Safari Adventures in Northern Tanzania
Blanketing nearly 25% of Tanzania’s landmass is an expansive network of protected reserves and national parks. During my two-week safari Makoye and our incredible guides, carrying honorably and outwardly their love for this country, shepherded us through cloud forests flourishing with exotic birds to the base of a caldera’s sprawling grasslands roamed by endangered animals.
In the short rainy season in November, all is lush green. The landscape looks renewed with new life. Every animal seems to have babies in tow and even the Baobab trees, mythologized to be cursed by God to grow upside-down, have new green shoots poking forth determinedly in their purgatory.
These preserves maintain equilibriums that our planet and descendants rely upon. Through conservation science partnerships across governments, villages, and safari cooperatives, habitats persist relatively intact spanning diverse biomes only Africa can claim.
For nature photography, I hate changing lenses. Timing and quickdraw is key. I stuck with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens – a workhorse for wildlife. Limiting oneself can be a creative exercise. Being forced to stay within given parameters challenges you to look at things with fresh eyes. Stabilizing the lens as the Land Rovers wobbled side to side over mud pools and dusty hills with my elbow and a crumpled up linen scarf proved key. “An African massage” our guide cheerily commented and we chuckled.
Arusha National Park
Nestled along the foothills of Mount Meru lies Arusha National Park, a verdant rainforest oasis close to a bustling city bearing the same name. Though small, at just 53 square miles, Arusha offers abundant wildlife sightings across grassland, forest, and crater habitats — particularly its famous concentration of giraffes and monkeys. On clear days, Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak can be seen over the lush Ngurdoto forest. Given its proximity to Arusha City, this national park faces greater human pressures than more remote preserves.
Bordering Tarangire National Park, Lake Burungi provides a seasonal oasis that draws in wildlife seeking fresh water during the dry months. As river catchments in Tarangire fill this shallow lake, fluctuations between saline and freshwater create an ideal habitat for flamingos. Each evening, Lake Burungi empties as thousands of flamingos travel overnight for safety. Yet the lake reliably returns to host these migratory birds along with buffalo and elephants as other water sources disappear in the drought. For the Maasai community, this seasonal pulse gave reason to set aside 25,000 additional hectares for conservation beyond the national park’s border. When dry seasons inevitably return, the congregation of wildlife reminds all of the necessity of stewarding local waterways — not just for animals, but for all in this ecosystem who must adapt to cyclic change.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania provides a sanctuary for wildlife while fostering a symbiotic relationship with surrounding communities. Encompassing over 1,100 square miles of the Maasai Steppe, Tarangire was originally Mbugwe and Maasai tribal land before colonial creation of the national park in the 1970s. Today, it remains an open ecosystem without fences, allowing animals to follow ancestral migration routes to the Tarangire River and grasslands during the dry season. Herds of elephants, wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles converge seeking water and grazing land, while predators like lions and leopards follow close behind. For nearby villages, this wildlife corridor leads to inevitable conflicts as elephants trample crops and lions and hyenas hunt livestock. Yet Tarangire has pioneered programs for local communities to share in conservation efforts and ecotourism proceeds. Joint ventures provide employment while funds build schools, clinics, and water wells. And reimbursements for preyed livestock alleviate animosity. With investments in roadway monitoring and brush clearing, poaching has declined in recent years — and both animals and nearby residents reap the rewards of preserving this habitat. Still, work remains to balance needs, especially as climate change alters rain patterns and the river’s vital flow.
We stayed at the Burunge Tented Lodge nestled between two national parks. As we arrived, the open air building table set for dinner revealed a rain-slick terrace with views of the sunset. Under the glow of the golden hour the shores of the eponymous Lake Burungi were speckled with flamingos enjoying the sweetwater and a troupe of gray langurs snacking on termites working industriously beyond the safety of their mounds.
Sleeping along a wildlife corridor introduced some interesting moments. In the evening, bats hunted from the rafters, monkeys clamored over the tented roofs, scorpions chased us to our rooms, and – if the rumors of the security guards required to walk us to our tents can be believed – a lion hunted and killed an impala.
The Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania offers a primeval landscape brimming with wildlife. This vast caldera, formed by the collapse of an ancient volcano over 2 million years ago, encompasses grasslands, swamps, and forests that sustain some of Africa’s densest animal populations. Driving up to the crater’s rim, we passed through Tanzania’s richest farmlands. Street-side stalls heaved under the weight of bananas, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, and more as trucks bound for Tanzania’s urban centers were loaded with food supplies.
Inside the 610-meter deep crater, zebras, rhinos, lions, flamingos, cape buffalo, and elephants roam freely with minimal human impact. Unlike the disappearing wildlife corridors and habitats in other regions, Ngorongoro fosters a harmonious coexistence between animals and nearby pastoral communities. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve has helped the endangered black rhino population to rebound in recent years: up from just 10 to over 60 rhinos today. As pressures from poaching and climate change threaten wildlife globally, Ngorongoro’s success story provides a model for integrating biodiverse conservation with sustainable human activity through a multiple land-use approach. Its volcanic slopes nurture a delicate balance—one where agriculture and animal populations can mutually flourish.