It must have been in 2014 that I saw the National Geographic wildlife video called Lion Battle Zone. This documentary focused on several different lion prides in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. The lion-buffalo and lion-lion interaction caught my imagination. I was fascinated by the landscapes and scenery too. This became one of my want-to-go-to wild places.
” Jobs fill your pockets but adventures fill your soul.”~ Jaime Lyn
I told a number of people of my desire to go to Ruaha and what had spurred my imagination. Finally in 2018, Andrew Beck from Wild Eye put a trip together in November 2018 to spend seven days in Ruaha. This was a place with names like the Mwagusi river, the Great Ruaha river, the Njaa, Bushbuck and Baobab prides which caught my imagination. Reality can be much better than imagination in these situations.
After spending the night in Dar es Salaam (Dar) we took an almost two hour charter flight directly west of ‘Dar’ to Ruaha. This is the second largest National Park in Tanzania. It is much less travelled than Selous or Serengeti. For me this was one of its key attractions.
“Fill your life with adventures not things. Have stories to tell not things to show.”~Unknown
In 2017 there were an estimated just over 20,000 wild lions in 26 countries in Africa and their numbers were reported to be dropping precipitously. According to the Ruaha Carnivore project across the continent, Africa’s large carnivores are facing an uncertain future. Lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs have all disappeared from 80 – 90 percent of their original range. Both the lion and the cheetah are now classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with as few as 23,000 and 10,000 individuals remaining in the wild respectively. While the African wild dogg is Endangered, with merely 6,600 estimated adults remaining.
Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park is a vital stronghold for these keystone species. The park holds over 10 percent of the world’s remaining lions, as well as the third largest population of African wild dogs. It is also home to one of just four large cheetah populations remaining in East Africa.
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” ~Ernest Hemingway
We were fortunate to stay at the Mwagusi river camp. This was an authentic bush camp located on the banks of the Mwagusi river. The setting is idyllic and the camp is the perfect blend of isolated bush camp with superb food and wonderful hospitality. The next image is the view up the Mwagusi river from my banda. Mwagusi Camp’s rooms, known as bandas, are spacious tented rooms with a concrete floor encased within a large reed-and-thatch building – very comfortable way out in the bush.
In the area along the Mwagusi river close to camp there were groves of baobab trees. This for me was one of the iconic characteristics of Ruaha. In southern Africa we usually only see isolated baobabs, never large groves of them.
Although very dry, the landscapes and biomes were varied ranging from riverine forests, to groves of baobabs, to open grasslands like the Little Serengeti, to wide open rivers such as the Great Ruaha river. The Mwagusi river was lined with Sausage trees, Figtrees, IIala palms and Tamarind trees to name a few.
In our first afternoon in Ruaha we were fortunate to find two leopard cubs. One was very small and very shy and stayed deep in the bush around a small granite outcrop which made decent photography difficult. The second cub crossed the adjacent Mwagusi dry river bed and found a partially eaten bushbuck carcass.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”~Bill Bryson
The leopard cub was very wary and looked up at the slightest sound. The cub was feeding in a bed of dry autumnal coloured leaves which provided an interesting background.
We purposefully went to Ruaha in mid November which was the end of the dry season so that we would improve our chances of good predator sightings.
After spending an hour or so with the leopard cubs the light was fading so we made our way back toward camp. Our guide Justin told us that they had heard lions close to the camp the night before so there was a good chance we might find them resting close to camp along the river bed.
We found two adult females and one male in the twilight. The females were very affectionate toward one another. One was in season and the other not, so the male paid close attention to the female in season and rarely left her side.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”~Karen Blixen
This male was using the flehmen grimace where he stretched out his neck, curled back his upper lip exposing his front teeth drew the scent of his female across his Jacobson’s organ which is located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth.
The colour of the sky in the evening was sublime. In mid-November, the rain clouds were building for the big rains and everything in the bush was holding its breath for the onset of the rains after the dry season.
This was our introduction to Ruaha and our first afternoon in this wild place. So far it had met all my expectations and aligned with all my romantic notions of the the bush. It was going to be a good trip!
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” T.E. Lawrence
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at is inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike
Another great post Howie. I wonder what 2019 is going to produce. I wish you many more hours of productive photography. Happy New Year.
Ah Mike, reading your account of Ruaha reminds me of my trip there in November 2016! From your photos I Recognized the areas I had been to. Have put a thought to the back of my mind to return there one of these days.
See you next week maybe. Axx
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A beautifully written account as always. Thank you for the introduction to a new place for me.