Less frequented than the national parks in the north, the Southern Parks provide a sense of African adventure unsurpassed anywhere else on the continent. The principal areas are the Selous Game Reserve and the Mikumi, Ruaha and Udzungwa Mountains National Parks.
Located north of the Selous Reserve, less than 300 km. from Dar es Salaam, is the Mikumi National Park. Because of its accessibility it is one of the most popular parks in Tanzania and is an important center for education where students go to study ecology and conservation. The Mikumi flood plain, with its open grasslands, dominates the park together with the mountain ranges that border the park on two sides. A wide range of wildlife inhabits its 3,230 sq km area. Lion is commonly seen as are packs of wild dog, rare elsewhere in Africa. Elephant may be encountered and other animals frequently observed are buffalo, civet, eland, giraffe, impala, kudu, reedbuck, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Near the southern boundary of the park it is possible to see groups of female and young bachelor sable with their one dominant male. Crocodiles, monitor lizard and giant python are among the park’s many other residents.
At the southern end of the flood plain, in the Kikoboga area, families of yellow baboon live while wallowing hippos are frequently joined in their pools by flocks open-billed storks, hunting for tasty molluscs. Over 400 species of birds have been observed in the park, many of which are Eurasian migrants who stay between October and April.
Getting there: A four-hour drive, or a one-hour flight, from Dar es Salaam.
Recently expanded to become the largest national park in East Africa and, after Kafue National Park in Zambia, the second largest in Africa, Ruaha is home to more than 10,000 elephant. Its name derives from the Great Ruaha River which flows along its eastern border, creating spectacular gorges.
Flowing into the Rufiji River, the Great Ruaha is home to hippo and crocodile. Various antelope species, such as eland, grant’s gazelle, impala, greater and lesser kudu, reedbuck, waterbuck and the rare sable and roan antelope thrive in the grasslands bordering the river alongside buffalo, giraffe and zebra. Predators include lion, leopard, cheetah, both striped and spotted hyena, and wild dog – or African hunting dog as they should correctly be called.
Birdlife is prolific, over 370 species have been recorded, some of which are not found in northern Tanzania. Eurasian migrants flock to Ruaha twice a year – March to April and October to November – joining the resident kingfishers, hornbills, sunbirds, egrets and plovers.
Best months for game viewing are during the dry season from July to November, when the animals are concentrated around the shrinking water-courses. The park has an airstrip for light aircraft on the western bank of the river.
Getting there: Up to a ten-hour drive, or a one-and-a-half-hour flight, from Dar es Salaam.
The Selous Game Reserve is the largest wildlife area in Africa. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this pristine, uninhabited area is larger than Switzerland. Selous boasts Tanzania’s largest population of elephant as well as large numbers of lion, leopard, African hunting dog, buffalo and hippo.
Only in the Serengeti will visitors see a greater concentration of wildlife. Once home to over 3,000 black rhinos there are sadly now only a few hundred left. They tend to hide in the dense thickets but sightings are possible. Species commonly seen are bushbuck, red and blue duikers, eland, hartebeest, hyena, klipspringer, impala, giraffe, oryx, reedbuck, waterbuck and zebra.
Yellow baboon and vervet and blue monkey are a common sight while families of black and white colobus may sometimes be seen moving from tree to tree. Endangered red colobus inhabit the west of the reserve but visits to observe this rare breed can be arranged. The bird-life in the Selous is prolific and the 400 species recorded include the globally threatened wattled crane and the corncrake.
The topography of the park varies from rolling savannah woodland, grassland plains and rocky outcrops cut by the Rufiji River and its tributaries, the Kilombero and Luwegu, which together cover the greatest catchment area in East Africa. The Rufiji, which flows from north to south, provides the lifeblood of the Selous and sailing or rafting down the river is a superb method of seeing game, especially during the dry season between June and October. Crocodiles, hippo and a vast array of antelope will be seen. Linked to the Rufiji is Lake Tagalala, where elephant, giraffe, waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck gather at the water’s edge. In the long grassland, safari enthusiasts may get a chance to see rare sable antelope, greater kudu – or lion.
The park gets its name from the hunter-explorer Frederick Courtney Selous, whose books were best sellers in Victorian England. Walking safaris, game drives and boat trips may be organised. The best time to visit is during the dry season, when game is forced from hiding places to the river to drink. The waters of the Kilombero Game Controlled Area are home to the ferocious tiger fish and vandu catfish, the latter equipped with a primitive set of lungs which allows it to migrate from one landlocked pool to another.
Getting there: Between a seven and nine-hour drive, but only in the dry season, or a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Dar es Salaam.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park is a conservation area of about 2,000 sq km. It lies in the Iringa and Morogoro regions of south-central Tanzania where it is bordered by the Great Ruaha River to the north and by the road between Mikumu and Ifakara to the east.
The major attraction of the park is its bio-diversity and unique rainforest where many rare plants, not found elsewhere in the world, have been identified. These range from a tiny African violet to 30-metre-high trees. For this reason, Udzungwa is being proposed as Tanzania’s eighth World Heritage Site.
The park is home to eleven types of primate. Five of these are unique to Udzungwa, including the endangered Iringa red colobus monkey and the Sanje crested mangabey. The plateau also supports populations of elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard. Visitors should not expect to necessarily see these larger species however as they tend to be found in the less accessible area of the park. Bush baby or galago, bush pig, civet, duiker, honey badger and three types of mongoose are more likely to be seen. The park is also home to a number of rare forest birds many only found in this area of Tanzania.
Getting there: A five-hour drive from Dar es Salaam.