ONE thing you encounter as you enter the gate leading to Tarangire National Park in Arusha/ Manyara regions is a set of two clearly visible readings pasted on the notice boards: “Notice to all visitors and rules and regulations to the park.”
The Board of the Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) Limited and members of the management led by the Board chairman, Prof Moses Warioba, recently made a one-day visit to the park, one of the declared national parks in the country since independence in 1961.
Tarangire National Park was officially declared in 1970. Other national parks include Arusha National Park though often ignored by safarigoers. Others are Manyara, Kilimanjaro, Ruaha, Mikumi, Gombe, Katavi and Mahale (in Rukwa and Katavi regions respectively) which are seldom visited parks because of their long distance and airline connections from the international airlines of Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam respectively.
Kitulo Plateu, also known as Bustan ya Mungu (God’s garden) is home to one of the greatest flora spectaculars of the world. This is Tanzania’s newest national park with a rare botanical marvel and home to more than 350 species of plants and 45 varieties of terrestrial orchids which erupts into wild flower display of breathtaking scale and diversity.
The plateau is situated at the Great Ruaha River in Southern Tanzania (about 200 kilometres from Mbeya City). Manyara (Manyara/ Arusha) is famous for its tree trecking leopards. Mikumi is the fourth largest national park in Tanzania with highest concentration of zebras, lions and elephants.
Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest park of about 10,300 square kilometres. It is said to have the largest elephant population in any of the East African national parks. It is situated in Iringa Region. Tarangire National Park is famous for its Baobab trees and elephants.
Actually Tarangire is said to be home to many African elephants per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. It is also one of the world’s latest enclave of wildlife with more than 5,000 elephants and more than 500 bird species. Covering a surface area of 2,850 square kilometres, Tarangire National Park stretches to five districts; Kondoa (Dodoma), Manyara, Kiteto, Babati, Simanjiro (Manyara region).
It lies about 120 kilometres South West of Arusha – the northern tourist circle and about 160 kilometres from Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA). The Park is accessible by vehicle on the Great North Road (Arusha-Dodoma) from Arusha and turn off at Kwakuchinja Village near Minjingu Phosphate factory. An eight kilometre gravel road leads to the main entrance gate to the park headquarters in the north eastern part of the park.
It can also be accessed through charter flights at Kuro airstrip. Available information from its offices within the park indicates that Tarangire National Park is one of the several protected areas in Tanzania, with a hydrological regime that ensures permanent water source from the park’s exceptional resource – the Tarangire River.
The name, Tarangire, according to Ms Mosha, is derived from local dialect of a minority tribe known as Wambugwe which lives outside the national park. It is said that in the 1950s the tribe used to get a living through hunting of wild pigs on the banks of Tarangire River.
They called it the “mto wa ngiri” meaning the river of wild pigs or warthog which is a wild pig with two large teeth, that curve upwards at the side of its mouth. The tribe, Ms Mosha explained through telephone interview from Tarangire National Park, migrated southwards, settled in Kondoa District, Dodoma Region and identified themselves as Warangi. They called the river Mtarangire which means a meandering river.
The river is used to feed the wildlife inside the park especially during the dry season. Local communities surrounding the national park use the river for irrigation purposes. The Tarangire River system is the only reliable source of water for the wildlife of the Maasai steppe during dry season.
Dry season usually occurs between July and November and that large mammals which dispersed throughout the landscape return to the river as natural water holes outside the park dry up. Wildlife viewing is easiest during this time of the year as many animals visit the river and swamps for water at least once a day. The national park extensive swamps are important water catchments.
They form an important dry season refuge particularly for elephants and buffalos. The swamps are found in the Eastern and Southern parts of the park. They supply the river with that flows to the north and west and then empties into Lake Burunge – a seasonal lake. Reports further say that there are more than 500 bird species in Tarangire National Park, of which several are threatened with extinction due to hunting and endemic.
The park’s acacia savannah habitat is also among one of the richest in the world for breeding birds. Several swamps and water pools in the park offer many spectacular viewing locations and opportunities for bird viewing. The park also possesses second only to the Serengeti/ Ngorongoro ecosystem, the highest concentration of wildlife during the dry season of any area in Tanzania.
Ms Mosha says the months of July, August, September and October are the dry seasons for the park and it is during this time that the park has the highest concentration of wildlife. Tarangire National Park is also known for its river valley, wetlands, gently rolling hills, rocky outcrops, acacia woodlands and numerous baobabs.
The trees, according to the park guide, are significant for elephants that use the barks of the trees as food especially during dry season. Bird species in the park use baobab fruits for food and hang their nests that make it difficult to be accessed by ground wildlife to destroy bird inhabitants. The baobab trees are of medicinal value to wildlife.
TSN team which spent about seven hours in Tarangire National Park witnessed significant number of baobab trees’ barks peeled off, some with fresh wounds and huge scars on others. The elephants are said to use their tusks to extract bark pieces from the trees. According to Ms Mosha, Tarangire National Park situated in Northern Tanzania is where herds of oryx can be seen.
It also possesses within its acacia habitat, one of the highest known diversities of breeding birds in a single vegetation type. The parks ecosystem also protects one of the finest bird speculators and picturesque landscape in Tanzania – the Silale Swamps. Reports say, many of the large animal population migrate outside the park to some of the most productive range lands in the world. Many give bird there.
With the onset of rains (late March to July), vegetation inside and outside the park turns green but better food is found outside the park than inside. This usually happens between November and June, each year. Research findings, according to available information from the park offices, suggest that the grass of the Maasai steppe have greater nutritional value than those found inside.
True to this assertion, TSN Board and Management were a bit disappointed about the limited population of wildlife in the park. The only visible wildlife inside the park at this time is the large herds of elephants and limited giraffe population. They later realised that they visited the park at the wrong time. During peak tourist season, Tarangire National Park despite its significance, a significant number of wildlife including rhinos, have become extinct in Tarangire National Park especially during 1980s because of poaching.
The surface area of the park has also been reduced by five per cent due to human activity. There are also set of tariffs for Tarangire National Park visitors. They range from 1,500/- for national aged 16 and above. Foreign adults will have to part with 35 US dollars per day.
Camping fees range between 1,000/- for indigenous adults and 20 US dollars for foreigners. Guiding and walking fees are charged at 20 US dollars per day. Accommodation fees are charged at 5,000/- for all ages and 30 US dollars for foreigners.
There are also night game drive fees at a charge of 25,000/- per person and 50 US dollars for foreigners, walking safari fees in which short distances are charged at 5,000/- per person and 20 US dollars for foreigners. Long distance walking fees charge 5,000/- for nationals and 50 US dollars for foreigners.
There are vehicle accident fees around the park with a charge of 200,000/- per vehicle of all types. Over-speeding charges cost 50,000/- per vehicle per day. All fees are valid for only 24 hours. Authorities in national parks have announced an increase of entrance fee for local tourists from the current 1,500/- per adult to 10,000/- beginning July, this year and it has been received with mixed reaction.
Several industry watchers hailed the increase, saying it will help limit the number of visitors with the aim to maintain the ecosystem. But some watchers are of the views that increasing park fees defeats the purpose of encouraging Tanzanians to visit the national parks, thus, promote the national heritage.
Prof Warioba said much as authorities are doing a good job of promoting and encouraging local tourism, Tanzania still has a long way to go before this becomes a reality. He was of the view that majority of Tanzanians are still poor, therefore, increasing park fees meant only limited number of people would be able to afford them.
“To me, increasing the park fees to 10,000/- means that only a few, middle income Tanzanians can afford it.
According to him, there must be strategic drive to address poverty eradication and encourage entrepreneurship, especially among the young generation “and not only the town dwellers but those living in rural areas as well.”
By Ichikaeli Maro, Tanzania Daily News, 6 April 2013