This year I have spent more time in East Africa than I usually do and visited the most iconic destinations such as the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to two national parks that I have never been to, I can say with confidence that both Ruaha and Nyerere (formerly Selous) are my favorite wilderness areas to travel to in Tanzania.
On the 1st of September, I hopped on a plane and flew to Dar es Salaam with my guest, Sherry. We landed well after midnight and stumbled through immigration and customs before being transferred to the hotel. Thankfully, we had an entire day to recuperate, or else we would have had 3 hours of sleep before traveling back to the airport. Starting a safari exhausted is not a good idea, especially when you add early wake-up calls, long days in a vehicle, and sweltering temperatures to the mix. The next flight we took was in a smaller aircraft; powered by propellers and with no service crew. These planes are used for charter flights in and out of the national parks as the runways are often gravel and not long enough to land a Boeing! After a few stops to drop off and pick up passengers, we landed at Msembe airstrip in Ruaha National Park. I get air sick; I’m sure you can all imagine what I looked like once we finally arrived- nothing an ice-cold coca-cola could not fix.
Ruaha National Park is exceptional in size, in 2008 the Usangu wetland that lies south of the park was officially incorporated into this wilderness area, increasing the park size to 20,226 km2 (7,809 sq mi) which is roughly 40% larger than the Serengeti National Park. Ruaha is part of the Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem and together form a protected area of over 45,000 km2 (17,000 sq mi). Needless to say, spending only two nights in a place like this is not nearly enough time. Luckily, we spent four nights at Kwihala, Asilia, although you could easily spend a week! Something Ruaha is known for is the population of lions, in fact, this park holds 10% of the world’s lion population- we did not have a shortage of sightings. Our first afternoon on safari led us to a male giraffe that had died a couple of days ago; our guide parked upwind from the carcass and watched three black-backed jackals aggressively feed on the remains. We sat there for over an hour observing the interactions between the jackals and vultures. As it cooled down, a male lion appeared in the distance and approached the carcass cautiously as if there were other lions nearby. I picked up my binoculars and proceeded to scan around, looking for signs of other lions; it wasn’t long before a lion appeared from the south of the carcass, he kept low and did not reveal his profile. The now apparent intruder fed on the deceased giraffe and as he took his third mouthful of rotting flesh, a second lion appeared next to the male lion hiding in the tall grass, and in a flash, they charged at the intruder. It was a half-hearted chase but the two males did not let up and continued running for quite a distance, victory roars boomed across the open plains and the two male lions slowly sauntered back towards the carcass.
Over the next few days, we had even more lions as another giraffe was found dead by our guide one evening; a clan of spotted hyenas led him to the scene. We witness standoffs between lions and hyenas, jackals sneaking around looking for a gap to feast, and vultures of all kinds waiting patiently for their turn. Sherry and I didn’t only witness guts and gore; we enjoyed the scenery along the Mwagusi and Ruaha River, herds of elephants digging for water, and super herds of buffalo that were so large you could spot the dust cloud from miles away. We watched fish eagles, southern ground hornbills, and saddle-billed storks every day, leopards doing what leopards do best, and even a brief sighting of a male cheetah. A personal highlight was spotting a couple of lesser kudu in the Mwagusi River on our last morning-I had never seen them before!
I could go on and on about my time spent in Ruaha National as I doubt I will do it any justice. We hardly saw any other vehicles, and not only was the game viewing spectacular, but the views of this place were also picturesque. Any landscape photo could have been a postcard. After five days in Ruaha, we jumped on another plane and flew a short distance to Nyerere National Park. I won’t tell you about our experience in this blog, you will have to wait for the next one.
If you would like help planning a safari to Southern Tanzania, don’t hesitate to get in touch!