The Southern Parks

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Nyerere National Park (Formerly Selous Game Reserve)

The Nyerere National Park is one the largest wildlife areas in Africa covering an area of 30,893 square km that was upgraded to a national park status from the Selous Game Reserve. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this pristine, uninhabited area is larger than Switzerland and boasts Tanzania’s largest population of elephant as well as large numbers of lion, leopard, Black Rhino, African hunting dog, buffalo and hippo. Species commonly seen are bushbuck, red and blue duikers, eland, hartebeest, hyena, klipspringer, impala, giraffe, oryx, reedbuck, waterbuck and zebra.

Families of black and white colobus may sometimes be seen moving from tree to tree. Endangered red colobus inhabit the west of the reserve. The bird-life in the Nyerere National Park 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 Rufiji, which flows from north to south, provides the lifeblood of the National Park and Sailing or rafting down the river is a superb method of seeing game, especially during the dry Season between June and October.

Linked to the Rufiji River 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.

Walking safaris, game drives and boat trips may be organized. The best time to visit is during the dry season. The waters of the Kilombero Game Controlled Area are home to the ferocious tiger fish and vandu catfish.

Getting there: 4-5 hours drive or a one-hour flight from Dar es Salaam. The park is also accessible by train from Dar es Salaam to Matambwe – Fuga train station.

Ruaha

Ruaha recently expanded to become one of the largest national parks in East 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 and rare Monitor lizards. 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.

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.

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Mikumi

It is located North of Nyerere National Park (previously Selous). Because of its accessibility it is one of the most
popular parks in Tanzania and is an important centre for education where students go to study ecology and conservation. The Mikumi flood plain, with its open grassland and mighty Baobabs dominate 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. Large herds of 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 Sable antelope, 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.

Udzungwa

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 and the Sanje 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 250 forest bird species including the white winged apalis, the Udzungwa forest partridge and dappled mountain robin.

Getting there: A five-hour drive from Dar es Salaam.

Kitulo

Kitulo is the first park in tropical Africa to be recognised largely for its floristic significance. Known locally as ‘God’s Garden’ or the ‘Serengeti of Flowers’, Kitulo plateau has had over 350 species of plants documented to date. These include 45 species of orchids, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Also found in Kitulo is the Kipunji – or Highlands Mangabey – the rarest monkey in Africa. First discovered in 2003 it was the first new primate genus established since 1923. The plateau is also home to some important bird species, again many endemic to Tanzania, including the endangered blue swallow, Denham’s bustard, mountain marsh widow, Njombe cisticola, and Kipengere seedeater.

Some of the world’s rarest butterflies inhabit the area. Best time to visit is from December to April wild flower season.

Getting there: By road from Dar es Salaam to Chimala, via Mbeya and then only by a 4×4 vehicle.