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Southern Tanzania: National Parks

National Parks:

Selous

The SELOUS GAME RESERVE – is one of the largest protected areas in the world and the first to be declared a reserve back in 1896. At almost 55000km it is bigger than Switzerland. Named after the legendary Frederick Courteney Selous who followed his boyhood hero David Livingstone to Africa and served as a guide to Cecil Rhodes in Rhodesia. A keen naturalist, hunter and early conservationist and by the 1st World War was already a living legend. He joined the 25th Royal Fusiliers and helped chase the greatly outnumbered German Schutztruppe under von Lettow-Vorbeck towards southern Tanzania but was killed in action in Selous where his grave can be found today. In 1922 the game reserve was named in his memory.

T he Selous Game Reserve was declared a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1982. The area of land between the Mgeta and Rufiji Rivers was declared a reserve back in 1896 by the German Governor. Later, in 1922 the land was named ‘Selous’ by the British Protectorate and the area under protection was expanded. Selous is bisected by the Rufiji River, with the tourist area north of the river. This area of miombo forest with dense areas of hardwood is home to the around 50% of Tanzania’s elephant population. The Rufiji River is a sprawling waterway with 5 distinctive ‘lakes’ all joined together with a myriad of channels. This is the only Game area in Tanzania to offer a safari on the river. Selous is also home to large numbers of buffalo and lion, as well as a healthy population of Wild Dogs, where they are found in the highest density of anywhere in Africa.

The population peaks in September and October. A normal pack size would be around 20 dogs, but packs of up to 56 dogs have been seen in the past. Antelope are always a beautiful sight with their doey eyes and graceful and athletic leapings. Selous is home to a great many antelope species; Impala, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, the largest – the Eland, Lichenstein’s Heartebeest and the yellowy grey Nyassaland Gnu, or Wildebeest. In the northern buffer zone areas can be found the relatively rare Sable Antelope. In comparison to other habitats, the Selous Sable are found in large numbers (around 4000); they are smaller and a lighter colour than found elsewhere and have been designated as a subspecies of the Roosevelt Sable. The sandbanks, oxbow lakes, islands and channels are home to over 440 species of birds, including 2 rare species – the Pel’s Fishing Owl and the White-Backed Heron, which habituate the wooded sections of the riverbank.

The wildlife in Selous is spectacular and some of its mammal populations of Buffalo, Elephant, Hippo, Wild Dogs, Crocodiles etc are the largest in Africa such that in 1982 the reserve was declared a World Heritage Site. Famous for its Elephant it is estimated that 55,000 live in Selous which is half the Elephant population remaining in Tanzania. The African Wild Dog is fast disappearing throughout Africa and it is estimated that only 2000-4000 are left due to the loss of its natural habitat to cultivation and livestock. Yet in Selous they are thriving with an estimated 1300 wild dog and a further approx 140 in neighbouring Mikumi which shares the Selous ecosystem.

The Selous is bisected by the Rufiji River which creates a system of rivers and lakes that are unique to East Africa. It is the only place where visitors can take boat safaris through some of worlds most spectacular wildlife. While boating safaris are the highlight Selous is also known for its wild walking safaris through this vast reserve.

Rufiji River Camp enjoys the most fabulous position looking over this wide, sprawling waterway. The camp is redesigned and renovated for 2010 with much larger, airy tents built up on wooden platforms. There will be 14 tents individually sited with the length of the tent alongside the river bank. Each tent has an extended and shaded veranda, where guests can relax between game excursions and enjoy the activity always present in and along the river.

Whilst staying at Rufiji River Camp boating safaris and walking safaris are available as well as vehicle safaris in open, adapted vehicles. All game activities are led by the camps guides.

Rufiji River Camp >>

Ruaha

RUAHA NATIONAL PARK is unique due to the species diversity associated with its geographical position between northern & southern hemispheres where you can find East African and South African species both in the same place. Ruaha has a special character that is difficult to describe but is probably due to its stunningly varied topography that also contributes to the varied habitats and diversity of species.

Ruaha and Katavi National Parks in Tanzania have a long 6 month dry season where water becomes increasingly scarce and wildlife concentrates in those areas.

R uaha National Park is named after the river that runs through the southern portion of the park. The area was only gazetted as a ‘national park’ in 1964 and mapped into the present boundaries in 1973. In 2008 the park was increased in size to incorporate the surrounding game reserves previously acting as buffer zones. The ecosystem which covers the entire conservation area is centred around the watershed of the only 2 perennial rivers within the Park, the Great Ruaha and the Nzombe Rivers. Neither of these rivers flow all year round anymore, although water remains in pools. As would be expected with such a variety of habitats, the vegetation changes from treeless grasslands and swamps, to evergreen forests. The river valleys sport acacia species, fig species, tamarind trees, clumps of palms as well as patches of open black cotton soil grassland. The more undulating terrain is covered with Baobabs accompanied by Combretum and Commiphora woodland, with occasional flat-topped acacias.

Ruaha stands out due to it’s position in the transvergence zone between northern and southern hemispheres where species (bird migrants, mammal species, and plant species) from both overlap. It is the southern most point for some typical nykia plants such as evergreen and thorny shrubs and some perennial grasses. The varied topography also results in a correspondingly varied diversity of species so that there are 1600 plant species compared to 600 in the Serengeti and now over 500 bird species which approximates to half that found in the entire country. For example you find Roan antelope, Sable antelope, Greater Kudu, Lichtenstein hartebeest, all rarely found further north and yet at the same time can find Lesser Kudu and Grant's gazelle not common further south. While you will find the full range of predators such as Lion, Cheetah, Striped & Spotted Hyaena, Leopard, Side Striped Jackal, Black backed jackal, and good populations of Wild Dog in Mikumi, Ruaha and Katavi National Parks. No major game migration occurs in Ruaha such as those found in the northern parks so game can be seen in Ruaha at any time of the year.

Although the game is most concentrated along the river during the long dry season the park becomes a different world after the rains in December with the trees erupting into leaf and the Great Ruaha River swelling into a bursting torrent while the bird population explodes with migrants from both hemispheres visiting Ruaha. A visit during this time will open your eyes to a completely different Africa to the one you thought you knew well. The road infrastructure is excellent and all weather. Ruaha River Lodge occupies a unique and privileged position set around a series of rocky kopjes in a bend of the Great Ruaha River, blending seamlessly into its surroundings and affording views up and down the river. Game is drawn to the river from the neighboring hills and guests Can witness the great wildlife dramas unfold from the comfort and protection of their self contained natural stone and thatch 'banda'. With resident hippos and crocs there is always plenty of action to watch and several incidents of lion or leopard kills have been seen from the lodge.

Ruaha River Lodge >>

Mikumi

Mikumi National Park consists of the central Mkata flood plain surrounded by mountain ranges and hills that forms part of the Selous ecosystem. Wildlife is attracted to the plain by its lush pastures and water and its open terrain makes for easy game viewing.

M ikumi National Park is the gateway to the southern parks and is the third largest park in the country. Although not as well known as its neighbour, Selous Game Reserve, the park offers an interesting and stimulating safari experience. Combined with a visit to the recently created Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Mikumi is perfect for a 3 or 4 night stay on the way to Ruaha or Katavi Parks, or simply as a safari in its own right.

The ecosystem is rather special as there are 4 major and distinct vegetation zones converging in Mikumi: miombo woodland from southern Africa, arid bushland from the north, the coastal zone to the east and the mountains of Uluguru and Ruhumero to the north and west making a unique ecotonal area. are also different in each of these habitat types.

The animals and birds species are also different in each of these habitat types. Lion, leopard, elephant, crocodiles, zebra, giraffe and varied antelopes are regularly seen on the plains with Hertebeest, Sable, Greater Kudu, Colobus Monkey and Hunting Dog are found in the Miombo woodland area.

Stanleys Kopje >>

Vuma Hills Tented Camp >>

Udzungwa Mountain

Udzungwa Mountain National Park is perhaps Tanzania’s most important park in terms of diversity. It forms part of the Eastern arc rift valley and an ancient forest that once stretched along the entire length of the Eastern Rift. All that remains today are a few remnant island patches of this ancient rainforest that have evolved through the millennia so that today Udzungwa is brimming with endemic species found no where else. Scientists are still getting excited about new discoveries in Udzungwa at every level from plants through birds and butterflies to mammals etc. The most recent discoveries in the last couple of years have included the Kipunji monkey (the first new genus of monkey for 83 years) and a Giant elephant shrew – a foot long and the first genus discovered for 125 years!

Udzungwa is a remnant of the eastern arc rainforest that used to stretch along the eastern rift. 165 million years ago Madagascar separated from the mainland such that the forests there have similarities to the Udzungwa rainforest. While 6 million years ago the Udzungwa rainforest was isolated from the West African rainforests so that there exists a high degree of endemism with 25% of the plants being unique only to Udzungwa.

Of the ten primates that are found in these forests four are endemic only to Udzungwa including the Red Hehe Colobus and the Crested Mangaby. There are also a couple of endemic Galagoes (bushbabies), several endemic birds including the Rufous Winged Sunbird and Udzungwa partridge. The discoveries of new species is an on going affair with 2 completely new genera of mammal being identified in the last 8 years. The Giant Elephant Shrew, also called ‘Sengis’ was first caught on film in 2005. Different to a European shrew, this 1ft long creature is more closely related to African mammals including the elephant, Sea cow, Aardvark and Hyrax, having shared a common ancestor 100million years ago.

The second recent discovery is of the Kipunji Monkey, which is a baboon sized animal, grey in colour. This was noted by scientists in both the Rungwa area and Udzungwa but not formally identified until 2006. With three nights in Mikumi at either of the above camps there is time for a full day of trekking in Udzungwa Mountain National Park walking under the canopy rainforest and endemic primates and birds to emerge at Sanje Water falls with spectacular views over the rift valley below. The walk is relatively steep and not suitable for young children or visitors with a medical or mobility condition.

Katavi

KATAVI NATIONAL PARK is Africa's best kept secret, the ultimate wildlife destination, and Tanzania's 3rd largest park. Most people consider Ruaha remote but Ruaha is only half way to Katavi!

K atavi Plains National Park is universally recognized as one of the few truly remote and untouched areas of Tanzania’s immense conservation areas. This is primarily due to its position in the far south west of the country and the associated cost and time involved in reaching the park. For those who do take the time to visit, an unforgettable safari awaits them.

Being one of the least visited National Parks is a bonus for the few who make it, not a reflection on the experience to be had there – it is a place for those seeking the Africa of decades ago.

Katavi is predominantly high plains grassland, which becomes swampy wetland during the rains, interspersed with fringes of miombo woodland and scattered acacia.

At more than 1 million hectares, Katavi is the third largest National Park; it has 2 lakes, Lake Katavi in the north and Lake Chada in the south, fed by the Kutuma river. These lakes are cracked open plains during the dry season from June to November, only filling in the rains. Kutuma River shrinks to a narrow stream, with pools which become the extremely cramped quarters of hundreds of hippos and crocs. In fact, Katavi has the highest density of Hippos and the largest Crocodiles in all of Tanzania.

Katavi Wildlife Camp >>

Mufindi Highlands

T he Southern Highlands of Mufindi, Iringa District, is at an altitude of around 6700ft resulting in a cool temperate climate not generally expected in Africa. The country side is spectacularly undulating ending abruptly at the 2000ft rift valley escarpment. The area has stunning scenery, dark thick montane rainforest and pristine tea estates interlaced with lakes, rivers and streams. Although sightings of lion and leopard have not been reported for decades, there is a plethora of bird life in Mufindi.

At Lulanda you can find the ancient remnant of the eastern arc rainforest similar toUdzungwa which is also full of endemic species that have excited the Scientists.

There are plenty of activities to keep you busy at the lodge. The most popular being horse riding, which is suitable for all ages and abilities. This is an ideal way to explore the surroundings, as there are next to no vehicles to worry about, and your extra height makes for a better view. If horses are not your choice of transport, then there are mountain bikes available or else you can follow the many tracks on foot. The lodge also has a tennis court, badminton court, bowles, croquet and golf course; not to mention the only fly fishing for trout to be found in the tropics. Evenings are spent around the roaring fire in the two storey lodge building before returning to your individual log cabin for some well earned sleep. The higher altitude and cooler climate, combined with exercise and fresh farm food lends itself to some of the best nights sleep you will have.

Perhaps the highlight of a stay at the Highland lodge is a trip into the close by village of Igoda. All land in Tanzania is part of a village and the Fox family are fortunate to enjoy a close relationship with their village of Igoda. To mutual benefit the villages welcome our guests to visit the village, to see the school, local artisans at work (blacksmith, witchdoctor, pit sawing, brick making) and to see a traditional rural subsistence environment. Recently the Fox family with donations from visitors to the lodge have built an orphanage to house children whose families have fallen victim to the growing AIDS epidemic. This is just one part of the extensive social and environmental projects run under the Foxes Community and Wildlife Trust.

Mufindi Highland Lodge >>

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