Tarangire National Park covers an undulating area of 2,600km2, between the plains of the Maasai Steppe to the south-east, and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley to the north and west. The northern part of Tarangire is dominated by the perennial Tarangire River, which flows through increasingly incised ravines until it leaves the north-western corner of the park to flow into Lake Burungi. In the south are a series of vast ‘swamps’ which dry into verdant plains during the dry season.
Although Tarangire is one of only four parks on Tanzania’s sometimes frenetic ‘northern circuit’, it is often either missed out, or given less than 24 hours, by the many relatively cursory mini-bus tours. This means that few get beyond the park’s busy northern section, where the majority of camps and lodges is situated.
If you decide to come to Tarangire at all, then we recommend spending a few days in the south of the park, which gets few visitors and retains a real air of wilderness.
Flora and Fauna of Tarangire National Park
The park’s most obvious features are the permanent Tarangire River, which runs the length of it, and the vast ‘swamps’ – which are, in fact, dry for most of the year. Despite the fact that Tarangire is drier than the Serengeti, its vegetation is generally much more dense including densely packed elephant grass, large areas of mixed acacia woodlands and some lovely ribbons of riverine forest.
Think of Tarangire as part of a much larger ecosystem, and you’ll understand why its game varies with the seasons. From November to May, some of the wildlife leaves the park, north-west to Lake Manyara, or east into the Maasai Steppe. From around June to October, when those regions are drier, the animals return to Tarangire’s swamps, and especially, its river system. This is the best season for a game-viewing safari in Tarangire, which can be excellent.
Particularly large numbers of elephant herds congregate here, as do many wildebeest and zebra. There are also substantial populations of impala, giraffe, eland and buffalo. Thompson’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, bohor reedbuck and both greater and lesser kudu are found here. The localized and unusual gerenuk and fringe-eared oryx also occur here, though in our experience they are seen exceedingly rarely. There are still thought to be a few black rhino in the park.
Lion are common throughout Tarangire, as are leopard, whilst cheetah seem to favour the more open areas of the south. Spotted hyena are always around, and whilst wild dog do sometimes pass through; sightings of them are rare.
With a range of environments and good game, Tarangire’s birdlife is also varied – and over 500 species have been recorded here, including ashy starlings and large flocks of beautiful yellow-collared lovebirds, both of which are endemic to Tanzania.
Tarangire’s vegetation comprises of mostly dry, open woodlands, which include thorny acacia thickets and lots of its signature baobab trees. There are also some beautiful stands of acacia tortillis trees (the flat-topped acacias which are so reminiscent of the film Out of Africa) and the occasional palm tree. In the south of the park, amidst these rolling woodlands, is a network of huge, flat swamps. These are impassable during the rains, but dry to a uniform green during the rest of the year.