East of the Pare Mountains, Mkomazi falls along the edge of a semi-arid savanna arc that stretches into bordering Kenya's Tsavo East National Park. Every day, thousands of people pass near its gates at Same Town on one of Tanzania's busiest highways. Few, however, know of its rugged acacia-covered beauty beside the Usambara and Pare mountains, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.
Endangered black rhino and wild dog have found refuge in the newly gazetted national park along with the adjacent Umba reserve in order to better protect those and other species. Within the park, the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary has attained international renown for rehabilitating rhino, and it offers limitless viewing and educational opportunities for travellers. Herds of the tall slender-necked Gerenuks, with their bizarre alien-like heads, survive in Mkomazi's arid lands where other antelope cannot; the Gerenuk even stand on their hind legs to stretch for the tiny leaves of thorny bushes and trees.
The park takes its name from the Pare tribe's word for "water source", referring to the Umba River on Mkomazi's south eastern border. The river and other water holes keep the park teeming with small and large mammals, including silver backed jackal, lion, cheetah, leopard, lesser kudu, giraffe, buffalo, elephant and zebra. Bird watchers also delight in trying to spot any number of Mkomazi's 450 avian species, from wood hoopoe to tawny eagle, parrot to kingfisher. As a national park, Mkomazi have the potential to be a glorious sanctuary where travellers will explore more of Tanzania's hidden natural treasures. The Reserve represents species and ecosystems not commonly found in East Africa making it an unusual alternative or addition to a Northern Circuit safari.
Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Tanzania's third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa. The bulk of Katavi supports a hypnotically featureless cover of tangled brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localised eland, sable and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania's densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.
It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains. Katavi's most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up - bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.
Mahale Mountains are a very special place where one can meet his close cousin who shares 98% of the same DNA. This remote and beautiful national park contains at least a thousand chimpanzees, some of whom are so habituated that you can sit amongst them and watch the daily life of a chimp unfold. Unfortunately, when they decide to feed on fruits high in the trees or move off through the branches at high speed, all man's intelligence and inventions cannot help him follow the animals.
This park is a destination for the traveller with a sense of adventure as there are no roads and the only way to arrive is by air or boat (on Lake Tanganyika) and you must then explore the national park on foot. The Mahale Mountains run from north to west across the middle of the park with the highest peak towering 8,000 feet (approx. 2,462 metres) above sea level. Mountainous tropical forests hang with vines and tall trees grow on the banks of rivers which tumble into numerous waterfalls. A thousand butterflies rise from the warm wet earth and make Mahale a truly magical place. Together with this there is 39 miles (62km) of pristine lakeshore on a peninsular cutting into Lake Tanganyika - the world's longest lake and second deepest full of unique chichlid fish.
Seeing chimpanzees in the wild is a great thrill and worth the effort of getting here. Other primates include Colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and baboons. Larger mammals found here are buffaloes, elephants, roan and sable antelopes, leopards, lions and warthogs. Birdlife is prolific both in the park and along the lakeshore. Lake Tanganyika contains over 200 types of small shining chichlid fish, many of which are endemic and some of which are allowed to be collected by divers for export to tropical aquariums.
Farmers, fishermen, hunters, herbalists... and superb musicians, the Tongwe people of West Tanzania range from the shores of Lake Tanganyika to the chimp-inhabited peaks towering above. The Tongwe Trust, founded officially in 2006, supports community-based projects throughout Tongwe-land - from Village Forest Reserves of extraordinary biodiversity, through boat-building and eco-tourism, to schools, dispensaries and village micro-enterprise. The Trust is also collecting an invaluable archive of Tongwe folklore, herbal medicine and music.
Gombe Stream National Park, located on the western border of Tanzania and the Congo, is most famous for Jane Goodall, the resident primatologist who spent many years in its forests studying the behaviour of the endangered chimpanzees. Situated on the wild shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is an untamed place of lush forests and clear lake views. Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day's expedition to see the chimpanzees is over.
Gombe Stream's main attraction is obviously the chimpanzee families that live protected in the park's boundaries. Guided walks are available that take visitors deep into the forest to observe and sit with the extraordinary primates for an entire morning -- an incredible experience and one that is the highlight of many a visitors trip to Africa. Aside from chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream's tropical forests. Vervet and Colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelope inhabit the dense.
Saadani Game Reserve was gazetted in 1964, covering an area of some 250 sq km from the Wami river in the south to the Mligaji river in the north, with the Moshi railway line as the western boundary.
In 2003 Saadani was upgraded to become Tanzania's latest National Park under the direction of TANAPA (Tanzania National Park Authority). Boundaries have been expanded to include land north of the Mligaji, which is an important area containing the only permanent elephant population in the area as well as sable antelope. The total protected area now covers over 1000 sq km and the TANAPA headquarters are based at Mkwaja ranch.
Saadani is geographically the closest reserve to Dar es Salaam (130km) and, even considering the present situation of no coast road, it is still a similar distance in terms of time to Mikumi National Park, the next closest wildlife destination. Construction of the coast road from Dar es Salaam is underway and once completed, this will reduce driving time to around two hours from Dar making Saadani the closest wildlife destination to Dar offering an irresistible combination of beach and wildlife viewing. Saadani also sits almost directly opposite Zanzibar's Stone Town, located approximately 42 km away. Flights from Zanzibar to Saadani take just 15 mins. The combination of beach and big game is unique in Tanzania. Whilst the diversity of animals is comparable to most parks, it is the numbers and accessibility which we have been working on with TANAPA. Large game currently seen include giraffe, buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, sable antelope, eland, hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, reedbuck, greater kudu, warthog, hyena, mongoose, civet, serval, baboon, black and white colobus, crocodile, hippo, three species of duiker as well as a great variety of birdlife.
Saadani is dominated by acacia woodland and coastal thickets. It also protects a large area of mangrove swamps along the coastline North from the Wami river, and includes several species of palm including the mysterious looking 'walking palm', which is not actually a palm at all! Dolphins are sometimes seen offshore and whales pass through the Zanzibar channel on their migration. Of particular interest is the green turtle project at Madete Marine Reserve. This endangered species is under particular threat from fishing practices offshore from Saadani and a conservation project has been established to help protect both turtles and their eggs.