Ruaha national park which is the largest Tanzania national park covering the area of 20.226 sq km is located in south-central Tanzania. Because of its size, Ruaha is in a unique position, to be able to continue uninterrupted as it has always been an untouched, pristine Eco-system, which in today world is not only something rare, but also very special.
Not only does Ruaha enjoy abundant wildlife, but the magnificent, and constant changing landscapes, add a magical touch to whole experience. Baobabs dot the rocky hillsides, the cool green shade, along the River, the open grassy plains, all make for a wonderfully varied and exciting trip.
During the dry season, when the game viewing is on its best, animals are drawn to the Great Ruaha River and other water sources. The sand rivers (Mwagusi and the Mdonya rivers among others) which are now dry, have underground water reserves that the elephants know about, so often one can see the elephants digging holes to obtain this sweet water, which is also used by other creatures.
In the rainy season, it is green and lush, and very beautiful with full rivers. At the end of the rainy season the park looks magnificent in it new cloak of grass and leaves with amazing flowers of all descriptions, yellow daisies, pink cleome, and huge swathes of brightly colored ipomoeas and hibiscus grace the landscapes. The seasonal variations in the park are superb; it would be wise to visit more than once, so that you can experience the vast changes that occur.
The History of Ruaha National Park
Ruaha national park is steepened in history with the earliest known trade routes cutting through the middle of it. The Arab trading caravans began using this route during the early 19th century. By 1830 these coastal traders began travelling on routes further north of the park, following a route through what is now known as Dodoma. Subsequently these routes were also used by Burton and Speke (1857 – 58) and other early European explorers.
In 1886 Tanzania came under German administration and was known as German East Africa. The Wahehe people led by the famous Chief Mkwawa was dominant tribe around the Ruaha area. He ruled a significant area from njombe in the south, to Kilosa and Mpwapwa in the north, and from Ruaha River to the Kilombero. These people were infamous for their fierce and successful battle tactics against the German occupiers. However, after many battles in 1894, Chief Mkwawa was forced into hiding, but undeterred, continued his guerilla war for another four years. Many of this hiding spots are thought to have been in what is now Ruaha National Park. In 1898, the Germans were finally able to overthrow his rule, but the legend of this great chief lives on, his secrets still reside amongst this ancient unspoiled land.
It was during the German occupation in 1910 that part of what is now the park was made into Saba Game Reserve. Later in 1946, the British declared that this area be extended and was called Rungwe Game Reserve. Finally in 1964 the southern portion of this reserve was declared the Ruaha National Park and in 1974 a small section to the south East of the Great Ruaha River was added. Finally in 2008, the park was enlarged to include the Usangu wetland which complete the boundaries that exist today. In addition to this, Ruaha nationa park is fortunate to be almost surrounded, by game reserves, so the whole ecosystem, is a vast, virtually untouched, wilderness area of more than 45, 000 sq km ( an area large than Denmark).
Ruaha National park enjoys only one rainy season, usually from the end of November to May. The average rainfall in Ruaha varies from 500 mm around the Msembe HQ area in the Rift Valley, to 800 mm in the western high plateau area of the park. Rainfall plays a huge role in the ecology of the park which is reflected in the vegetation and the movement of animals.
The coolest time to visit Ruaha National Park is normally from June to the end of July, when the temperatures range from max of 300 C during the day dropping to as low as 80C at night. The temperature slowly increases over the next few months resulting in the hottest time, with daily high of +/- 400 C and at night low to approximately 250 C, which is generally just before the rain begins to fall, in November and December.
Animals of Ruaha National Park
One of the special attractions to Ruaha National Park is that visitors are able to see both lesser and Greater Kudu, this unique facts is because this is the southernmost limit for lesser Kudu.
It is also possible to see Sable and Roan antelopes, Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, Topi, both Southern and Bohor reedbuck and it is the southernmost limit of Grants Gazelle.
Although sighting of Sable and Roan and Hartebeest is common along the higher escarpment, known as miombo woodland, however it is possible to find them during dry season in other spots, such as Makinde Springs and towards Lunda. Topi, on the hand, are exclusively found in the Usangu wetland plains.
In addition to this, Ruaha National Park boast a healthy population of Wild Dogs, Leopard, Lions, Cheetah, Buffalo and Elephant, not to mention all the other species of which there are plenty.
With 574 species recorded in Ruaha national park, it is difficult to visit this beautiful park and not be impressed by the number and variety of birds you see! The great cross-section of vegetation types and altitude help to contribute towards this. The Ruaha Red-billed Hornbill, and the Ruaha Chat, were first observed here in Ruaha National park and named accordingly. Though it is now known that these two species are common in areas west of Ruaha. Also the geographical location of Ruaha National Park ensure it is visited by both southern and northern migrants. At any time of the year the abundance of bird life is something that cannot be ignored by those who are not particularly interested in avifauna!
The Gogo Chief, Mapenza has his burial site in the park. This is located on the road to Mpululu, though it requires a full day excursion from Msembe to visit this site. It is advisable ti take a guide with you before you go. Historical and cultural sites include: Ganga la Mafunyo, Nyanywa, Chahe and Painting rock.
Other historical sites near park include: Ismila pillars near Iringa town, kalenga, mlambasi, Lugalo and God’s bridge just to mention a few.
Physical Features and Vegetation of Ruaha National Park
There is a wide variation in altitude, being generally low, between 750 m to 1000m, along the Great Ruaha River and the Usangu wetlands. It then rises in the north and west up an escarpment to an average of 1,400 m. Then in the western corner of the park, the Isunkaviola plateau, reaches an altitude of 1,868 m. The low altitude areas of the Ruaha National park, the Great Ruaha River basin, were once thought to be a finger of the Great Rift Valley, but are in fact an older fault than the Great Rift Valley system.
Ruaha lies on the convergence zone of northern and southern flora and fauna, hence has a wide and unusual variety of plants and animals. Vegetation ranges in the Ruaha valley, from open grassland to large areas are predominantly composed of beautiful mixied, Brachystegia woodland.
The Isunkaviola Plateu in the western portion of Ruaha, carry tow areas of Drypetes forest, situated on high ridges and once area of mixied, riverine forest in the kilola Valley. Then the Usangu plains and wetland is fabulous resources for the park.
This area is complement to the rest of Ruaha, as it offers a complete diversity of habitats, from highland forest, Miombo woodlands, lowland savannah with acacia and mixed woodland. There are vast wetland and plains which are home to an enormous array of water birds.
Tourist Activities and Services
Walking Safaris (short and long): Wilds of Africa Tours can arrange different walking safaris in this pristine park for you. The number and the length of the walking safari will highly depends on the duration of the tour.
Night Game Drive are available on request. During the night game drive you will also escorted by the park ranger.
Other game activities in Ruaha National Park includes game drives, bush meals, bird watching, start gazing balloon safari and picnicking.
Ruaha Park Tour Programs