Ruaha is vast, the largest park in Tanzania and second largest on the continent, bigger than the mighty Serengeti but with a landscape, in most places, more similar to magical Tarangire. Baobab tress are everywhere and in such an enchanting array of shape and size from the five thousand year old massive girthed patriarchs to the seemingly small centuries old babies, even elegant slimmer trunked ladies with their blushing silvery pink trunks. Their animal cousins the elephant have visited each one and stripped the moisture-rich fibrous bark from the base but the trees are healthy and heal themselves over time. When I ask how many there are the guide laughs and says “Over one hundred thousand” and I believe it. With their branches festooned with white tissue blossoms they create such a fairy-tale feel.
Game drives tend to weave back and forth across and in the areas around the dry river beds. They are flooded during and after the rains but now in November, at the end of the dry season, they are mostly sand with a few pools and wet places where the animals gather. The elephant prefer to dig through the sand to find the water that lies below. Over the days we see several herds of forty or fifty gathered to drink like this, their trunks disappearing into the sand and then lifting out dripping with drops of water. The little ones wait to wiggle their tiny wayward trunks into the holes that their mamas have made, some kneeling to reach the water. As always wherever the elephant gather the air fills with the peace and calm of their soft rumbling presence, punctuated only very occasionally by a warning trumpet or an ear flapping mini mock charge.
Along with a large population of elephant Ruaha seems to have almost as many giraffe, gorgeously light colored, their flowery Maasai markings exquisite on their velvet-soft looking sides. One particularly giraffe-rich day it seemed that there were towers of giraffe at every turn and we watched them widen their legs and bow their heads to drink from rock pools along the edge of the sandy river bed.
Powerful, heavy Ruaha male lions spurn the heavy thick manes of their northern brothers in favor of a cooler cropped style giving them a less regal but more tough guy look. Of the seven or eight great lion sightings in the first 3 days my favorite was a lone male that we found crossing open ground. Walking briskly and a little skittish he passed close in front of the vehicle and then we followed to where he settled in the shade of a tree on a bank overlooking the river bed. Huffing with heavy breath he turned his golden eyes on us and stared us down for long thrilling seconds before dismissing us as unimportant and dull sitting there twenty feet away in our open vehicle. We watched him for maybe thirty minutes as he panted and sighed, licked and yawned, eyes growing drowsy and heavy until he lowered his head to catch short dozes and finally rolled onto his back to show us his fine belly and all his glory. Not another vehicle in sight and the whole experience to ourselves made it even more special. One of the wonders of Ruaha is the sparse population of tourists; most days only passing two or three other safari vehicles all day.
Among Ruaha’s highlights; a herd of buffalo five hundred strong grazing along the green riverbank alongside three families of elephant totaling around a hundred and a lone giraffe bending to drink in the background; two lioness dining on a bloated ‘fragrant’ hippo carcass, skin stretched to a putrid iridescence, while a croc lurked close by and marabou stork and vultures waited in the wings; the acrobatics of frolicking yellow baboon babies; a lion family feasting on a zebra, the three mamas growling and snarling over the last scraps while the eight cubs played tug-of-war with a piece of the ripped striped hide; gorgeous huge-eared kudu; and sunsets, sunsets, sunsets.
Thank you for your hospitality to the staff and management of
Kwihala – Asilia
Jabali Ridge - Asilia
Kigelia – Nomad
Ikuka Safari Camp
Mwagusi Safari Camp