Alone with the animals in Tanzania’s newest national park

Typically the street from Dar es Salaam to western Tanzania was little greater than rutted earth; typically, a shimmering line of pewter asphalt. Time moved slowly, which allowed for likelihood encounters: migrating Sukuma cattle herders swaggering throughout the plains in jaunty fedoras; a choir in baby-pink robes recording an album in a church so busy, the congregation spilled out on to the road. Upon reaching Tabora, about midway between the capital Dodoma and Lake Tanganyika, I booked into the city’s previous railway lodge. I used to be exhausted from a run of nights spent in truck-stop motels, locations with names reminiscent of Planet Visitor Home and Galaxy Lodge, and fell asleep for 14 hours. The hubble-bubble of a “rainbird”, the white-browed coucal, woke me up, its voice falling and rising, calling in my ear like an alarm clock.

A former hub of the Arab-Swahili slave and ivory trades, Tabora was the settlement the place the Nineteenth-century caravans stocked up on provisions. Strands of that historical past linger, in the home the place the Scottish missionary Dr David Livingstone stayed within the 1870s (now a museum), and within the groves of bobble-topped mango bushes the caravans cropped for sustenance. In the present day, there are busy souks and chic minarets, and the city can be the jumping-off level for one in all Africa’s latest nationwide parks, Ugalla River Nationwide Park.

At 3,865 sq. kilometres, Ugalla is greater than double the dimensions of the Maasai Mara. Created in September 2019, it’s a excellent news story that has been virtually fully ignored within the fallout from Covid-19. The land on which the brand new nationwide park sits was already owned by the federal government, however had been leased in blocks to big-game searching firms. Now, with nationwide park standing, solely photographic safaris are allowed.

I used to be interested in this signal of a paradigm shift in a rustic the place trophy searching has lengthy performed a task within the administration of distant wildlife areas. Would Ugalla’s modified standing persuade non-hunting safari vacationers that this fully ignored a part of western Tanzania was price exploring? Maybe it might develop into someplace for them to cease off between the nation’s extra accessible safari areas — the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro ­— and probably the most well-loved luxurious camps in Africa, Greystoke Mahale, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Sukuma cattle herders
Sukuma cattle herders on the drive to Tabora © Sophy Roberts

That, a minimum of, was what I hoped for, as was my travelling companion Remtula Nasary, a Maasai information and proprietor of the safari logistics firm, Roots in Jungle. He was advisable by Nomad Tanzania, a conservation-tourism firm that I’ve recognized for a few years, for whom Nasary works as a star information. He would develop into the ninth Tanzanian to go to the brand new nationwide park. I might develop into the third foreigner.

Becoming a member of us in Tabora was a mutual good friend, the Kenya-born naturalist Richard Knocker, who in 2009 had first proven me Tanzania on a strolling safari. Knocker was wanting to do a light-weight, fly-camping itinerary in Ugalla suited to the exploratory philosophy of his Tanzania-based firm, The Map’s Edge, which he runs along with his spouse, Jules. “Ugalla is a particular win for conservation,” says Knocker: “This wetland space, bordering on the large western swamps, continues to be barely understood. There are some particular creatures right here that are tough to seek out wherever else.”

A mango tree
A mango tree in entrance of the home the place David Livingstone stayed in Tabora © Sophy Roberts

Local guide, Remtula Nasary
Native information Remtula Nasary © Sophy Roberts
A road close to the park boundary
A street near the park boundary © Sophy Roberts

At first mild, we left Tabora in Nasary’s Toyota 4×4 with some primary tenting package — pop-up tents, mattress rolls, a fuel range, some beers, contemporary greens and rice. First, we headed in direction of Urambo, the city linked to the Nineteenth-century Nyamwezi chief, Mirambo, who received nearer than virtually another chief in east Africa to stopping the Europeans’ ruthless advance late in that century. Then we turned south-west for the park boundary, passing via lengthy stretches of clear-cut floor — testimony to the results of inhabitants strain and charcoal manufacturing.

We stopped to purchase sizzling chapatti within the Nyamwezi village of Izengabatogilwe — my first phonetic style of this distinctive African tradition — and went into the miombo, a nutrient-thin native woodland held along with faucet roots practically as deep as every tree is tall. Within the leafage we might see previous beehives, however the honey was now not cropped by native communities. The principles of the Tanzania Nationwide Parks Authority (Tanapa) imply zero tolerance of wildlife exploitation — together with bushmeat poaching, fishing and even honey assortment — inside a park’s boundaries.

The team of anti-poaching rangers
Ismail Omari (centre) with members of the anti-poaching workforce © Sophy Roberts
A simple camp in Ugalla
A easy camp in Ugalla © Sophy Roberts

As a result of Ugalla is so new, with little signage, few marked tracks and no mounted or seasonal vacationer camps, we requested for assist from the park’s new head of anti-poaching, Ismail Omari. With a workforce of Tanapa rangers, Omari joined our get together. They camped out with us for 4 nights, in three totally different websites contained in the park, and confirmed us the place greatest to expertise Ugalla. Omari talked concerning the challenges he’d confronted implementing the park’s new boundaries, together with confrontations with cattle herders and fishermen. It was lonely, distant work, however he was proud to be growing a little-known a part of his nation. “I like Ugalla as a result of it’s much less studied; there’s much less info on the ecology,” mentioned Omari, who was additionally conducting PhD analysis concerning the function of chicken variety in habitat regeneration.

Map of Tanzania

The river got here into view — an extended, nonetheless slick of silver, reflecting the sharp silhouettes of palms with tight crowns. A black and pink southern floor hornbill took flight — an indication of luck, in line with the native Wanyamwezi folks. Open-billed storks picked away at freshwater mussel shells on the seaside. Close by we put up our tents in a puddle of inexperienced forest the place birds with brightly colored necks flitted via the leaves. We cooked dinner within the shade of a Cordia goetzii, or “rhino-rib tree” (the bark seems to be like gray pores and skin stretched over a skeleton). We listened to the riverine life, and the subsequent day, discovered previous hippo skulls the place the ivory tusks remained intact — a market worth of about $2,000, mentioned Omari, and a superb signal of Tanapa’s anti-poaching deterrents paying off — after which a jawbone the place the incisors had been eliminated (the Wanyamwezi, defined Omari, use the tooth as amulets). 

The Ugalla plains
The Ugalla plains © Sophy Roberts

Massive-game hunters that I’d talked to about Ugalla previous to visiting have been much less optimistic concerning the territory’s change of use. Photographic vacationers gained’t pay sufficient, they mentioned; the federal government’s wildlife authorities will make much less cash than they did from the searching trade. They warned that Ugalla turns right into a floodplain with the lengthy rains, from March to Might, making its enchantment solely seasonal and lowering its industrial scope. The tsetse flies might be off-putting too. I perceive the searching argument — the concept the “offtake” might be managed sustainably to keep up species numbers (previous male buffaloes, for example) — however when there’s so little left of the wild, I’m not as accepting of this as I was. And if a hunter can endure discomfort for the sake of a trophy, why can’t a photographic vacationer?

The observe opened right into a plain pricked with jackalberry bushes. It was like getting into the inexperienced expanse of a Gainsborough canvas, like English parkland. A tower of giraffes held our stare for 5, 10 seconds, then disappeared into the forest boundary. A breeding herd of feminine sable antelope — nicknamed “the horse antelope” due to the form of their our bodies — scattered in fright. Knocker was excited; this might imply the black sable, the male of the species, wouldn’t be distant. A couple of minutes later, a sighting. For Knocker, these have been the primary sables, male or feminine, in over a decade.

A black sable antelope
A black sable antelope operating for canopy © Richard Knocker

The issue was not one of the wildlife could be nonetheless lengthy sufficient for my viewfinder. This isn’t uncommon; in former searching areas, it takes time for the animals to calm down in human presence once more. Ugalla felt a great distance off from the Serengeti lions that typically gained’t even increase their head in the event that they’re dozing within the path of a Land Cruiser.

But when Ugalla’s wildlife was skittish, there was nonetheless a bewitching abundance. A roan antelope right here, a Lichtenstein’s hartebeest there — “like sable, these are species you by no means see on the standard east African safari circuit,” mentioned Knocker. With Nasary, each termite nest grew to become a narrative, each insect a story, this journey into Ugalla revealing an ecosystem of fragile interconnectedness. I ended reaching for my digital camera, and simply watched and listened to what was enjoying out: a tawny eagle being chased by a small drongo; lilac-breasted rollers tumbling via the air. I puzzled on the pleasure I seen in each member of our get together — together with Omari’s ranger workforce.

“It doesn’t really feel like every a part of Tanzania I do know,” mentioned Knocker.

“It looks like a panorama of risk,” mentioned Nasary. “Give the wildlife 5 years to de-spook.”

“What makes this such a pleasure,” mentioned Omari, “is to listen to you all maintain saying ‘wow’.”

The river Ugalla
Wildlife information Remtula Nasary on a night safari, scanning the river Ugalla © Sophy Roberts

Three defassa waterbuck and, far right, a topi
Three defassa waterbuck and, far proper, a topi © Richard Knocker
Richard Knocker
Naturalist Richard Knocker says that Ugalla is ‘a particular win for conservation’ © Sophy Roberts

We moved on slowly, quietly, with no schedule past making our subsequent camp earlier than dusk. There’s a whole lot of discuss “genuine journey experiences” — the chance to entry a more true, rarer form of wilderness — however most of the time, “genuine” continues to be hooked up to a luxurious vacationer camp, and in Ugalla River Nationwide Park, there are none. Or not but, anyway. I felt a deep sense of privilege, of getting a wilderness this huge all to ourselves. We adopted a buffalo herd possibly 200 sturdy. We watched impish impala — a typical animal, however in a panorama this empty of individuals, delicate and Edenic. Every night across the campfire, I seemed over the park map and realised how rather more there was left to expertise.

We stored on transferring, sleeping the subsequent night time on an oxbow bend with a fig tree shading us from a salt-white moon. We listened to Omari’s hope of seeing massive populations of elephant, sable and roan return, and the tales his colleague, the ranger Balthazar Gitamwa Boa, informed about his father, who was a conventional “rainmaker” in his tribe’s perception methods. We visited the park HQ, and met the Nyamwezi chief, Lindyati Finulla, who wore a seashell crown. His elders talked about how they wished this new nationwide park to deliver their tradition recognition, and for the 5 religious websites inside its boundaries to be protected.

We drank our final drops of whisky contained in the forest the place the branches cracked within the night time because the animals moved via them. The rains could be coming quickly, the deluge seeping into every thing, the flood turning the termite towers into islands. I wished to remain longer, to hearken to the rain make the bugs sing and the flowers open and the butterflies shut their wings, to increase that feeling of lightness once you give up to a different place. It was my final night time in Ugalla, and it was full of optimism, which in latest occasions, has felt as uncommon as sable. I lay with my eyes open with nothing however a mosquito web between me and the blinking stars — glad to be right here, glad to be travelling once more.


Park entry charges and tenting permits value $95 per particular person per night time. Remtula Nasary ( and Richard Knocker ( might be booked as personal guides for bespoke safaris in east Africa. A six-night Ugalla River Nationwide Park fly-camping itinerary designed by The Map’s Edge prices from $1,150 per particular person per night time together with all park charges, transfers from Tabora, tenting tools, meals and guiding

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