Wild Things writes a variety of travel articles publicising destination Tanzania. Tanzania Articles range from accounts of holidays to factual descriptions of the natural history. The most recent of these is listed below:
Jewels of the South – Mikumi and Udzungwa National Parks
With visiting family my wife and I decided to visit two of the least well known national parks in Tanzania, Mikumi and Udzungwa. This would allow us to experience two very different wilderness habitats, savanna and forest, without having to travel a huge distance between them.
We were picked up early in Dar Es Salaam and swiftly left the city behind as the sun rose over the Ruvu flood plain. We made a brief stop at Chalinze to have breakfast, enjoying some of the best sambusas I have ever tasted and to pay a visit to a local toy factory. Chalinze Toys recycles old tins to make model safari cars, tankers and buses. Bahati (our guide) pointed out some model safari cars, complete with opening game viewing hatches.
Back in the Landcruiser, clutching our own model versions, we soon got our first site of the cloud-capped Uluguru massif that rears up behind Morogoro Town. The Ulugurus, like the Udzungwas, are part of the Eastern Arc Mountain Range. The forests that cover these mountains are the remnants of the great forest that used to cover most of the country. The climate changed and this, combined with pressure from people and elephants, pushed the forest back until it became fragmented. These forest-clad mountains have been described as the ‘Galapagos of Africa’ due to their divergent evolution and consequent high degree of endemism. The importance of the Eastern Arc is not limited to its high biodiversity as the catchments provide the majority of the country’s fresh water and hydroelectric power.
We passed Morogoro, villages gave way to beautiful wilderness and soon we entered Mikumi National Park . As if on cue, we were welcomed by some baby elephants who, shepherded by their watchful mothers and matriarch, were browsing close to the main gate. After paying our park fees we decided to have a short game drive to the hippo pools before settling into our lodge.
Almost immediately on passing through the gate we began to spot large numbers of game. These included delicate sand-coloured Impala in harems with attendant bucks, a confusion of wildebeest aggregates, dazzles of zebra, and a menacing group of old male buffalo. The buffalo watched us malevolently as we drove by and eying their viciously curved horns I was glad not to be on foot.
After a taking in some basking crocodiles and wallowing hippo we went for lunch at our lodge. Mikumi Wildlife Lodge has a comfy dining area overlooking two waterholes. As we ate our delicious bush pizza we watched the elephants we had seen earlier come to drink. From the shade of the bar we swept the landscape with our binoculars and were rewarded with a constant procession of different animals coming to drink. The old buffaloes took possession of one of the waterholes and began to wallow. This meant that all the other game had to come even closer to the other waterhole. Iridescent blue superb starlings flitted around the edge of the restaurant whilst giant, prehistorically ugly, marabou stalks watched from the nearby treetops. In the distance a committee of vultures circled, reveling in the thermals over the sun kissed plains.
Well fueled and refreshed by a quick shower we rested we drove into the heart of the park. As we drove we saw many raptors including crowned eagles and rednaped falcons. We were shadowed by a magnificent bateleur whose unsteady wobbling flight suddenly gave way to a plummeting stoop as it spied a hapless rodent.
To our left we saw several zebra running out of a gully and our guide swung the car onto a small track. As we emerged from the long grass we caught sight of the cause of the panic. A pair of lions had just brought down a zebra that had been coming to drink in a hidden pool. The zebra, trying to escape, had fled into the water and met its end there. The male lion was now trying to drag it out of the mud with little success. Getting more and more frustrated the lion tried from every side but the legs of the zebra were wedged in the mud and he could not move it. All the while the lioness watched somewhat disdainfully from the bank.
In the distance we could see a herd of buffalo. Then one large individual detached himself from the herd and began to walk towards the water and the lions. In the mud the heavier buffalo would definitely have the advantage so we waited in anticipation of the confrontation. It wasn't to be - the lion took one look at the buffalo, shook his head, and walked resignedly from the zebra back to rejoin the lioness. By this stage his bottom half was totally covered in mud and he had become a two tone lion. All he got for his trouble was a look of 'And where is my dinner?' from his lady.
The mosaic of grassland and miombo woodland that makes up Mikumi lies between three different Eastern Arc Mountain ranges (the Ulugurus, the Ukagurus and the Udzungwas) and their foothills. This means that though Mikumi is contiguous with the Selous Game Reserve the only animals that move between the two in numbers are elephants and buffalo.
As the sun slipped behind the Ukaguru Mountains we drove back to the lodge through a beautiful swaying see of grass that caught the colours of the setting sun. It had been a very successful day for birds and big game. After dinner we enjoyed a drink by the fire underneath a myriad of shimmering stars.
Our day's adventure was not over however. We were escorted back to our rooms by a Masai guard who led us silently on a roundabout route to avoid some of the large (and very dangerous) lone male buffaloes which had moved close to some of the huts. We retired and fell asleep to the distant sound of lions roaring followed by the yipping lament of the ever present hyenas. In Swahili there is a proverb that comments on this relationship and states that 'the lion walks with his uncle'.
The next morning we had time for an early game drive where we encountered a coalition of two impressive male lions crossing some burnt ground before leaving Mikumi and transferring to the Udzungwa Mountains .
After a short drive we arrived at Udzungwa Forest Camp (or Hondo Hondo as it is locally known) nestled at the base of the forested mist veiled Udzungwas. The contrast with Mikumi was amazing - here everything was a lush vibrant green. Water was clearly plentiful here. As we enjoyed our welcome drink we noticed a flight of silvery cheeked hornbills. 'Hondo hondo' means 'hornbill' in Swahili, and three different species may be seen from the camp.
We settled in quickly and picked up our packed lunches before transferring to park HQ to pay our fees, collect our TANAPA guide and begin the Njokamoni Waterfall trail. This trail starts just next to the headquarters so you begin your hike in the shady forest. As you climb into the forest the habitat changes from dense lowland forest to the more moss clad submontane forest. The forest is alive with the liquid sounds birds and flickers of brightly coloured butterflies. On our way to the falls we were lucky enough to see the Rufous Winged Sunbird (which is endemic to Udzungwa) amongst several other species.
The walk to Njokamoni falls takes about an hour and a half. Before you arrive at the falls you can hear the roar of the falls. When we arrived we were fairly hot so we cooled down by splashing in the waterfall. We enjoyed our lunch and a nice break before continuing on our trek.
It was not long before our guide motioned us to stop and be quiet. There was a rustling in the trees ahead. We stayed completely still as around twenty Sanje Mangebeys emerged from the bushes and crossed the path in front of us. This is a rare mid-canopy monkey (discovered in the 1980's) that is only found in the Udzungwas. More recently another primate the Kipunji has also been discovered in the remote forests of Udzungwa.
This troupe of mangebys had been habituated by researchers and TANAPA staff so they paid us no heed and continued to play and feed next to the path for several minutes. This was an amazing experience, to get so close to something so rare in the wild.
We returned to Hondo Hondo elated after our hike. As we settled into a superb dinner a bright light went on in the clearing. The manager explained that this was a 'bug sheet'. A mercury vapour lamp is hung up in front of a white sheet to attract various moths and beetles during the night (and to keep them away from the dining area!). The lodge had been inspired when visiting scientists from the Natural History Museum in London had been undertaking research at Hondo Hondo earlier in the year. It was truly fascinating to see beautiful silk moths, streamlined hawk moths, longhorn beetles and giant praying mantises. This gave us a glimpse of numerous nocturnal species that you would not otherwise see. The light sheet also attracted several opportunist feeders including rocket frogs and several gleaning bats.
The next day as we left our comfortable ensuite tented rooms we found that, during the night, elephants had passed through silently. They were probably on their way to raid the bananas from the neighbouring farms. We enjoyed an early full English breakfast (with black pudding!) before collecting our TANAPA guide and transferring the 6km to the beginning of the Sanje Waterfalls trail.
The hike up Sanje is fairly steep but the path is well maintained and there are plenty of places to rest. This time the habitats changed from miombo woodland to forest to submontane forest. Every so often the trail was covered with fresh leaves which had been dropped by feeding colobus monkeys. Then we saw them, a mixed troupe of black and white colobus and Iringa red colobus (another endemic species). The word 'colobus' comes from the Greek 'colobe' meaning 'cripple'. This is because they have no thumbs. These two species form mixed troupes for defense from predatory eagles and leopards. They do not compete as the black and white colobus eat old leaves whereas the red colobus eat young leaves and unripe fruit. Colobus cannot digest sugars. The name is clearly a misnomer as their agility was clearly demonstrated as they made some incredible leaps a good thirty metres above the ground!
The view from the top of the 180m Sanje Falls was incredible. After catching our breath we continued our walk a few hundred metres to two of the higher falls. In the spray zone of one of these falls our guide pointed out a flowering African Violet (St Paulia). This endemic plant has around 20 different species found throughout the Eastern Arc.
At the highest of the three falls there is a superb swimming pool. The rock has ledges and it is possible to get behind the waterfall and dive out through it into the plunge pool. This was simply unforgettable!
We returned to Hondo Hondo for a sunset drink, and from the bar were treated to the sight of red colobus, black and white colobus and baboons all settling down for the night near the forest edge. That night as we were woken from our sleep by the screeching alarm cries of the baboons and the distinctive sawing of leopards. This drama soon subsided and the frog chorus lulled us back to sleep.
In the morning we went on a final pre-breakfast bird walk with the guide from the lodge. We managed to see around 40 of the 100 or species that are present at Hondo Hondo. The highlights of these for me were the raptors which included the southern banded snake eagle, the lizard buzzard and the long crested eagle. In just three days we had experienced many different habitats, their numerous associated birds and animals and several very rare endemic species. It was with regret that we left the wilderness and headed back to Dar Es Salaam.
By Roy J.Hinde
Roy J. Hinde is currently a director of Wild Things Safaris Ltd. He previously worked as a biodiversity research scientist in Tanzania. For more information on visiting Mikumi & the Udzungwa Mountains please contact us if you are interested in any of these destinations and we will design a tailor-made Tanzania safari to suit your particular interests.