Tarangire National Park is the sixth-largest national park in Tanzania. It covers 2 850 square kilometres of the Manyara region, and is located a little to the south-east of Lake Manyara. The park is named after the perennial Tarangire River which dominates its northern part, crossing the park and flowing through increasingly incised ravines until it leaves the north-western corner of the park to flow into Lake Burungi. The river is the only source of water during the dry season from June to October, making Tarangire is a classic dry-season reserve. During this time Tarangire’s wildlife density is second only to the Serengeti National Park.
Tarangire also claims to have the largest concentration of elephants in the world. Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry riverbed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest, and eland crowd the shrinking lagoons. Tarangire is the one place in Tanzania where dry-county antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.
Tarangire’s vegetation comprises mostly dry, open woodlands, which include thorny acacia thickets and large stands of baobab trees. The lifespan of these giants of the savannah is thought to be as long as a few thousand years, with many trees in Tarangire being over 1000 years old. Baobabs are leafless for around nine months of the year, and store water in their very large trunks, enabling them to withstand even the severest of droughts.
Elephants have a predilection for baobab bark during the dry season, using it as a valuable source of moisture. There are also some beautiful stands of acacia tortilis trees and the occasional palm tree dotted around the reserve. In the south of the park, amidst these rolling woodlands, there is a network of huge, flat swamps which are impassable during the rains, but dry out to form unvarying green plains during the rest of the year.
Although general wildlife occur in abundance, predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah are more difficult to spot than in the Serengeti. With more than 450 bird species, including rare ones, some say that Tarangire is the best bird-watching destination in Tanzania.
Weather in Tarangire is temperate and enjoyable. The long rains occur from March to May, with shorter rains in November and December. During the rainy season, copious amounts of game leave the park. Herds of wildebeest and zebra head north-west onto the floor of the Rift Valley, whilst many other animals disperse across the vast plains of the Maasai Steppe before returning back to Tarangire for the dry season. Whilst this pattern holds true in normal years, it is complicated by the unpredictable nature of the short rains. If the rains are very light, or non-existent, the game tends to stick to the river, rather than risk travelling through drought. The result is an extended dry season, and therefore more excellent viewing, but for animals these are desperate times. With herbage sources in and around the Tarangire River all but exhausted, grazers are forced to travel further for less nutrition, and are therefore weaker and more vulnerable to the predators.