Mikumi National Park lies in east-central Tanzania on the central African plateau, about 300 km from Dar es Salaam. The whole park is just a bit larger then Luxemburg, its southern border now coincides with the Tanzam Railway which separates Mikumi from the Selous Game Reserve. Just southwest of Mikumi rise the Udzungwa Mountains (see other parks and reserves), eastern wall of a most attractive national park, their highest peak, Luhomero, rising to 2576m. The craggy Udzungwas are a beautiful part of a U-shaped series of mountains, the open-end of the “U” facing the northeast, which almost encloses Mikumi’s floodplain. West of the plain the Rubeho Mountains rise to over 2000m extending into hog backed ridges of the Mbesera, Madizini and Mazunyungu Hills which sweep round westward and eastwards. To the south rise the Vuma Hills, somewhat lower but no less beautiful or unique. The mountains are internationally acknowledged as being of exceptional biodiversity value, yet Mikumi’s southern hills remain re latively unexplored and probably endemic rich.
It is ironic, then, that the area of Mikumi which most people experience, the flood-plain, is the park’s least characteristic feature.
The relatively open plains attract the kind of game that many visitors are eager to see, tracks are easier to build and maintain, driving is more straightforward, visibility is good and tsetse flies less abundant. The plains are characterised by hardpan ridges, separated by slightly lower, narrower depressions of heavy clay, known as “black cotton” soil. The floodplain has a sparse tree population, though a variety of acacias, a few tamarind and several copses of African Blackwood occur in certain areas.
Vegetation depends on climate, and even here Mikumi has been misrepresented, for it doesn’t have two distinct rainy seasons as is often maintained, but one, from mid-December to mid-May, though vary from year to year. The wet season, heavy or light, can be hot and humid with temperatures reaching 33° Celsius, but there is often a breeze and weather conditions are rarely unpleasant.
Mikumi is always relatively accessible, even in the rainy season, which makes it an excellent place in which to see birds, with striking breeding plumages at times. Foremost are the bishops and widow birds. The slopes below Mikumi Wildlife Lodge sometimes yield redsnaped widow birds. Flocks of queleas visit the park in the rains; they behave much like red-billed queleas. A species which can turn up anywhere but rarely does, the Cuckoo Weaver, has been seen at the hippo pools. Falcons are a feature of Mikumi, with Dickinson’s and grey kestrels as residence. A drive around the edges of the southern flood-plain or Kisungura sometimes provides common and lesser kestrels. Among the many remaining raptors the following are notable: Mikumi is at the edge of the range of the Dark Chanting Goshawk, best looked for in the Miombo woodland. Black-breasted snake eagles are often seen. The Cuckoo Hawk has been recorded on the park boundary formed by the Kilosa road and in the rains African marsh harriers are comm on in the park. Just a small selection of the enormous variety in bird species in Mikumi.
Brooding and primeval, the forests of Udzungwa seem positively enchanted: a verdant refuge of sunshine-dappled glades enclosed by 30-metre (100 foot) high trees, their buttresses layered with fungi, lichens, mosses and ferns. Udzungwa is the largest and most bio diverse of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, this archipelago of isolated massifs has also been dubbed the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly the delicate African violet.
Udzungwa alone among the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc has been accorded national park status. It is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 250 metres (820 feet) to above 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) without interruption. Not a conventional game viewing destination, Udzungwa is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges 170 metres (550 feet) through a misty spray into the forested valley below. The more challenging two-night Mwanihana Trail leads to the high plateau, with its panoramic views over surrounding sugar plantations, before ascending to Mwanihana peak, the second-highest point in the range. Ornithologists are attracted to Udzungwa for an avian wealth embracing more than 400 species, from the lovely and readily-located green-headed oriole to more than a dozen secretive Eastern Arc endemics.
Four bird species are peculiar to Udzungwa, including a forest partridge first discovered in 1991 and more closely related to an Asian genus than to any other African fowl. Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey both occur nowhere else in the world – the latter, remarkably, remained undetected by biologists prior to 1979. Undoubtedly, this great forest has yet to reveal all its treasures: ongoing scientific exploration will surely add to its diverse catalogue of endemics.