Tarangire was always so close, yet so far away – but not anymore!
Since being here, I have driven down the Park boundary countless times and have seen it from atop local hills, but, finally, last week, we spent two days in Tarangire National Park. Needless to say, it was beautiful. For all of you picturing the Serengeti – you’ve got it wrong. Laly likes to say that Tarangire is a more ‘sophisticated’ ecosystem, with deep korongos, open woodland, dense woodland, hills, swamps, and tall grass. In the Serengeti, you can see for kilometers and kilometers; here, there are areas where you can see about 3 meters.
Despite these challenges, the wildlife viewing was incredible. Animals within the Park are so habituated to cars and people (as well as know that they are safe from poachers) that you can be within meters of zebras, impala, giraffe, and elephants. We even managed to find several groups of lions and the elusive oryx. We spent the night at Tarangire Safari Lodge, which overlooks the Tarangire River. There happened to be a full moon that night and, on top of the amazing view, it was really quite magical.
This is the view of Tarangire that most Westerners get – they come in with safari companies, stay in park lodges, and see tons of animals. However, while in the Park, I found myself thinking about what sacrifices it took to create the Park. When we took our summer campers to the top of Ngahari, the elders told us about the time before the Park existed, as well as a bit about how they feel about its creation. Below is a short story of Tarangire that few have heard.
It used to be that the Park land belonged to the Maasai, and they grazed many goats there. During WWII, the Maasai were chased out by the British and Germans who were fighting in the Park. After the War (and after ownership of Tanzania moved from the Germans to the British), the Maasai were brought back in to cut down all the trees in a (failed) attempt to eradicate tsetse flies from the area. Then, in the 1970’s, a Maasai leader sold the land to the government because he thought that there were so many resources that they would never need that land for their cattle (unfortunately, this is no longer the case).
The name of the Park comes from a Maasai word used to describe the spotted goats that they used to graze on the land; this word eventually evolved into ‘Tarangire.’ Some of the elders are old enough that they remember this entire progression, and we asked them if they saw any benefits of the Park. Some of the elders recognized benefits, such as tourist revenue and increased education levels, but others still hold some resentment about losing such valuable and water-rich grazing land. It is hard to imagine being told to leave land that your family has lived on for generations. And, on top of that, to watch the land you are on degrade with overgrazing when there is perfectly good, but inaccessible, Park land within eyesight. It is definitely a complicated situation that I find myself thinking about quite often.
Fortunately for us, and a lot of wildlife, the creation of the Park has allowed for the protection of a unique ecosystem and a hugely diverse array of animals. This was easily the closest I will ever be to 90% of the species we saw, and, as someone who grew up watching the Lion King religiously, this trip was almost total fulfillment of my childhood fantasies of Africa. Here are a select few pictures (out of almost 500 that I took) of the Park, enjoy – they barely do the colors justice!