly divided into three distinct areas, the Seronera Valley and Seronera River, the Western Corridor and the Northern ‘Lobo’ area that extends northwards to join the Maasai Mara. There is always plenty of resident and migratory wildlife action, and endless photo opportunities for the snap-happy.

February 20, 2013

Central Tanzania – The Southern Highlands – Ruaha National Park

Filed under: Ruaha National Park — Tags: , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 5:40 pm

The wide distances of Ruaha National Park have a drama and atmosphere quite unlike any other Tanzanian park. Here the land has its own kind of remoteness that seems to emanate through time itself. It is an ancient place in the valley of the Great Rift, where mile upon mile of sandy red earth feels worn and bleached by an age-old sun, and the hilly distances are punctuated with distended elephant-battered girths of countless massive baobabs that live for a thousand years. Such a charismatic combination of ochre-red earth, pale russet grasses and the parched paths of wide sand rivers appeal to all old preconceptions of an archetypal African land.

Part of the present-day attraction of Ruaha is its distant location, which demands a long drive or an expensive flight to get there, and means that the park is consequently hardly visited by tourists, and major tracts of the landscape are still largely inaccessible. Covering 10,300 sq km, Ruaha is the second largest National Park in Tanzania after the Serengeti. It flows down from the high plateau around Njombe River in the northwest and then slopes across a wide valley to the Great Ruaha River in the southeast. Such a vast and fascinating landscape makes it an ideal location for a longer safari, with between four and seven nights recommended, not least to make the flying costs worthwhile. There are presently just two alternatives for permanent accommodation within the National Park, each run by brothers who explored this land as children, but two other sites have been awarded for semi-permanent development to The Selous Safari Company and Coastal Travel. Trips to Ruaha are often combined with the Selous Game Reserve, as the two locations are entirely complimentary for their differences, and part of the same scheduled flight route.

Ruaha National Park – History

The park was originally a part of Rungwa Game Reserve until it was classified as a fully protected National Park in 1964. It now forms an important component of the massive 30,000 sq km of protected ecosystem that covers Rungwa, Kisigo and Ruaha.

Ruaha National Park is named after the Great Ruaha River – and the word Ruaha is the Hehe tribe word for ‘Great’. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s dams were created at Kidatu and Mtera to use the strength of this river to power the majority of the nation’s hydro-electricity – yet many visitors to Ruaha during the dry season today might be a little disappointed when their experience of the Great River is just a meandering trickle, even if it does concentrate the wildlife around the remaining pools. Until recently, the Great Ruaha was never known to run dry, barring one occasion during a serious drought in the late 1970s. But recently, the Great Ruaha has been drained dry in areas of Ruaha National Park for two consecutive years. Its power and might as a perennial water reserve has been depleted by agricultural practices and certain rice-growing initiatives upstream. These are responsible for reducing the quantity of water and creating a present situation that is near-disastrous – especially for the serious ecological threat that it presents to the resident variety of wildlife. The river fish population has already suffered, and crocs and hippos are forced to squeeze into smaller, more rarefied patches of water. Having flourished in the wet season until waters dry and shrink off, the new situation has given the whole park the nature of an annual round of musical chairs.

Since a bridge was built across the Great Ruaha nine years ago, Ruaha National Park has experienced a seasonal transformation, no longer limited to access only during dry months. It is now possible to enter the park all year round, although the River Lodge and Mwagusi close for a couple of months during the long rains in April and May.

Ruaha National Park – Wildlife

The joy of Ruaha is that there are hardly any people there at all, but a variety of heavy-duty wildlife lays claim to its hilly savannah and bush. Ruaha has one of the greatest elephant populations of any African park, and the dry, open hillsides encourage antelope and buffalo to gather into protective large herds. This terrain is particularly good for seeing predators, especially lion and potentially leopard, as well as packs of African hunting dog. The many rivers and swamps around the Ruaha River are alive with huge numbers of hippopotami, crocodile and fish, and the many giraffe and zebra that roam the plains make their way to the shores of the water to drink. Ruaha is the only east African park with both Greater and Lesser Kudu and sable and roan antelopes, and, like the Selous, has an unusual combination of East and Southern African wildlife and birds. The Red-billed wood hoopoe, Violet-crested Turaco and Racquet-tailed roller are among the many coloured migrants, and just a small selection from the 480 species of bird that have been sighted within the park. The wetter months during the first third of the year are the best months for bird-watching, and the beauty of the park is enhanced by the blooming miombo woodland flowers. The miombo woodlands are dominated by 15 species of Brachystegia trees, while the rolling grass plains are covered with various different acacias, spiny Commiphora and plenty of baobab trees; around 1,650 plant species have been identified within the park, the majority of which flower.

Ruaha National Park – Baobab Trees!

The vast and bizarre features of the baobab tree are a striking feature of the African bush. Of all the eight species of baobab worldwide, the African variety, Adansonia digitata, is the largest, and the most impressive. While these trees may inspire a certain awe in most passers-by, they represent a deep-rooted significance in the lives of those people and animals that live around them. The baobab is brimming with life-giving properties that are nutritional, medicinal and practical, and consequently it has earned a popular reputation for being an important, even spiritual tree. Every part of the tree can be put to use; the fibrous, stringy bark can be largely stripped, without killing the tree, and used for string, rope, fabric and netting. Various parts of the tree are used for medicines, to reduce malarial fever and relieve eye infections, gum diseases, boils, burns and dysentery to name but a few, and the fruit has such a high vitamin C content that it is popularly used to combat symptoms of scurvy. A drink made from the bark is said to make a person strong, and one made from the soaked baobab seed has a reputation to protect the drinker from crocodiles. The trunks and cavities store water that enables them to survive in dry areas through the hot summer months, and thirsty elephant batter the trunks to plunder their supply. The baobab can sustain an amazing amount of abuse, and will continue to flower and function even when elephants – assisted by zebra and giraffe – have chewed a hole right through its middle. They live for generation after generation of human life, as the baobab is known to continue to grow for 800 years, and some say even up to 2,000 years. They become the focus of rural village life, as their broad branches and tangled roots provide a naturally comfortable and shady communal area and their longevity ensures their historical place in the community. The massive trunk can grow a circumference of up to 25m round and often becomes hollow, and this area has been used across southern Africa to provide a spiritual tomb for chiefs, and a home to many unknown spirits which are widely believed to inhabit their peculiar gnarly forms.

In past years poaching has been a serious problem, decreasing the famously huge population of 22,000 elephant recorded in 1967 to only 4,000 in 1987. This still represents one of the largest populations in any African National Park, and it is more heartening to know that numbers have recovered up to 12,000 during the last decade as a result of the Park’s very successful anti-poaching action, which has made exemplary efforts to involve local communities. The result of this serious dent to the elephant population now means that there are fewer mature animals that have grown to full size (usually around 60 years of age), and it is rare to see any elephant with a fully developed pair of tusks.

These days it is more common to come across tuskless and small tusked elephants, once an anomaly and yet now represented in a far higher proportion since these survived the brutal culling. This often inspires ruminations on the miracle of natural selection, but it still remains to be seen whether future generations will breed a larger proportion of small tusk and tuskless elephants, or whether the large tusk gene that produced the 8ft tusks plundered by the ivory traders will prove dominant once again. It is more encouraging that the elephant in Ruaha are still breeding enthusiastically and large number of female elephants around the park can be seen with babies.

Their longevity and intimate social structure is complex and they have been proven highly intelligent animals. They show collective grief over death within their groups, often gathering around the dead elephant, and may try to carry the body away.

It remains surprising how the Ruaha elephant populations do not show great signs of nervousness around humans, considering the brutal culling that has occurred here.

January 29, 2012

Tanzania National Park Tourist Infographic

Filed under: Tanzania Odyssey News — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 10:56 am


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