Tanzania’s wildlife estate is legendary but the vast majority of tourists visit the ‘Northern Circuit’, which includes the Serengeti and Ngogongoro Crater, rather than the south of the country.
Ruaha National Park is in the south west, about halfway between Dar es Salaam and the Zambian border.
It’s billed by its champions as the largest park in Africa and at 22,000,000 hectares it is is certainly one of them. Perhaps more important is its context: it is surrounded by a mosaic of protected areas including Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi Game Reserves, and community-run Wildlife Management Areas. At over 50,000 km2, this combined area certainly makes it one of the most remote and important reservoirs of African megafauna.
Ruaha itself is a formally controlled conservation area – a classic national park. It was expanded between 2006 and 2008 to bring the Usangu Wildlife Management area under strict protection. Usangu had previously been used for cattle grazing, and other activities, but over-consumption (particularly of water) persuaded the authorities to exclude all agricultural activity. This was not without controversy – people were removed from the area – but wildlife management areasremain a very important part of the park’s context, specifically on the southern border.
In a country where over 30% of the land is part of the protected wildlife estate, Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) continue a national tradition of conservation at a local level. Almost always adjacent to formally protected areas, where they operate as buffer zones, communities fish, keep bees and harvest thatch and other resources in WMAs. Funds generated are used for community-based initiatives such as schools.
To the north and east, the state-run game reserves of Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi,catering largely to trophy hunters, effectively insulate Ruaha’s flora and fauna from human predation.
The tourist experience is terrific. Cheaper to visit than the more famous northern reserves, the logisitics are also easier. In fact, the road west from Dar es Salaam actually takes you through Mikumi National Park which could complete an awesome wildlife itinerary.
Most visitors stick to the Ruaha river itself where they will see plenty of game but there is much more to the park than that.