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Tarangire National Park

Part 2 of 2

By the river’s edge

Watch the drama

Published 14 October 2017 Saturday magazine Nation newspaper

Above: Tarangire – land of the giants – centuries-old baobab tree and elephant
Copyright Rupi

It’s stark dry – August at the height of the dry season. Tall and golden, the sun-bleached grass shimmers under the blazing sun interspersed with stoic baobabs and towering termite mounds.  We drive across the dry riverbed and into Tarangire National Park from the adjoining Randilen Wildlife Management Area and watch a family of banded mongoose playing around a termite mound.

Banded mongoose dig a grub-fest by Silale Swamp Copyright Rupi Mangat

Banded mongoose dig a grub-fest at Silale Swamp Copyright Rupi Mangat

We’re in the Great Rift Valley and north of us is Lake Manyara with Babati, Singida, Tabora and Lake Tanganyika 750 kilometers away to the west – where we’re heading to in search of the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park.

Elephants heading to Silalle Swamp - and the termite mounds that keep the soils alive Copyright Rupi Mangat

Elephants heading to Silalle Swamp – and the termite mounds that keep the soils alive Copyright Rupi Mangat

“We are driving to the swamp, called Silale” informs Godbless Mamuya the driver-guide from Tarangire Treetops. The swamp in the southern part of the park, is an area of the park that l haven’t been to before. Meantime, it’s looks like a really busy time, mid-morning with elephant families heading in one direction – to the swamp.

In a landscape dominated by just vivid gold and blue sky, a swathe of dark green cuts across. It’s the swamp that’s fed by the perennial Tarangire River that is the life-lung of the park.

It’s where we spend the rest of the day unable to pull ourselves away from its magnetic hold. There are more elephants here than anywhere l’ve seen in a long time – an elephant dwarfed  under the shade of a baobab tree, elephants flopping around in the muddy waters, elephants wandering deeper into the green labyrinth of reeds and waterways, youngsters squabbling and a calf oblivious to everything so busy drinking from its mother’s breast.

Tarangire is an amazing river – as are most rivers. Without it, the park would not survive. Flowing out from the highlands of Babati, Dodoma and the Irangi Hills with its miombo woodland, its flow depends on the survival of these forests.

“During the dry season, the elephants and other plains game congregate here because it’s the main source of water,” explains Godbless. During the wet season, the animals disperse as far north to the Serengeti and beyond for the nutrient rich grasses and a time to give birth.

But it’s not only the elephants at the swamp. Wildebeest, zebra, buffaloes and a horde of other plains game wander to it with more banded mongoose running helter-skelter digging the wet earth for a grub-fest. The banks are busy with wading birds of many feathers – open billed storks, spur winged geese, saddle billed storks, little ducks and geese including the dainty lily trotter otherwise known as the jacana.

a serval that looks like a mini-leopard swaggers past  Copyright Rupi Mangat

a serval that looks like a mini-leopard swaggers past Copyright Rupi Mangat

Moving along the swamp, a serval that looks like a mini-leopard swaggers past the wildebeest and zebra, stops to poop and vanishes in the tall grass. It’s an interesting feline with the longest legs of any cat and uses its large ears like a bat to locate prey.

And then we see her.

Just her head blending in the tall grass – the lioness.

Wandering stripes pass her, elephants and all. She’s unperturbed.

The lioness raises her head from the sun-bleached grass ready to hunt Copyright Rupi Mangat

The lioness raises her head from the sun-bleached grass ready to hunt Copyright Rupi Mangat

Half an hour later, she springs into action and gives a short chase to a file of zebra passing her. The zebra panic and flee. She makes no effort to pursue. The well-fed lioness is a picture of health with not a bone sticking out or any scars. Simply put, she’s a diva.

“There’s so much food around her,” jokes Godbless. “She doesn’t need to chase.”

The picnic lunch is brought out and at the designated picnic spot we enjoy a meal with Tanzanian school kids in the park with many wanting to become teachers and doctors.

While we’ve enjoyed our picnic, so has the lioness. She’s made her kill – a zebra on the plains. All we see is the fresh carcass on our way out.

Tarangire National Park

It’s a 118 kilometers from Arusha on the road to Dodoma or Lake Tanganyika. It’s on the northern Tanzanian circuit which includes Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti.

Covering 2,800 square kilometres, the park forms the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem and is a vital dry-season water-shed for wildlife. The concern in Tarangire is that the baobabs are centuries’ old with little regeneration.

The Randilen Wildlife Management Area has been set aside by the local community as a dispersal area for wildlife and tourist lodges while a section is for their grazing livestock. These migratory corridors are indispensible for wildlife without which the national parks could not survive.

Stay at the Tarangire Treetops: www.elewanacollection.com

Entry into Tanzanian national parks:  info@tanzaniaparks.com www.tanzaniaparks.com

Pay by VISA card at park entrance.

Essential in Tanzania – a yellow fever certificate.

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