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Mkomazi National Park – Tanzania’s Conservation Frontier Explored

Mkomazi National Park is situated in the northern part of Tanzania, in Tanga and Kilimanjaro regions, covering an area of 3,245 square kilometers. The name “Mkomazi” was derived from a local word of the Pare tribe, translated to mean “scoop of water” because of the scarcity of water in the park.

Mkomazi was first established as a game reserve in 1951 and was later upgraded to a national game park in 2006, sharing borders with Tsavo West National Park in Kenya.

When Mkomazi was initially established as a game reserve, the Parukayo pastoralists were allowed to continue living and grazing their animals within the reserve. They were permitted to do so because they had inhabited the area for many years, and the colonial government at the time believed that their presence wouldn’t negatively impact its ecological integrity.

However, immigrant pastoralists, like the Masai people, also began entering the park, resulting in congestion, with approximately 20,000 animals counted in the reserve in the 1960s. Other pastoralists, such as the Pare and Sambas people, also started grazing in the reserve, raising concerns that overgrazing could harm its ecological integrity. In 1988, the government evicted the Mkomazi people and other cattle herders from the park.

Conservationists, including the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust and Tony Fitzjon, took an interest in the park after the eviction of the local pastoralists. Their goal to preserve the park led to the establishment of fenced sanctuaries to protect black rhinos and African wild dogs. They also support local communities through outreach programs.

Today, Mkomazi has been restored, and its wildlife is thriving with the help of rangers and other conservationists, along with the support of the local community. The Mkomazi-Tsavo ecosystem is the second-largest transboundary ecosystem in East Africa.

Mkomazi National Park is a pristine wilderness with a backdrop of the Pare Eastern Arc and Usambara mountains, providing visitors with dramatic views of Mount Kilimanjaro on clear days. The park is characterized by savannah woodlands, grasslands, scrubs, tropical rainforests, and much more.

Wildlife Watching

There are 78 species of animals recorded in Mkomazi National Park, and tourists can spot animals such as gerenuk, zebras, Grant’s gazelle, impalas, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, oryx, lesser kudu, cheetahs, lions, leopards, common eland, hartebeests, spotted hyenas, fringe-eared oryx, odd-looking gerenuk, dik-dik, wildebeests, topi, and many others. The best time for a game drive is early morning and late afternoon.

Bird Watching

Mkomazi National Park is home to over 450 species of birds. Bird enthusiasts can observe birds such as the common ostrich, helmeted guinea fowl, vulturine guinea fowl, spur-winged goose, black crake, three-banded plover, black-winged stilt, spur-winged lapwing, African Jacana, white-faced whistling duck, knob-billed duck, red-billed duck, cinnamon-breasted bunting, African pied wagtail, white-bellied canary, house sparrow, pin-tailed whydah, African silver bill, lappet-faced vulture, crested francolin, lesser flamingo, rock pigeon, ring-necked dove, blue-spotted wood dove, Kori bustard, Namaqua dove, red-chested cuckoo, sombre nightjar, alpine swift, African palm swift, common sandpiper, collared pranticole, pink-backed pelican, black-winged kite, long-crested eagle, African goshawk, mountain buzzard, speckled mousebird, African scops owl, white-headed mousebird, crowned hornbill, red-and-yellow barbet, cardinal woodpecker, pygmy falcon, black cuckoo shrike, African golden oriole, black-backed puffback, fork-tailed drongo, African paradise flycatcher, house crow, white-rumped shrike, white-necked raven, flappet lark, singing cisticola, plain martin, black saw-singing, winding cisticola, garden warbler, greater blue-eared starling, African dusky flycatcher, eastern violet-backed sunbird, Tsavo bird, spectacled weaver, lesser masked weaver, chestnut weaver, Kenya rufous starling, African pipit, variable indigo bird, and red-billed fire finch, to mention a few.

Walking Safaris

While at Mkomazi National Park, tourists can go on a walking safari with a knowledgeable ranger guide. Exploring the park on foot offers a more intimate connection with nature.

Rhino Sanctuary

Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where you can spot rhinos. The rehabilitated rhinos are fenced in a natural habitat and guarded by game rangers.

Hiking

Tourists can hike in the forested ranges of Mkomazi National Park, but they should come prepared with essentials such as plenty of drinking water, waterproof hiking boots, insect repellents, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, energy snacks, long-sleeved clothes, socks, binoculars, a camera, rain jackets, and other necessary items.

Cultural Encounters

Tourists visiting Mkomazi National Park can engage with local communities and learn about their cultural heritage and way of life. Visitors can enjoy traditional African music and dance performances.

Getting There

Tourists visiting Mkomazi National Park can fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport or alternatively, fly into Dar es Salaam Nyerere International Airport and then fly into Arusha International Airport or Arusha Airport. Mkomazi National Park is 120 kilometers from Moshi town.

Where to Stay

There are not many accommodation options in Mkomazi National Park compared to other national parks in Tanzania. Some of the options include Babu’s Camp, Mambo View Point Eco Lodge, Elephant Motel, Orlando Lodge, and Pangani River Camp, to mention a few.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Mkomazi National Park is during the drier months of June to August and December to February. During the dry seasons, it’s easier to see wildlife because the vegetation is not thick, and wildlife is concentrated at water points within the park. The best time for birding is from November to April when migratory birds are present at the park.

Usambara Mountains

The Usambara Mountains were formed over 2 million years ago by faulting and uplifting, leading to the formation of Precambrian metamorphic rocks. The mountains are located in northeastern Tanzania, forming ranges up to 90 kilometers long in the Tanga region. The mountains are split into two subranges of Eastern Usambara and Western Usambara Mountains.

The highest point of the Usambara Mountains is Chambolo Peak, rising at an elevation of 2,289 meters above sea level. The mountains are still covered with their natural tropical forests, a feature that can only be found in West Africa. Several species of trees are endemic to the Usambara Mountains.

The Usambara Mountain areas were initially inhabited by the Shaamba people, who established a strong kingdom in the 18th century. German colonialists under German East Africa introduced cash crops and also separated some areas of the forests as forest reserves.

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park

A Mkomazi National Park tour can be combined with Mount Kilimanjaro. The park covers an area of 650 square kilometers, hosting Mount Kilimanjaro. The main activity at Kilimanjaro National Park is mountain climbing. Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain, with three volcanic cones of Kibo, Shira, and Mawenzi. It’s also the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

There are several routes established on Mount Kilimanjaro that tourists can use to reach the summit. All these routes are spectacular, some are hard, some are long, some are short, but all in all, reaching the summit is rewarding. Kilimanjaro climbing routes include Rongai route, Lemosho route, Mweka route, Machame route, Shira route, Marangu route, Kilema route, and western route.

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park also hosts some fauna species, and tourists can spot animals such as cape buffalos, African bush elephants, tree hyrax, grey duikers, blue monkeys, leopards, zebras, warthogs, bushbucks, and so many others.

Tourists intending to climb Mount Kilimanjaro should pack essentials like plenty of drinking water, waterproof hiking boots, energy snacks, binoculars, cameras, sunscreen, insect repellents, long-sleeved clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

Arusha National Park

The stunning Arusha National Park is located a few kilometers from Kilimanjaro National Park, hosting Tanzania’s second-highest mountain. It was established in 1960, covering an area of 137 square kilometers.

Although Arusha National Park is small, its spectacular landscapes and unique ecosystem have made it one of the best safari destinations in Tanzania. Some of the wildlife found in the park are leopards, bushbucks, vervet monkeys, red duikers, hippos, black and white colobus monkeys, cape buffalos, elephants, blue monkeys, and many others.

Arusha National Park is also a birder’s paradise, hosting over 400 species of birds. Bird enthusiasts in Arusha National Park can spot birds like pink-backed pelican, mourning collared dove, black-necked grebe, Egyptian goose, eastern bronze-napped pigeon, vulturine guinea fowl, montane nightjar, African palm swift, black night heron, white-bellied bustard, African black coucal, bare-faced sand grouse, yellow-necked spur fowl, black night heron, purple hen, African rail, little swift, Hartlaub’s turaco, African skimmer, African sacred ibis, white-headed vulture, crowned eagle, long-tailed cormorant, white-winged tern, long-toed lapwing, African jacana, and common ringed plover, among others.

Other national parks tourists can visit in Tanzania include Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Mikumi National Park, Nyerere National Park, Katavi National Park, Rubondo Island National Park, Saanane Island National Park, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.


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