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Imagine hundreds of zebra stripes reflecting in still waters. Imagine the looming silhouette of elephants burnt into the crimson sunset. Imagine the sight of ghostly baobab trees scattered across shimmering grasslands. These features are not figments of imagination – these features are just a taste of what Tarangire is all about! Tarangire is a hidden wonder of Tanzania that deserves special consideration in the itinerary of any safari enthusiast, especially during its prime in the dry season when huge masses of animals stream into the park for its perennial water supply.
During the dry season, when the sun has baked all moisture from the surrounding landscapes, a menagerie of different shapes and sizes of animals are lured to the enticing waters of the Tarangire River and seasonal swampland. The green season in Tarangire can also be incredibly rewarding as there are fewer crowds, many resident animals can still be seen (including large numbers of elephants) and the lush landscape is washed in vivid emerald foliage making a spectacular backdrop for photography.
Tarangire National Park measures 1,600 squares miles and is Tanzania’s fifth largest park. The park is named after the life-giving Tarangire River that provides the only permanent water for wildlife in the area. The river is a magnet for wildlife during the dry season when massive concentrations of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra congregate along its banks. Tarangire has a special character all its own, and is especially well known for a few outstanding highlights that are spotlighted below.
The most spectacular feature of Tarangire is that it serves as a place of refuge for the largest elephant population in northern Tanzania. These graceful giants were poached heavily during the 1980s, but there numbers have now dramatically rebounded. Approximately 3,000 elephants were counted during the last census in the year 2000. Since 2000, the elephant population has continued to rise at an increasing rate as Tarangire is currently experiencing an elephant ‘baby boom’. While out on safari, you will notice that a large proportion of the elephants encountered are less then 10 years old and baby elephants are abundant. Elephant viewing in Tarangire is outstanding and it is likely that you will see between 100 to 400 elephants in a single day. If you’ve ever seen an elephant, especially in the wild, you know what an awesome presence these graceful giants have. Words cannot describe the feeling that transpires when you take that awe and multiply it by the sheer mass of elephants that one can find in Tarangire! Set against stunning scenery, elephant viewing will undoubtedly prove to be one of the biggest highlights for a safari in Tarangire.
The Tarangire River runs up the center of the park through diverse habitats and varied topography. Gentle rolling hills interspersed with giant baobab trees, open acacia woodlands and seasonal swamps provide a spectacular and picturesque setting. Well-known regions of Tarangire that are easily visited include Lemiyon, Matete, Burungi and Kitibong as well as the Tarangire River itself. Each area is unique and has its own secret wonders to reveal. A memorable sight are the mystical baobab trees that can be seen in large numbers along some of the park’s northern game circuits – giant wonders of nature, these silvery, massive trees seem to dwarf the animals that graze underneath them.
Due to the diversified bionetwork of habitats, there are incredible opportunities to view many types of animals. In addition to the migrating herbivores (including buffalo, wildebeest and zebra) there are numerous resident animals that remain inside Tarangire National Park year round. Resident herbivores that you will likely encounter any time of year include elephant, mongoose, giraffe, bushbuck, rock hyrax, hartebeest, dik-dik, impala, waterbuck, warthog and reedbuck. Elephants are both migratory and resident; although some elephants leave, most stay inside the park year round. Primates include olive baboon, vervet monkey and bushbaby. Hippo and black rhino have been unfortunately poached to local extinction in Tarangire. With a little luck you may encounter some rare antelope species such as lesser kudu, eland and fringe-eared oryx. Another rare animal that has recently been seen again in Tarangire is the African wild hunting dog.
Carnivores include lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and jackal. Lions are abundant in Tarangire and are regularly encountered. It is possible to see large prides during the drier months when they are more stationary by the Tarangire River and swamps. Tarangire also affords surprisingly good leopard viewing with many safaris recording at least one leopard sighting on an average two-day visit to the park. On the other hand, cheetahs live at low densities in Tarangire and are only seen once or twice a year. African wild hunting dogs occupy Tarangire from time to time as well as the surrounding areas in the Maasai Steppe; the African wild hunting dog is critically endangered and since the mid 1990s has only been seen occasionally in the northern parks of Tanzania with the exception of Tarangire and the Northern Serengeti.
Tarangire boasts one of the most diversified parks in East Africa for birding. The park is especially good for raptors and even the non-birding enthusiast will be astounded by the abundance and diversity of these powerful air borne predators. Raptors regularly seen include the bateleur eagle, tawny eagle, long-crested eagle, martial eagle, fish eagle and spotted eagle owl.
It is interesting to note that the Tarangire National Park encompasses just a small portion of the total area of the Tarangire ecosystem. In fact, the Tarangire ecosystem is 13 times the size of the park! The borders of the ecosystem are defined by the migrating herbivores. The migrating animals use Tarangire during the dry season and migrate to the surrounding ecosystem during the green season. The main migratory herbivores are buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. These animals migrate out of the park and disperse east in December at the beginning of the green season. The migrating herds start to return from the greater ecosystem and make their way back into the park around June at the beginning of the dry season. The migration takes place in part because the soil in the park is deficient in phosphorus. Thus the migratory animals scatter onto village lands, beyond the safety of the park borders, in search of mineral-rich forage to accommodate their dietary needs. During the dry season, the migrating herds are forced back inside the park due to the lack of permanent sources of water outside the park. The park has large areas of wetlands including the Gursi and Silale swamps that act as sponges and supply the Tarangire River during the dry season.
The wildlife rhythms of Tarangire are almost directly opposite those of the Serengeti. Tarangire comes into its own during the dry season (July - November) when enormous populations of elephants and other animals are drawn to the Tarangire River and other sources of permanent water within the park. The prime wildlife season starts to ramp up in June at the beginning of the dry season. During June and July, the surrounding areas begin to dry out and many of the animals begin to migrate back into Tarangire from the greater ecosystem. During August, September and October, the outlying areas are completely parched. This is the best time to visit Tarangire since massive herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and elephant will congregate around the remaining rivers and swamps inside the park boundaries.
Sporadic showers are expected in Tarangire in late November. These showers and the continued light rains in December disperse the large herds of zebra and wildebeest into the surrounding ecosystem. From January to May, most of the migratory animals will have dispersed into the greater ecosystem however the park will still support many resident animals including the large herds of elephants. Tarangire is an incredible park that will reserve a special place in your heart and memories. Rest assured - no matter what time of year you choose to visit Tarangire, you’ll certainly be glad you did!