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Trip to Southern and Western Tanzania: Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale


gatoratlarge
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gatoratlarge

Just returned from a ten day safari in Southern and Western Tanzania last week. Over the coming days I'll post a trip report. It was my third visit to Tanzania, but I had always stayed in the north: Lake Manyara, the Crater, the Serengeti, Zanzibar. I had made a short visit to Mahale in the west on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and longed to return. So with my sixteen year old niece in toe and my 81-year old father, we set out on a different path: Ruaha, Katavi and Mahale looking for the elusive feel of true wilderness.

 

We had a fantastic time, had many wonderful sightings and the landscapes of each were in my eyes especially stunning. Some of the most beautiful in Africa. The less visited parks have shyer game and less tourist traffic. So there's the trade off---a more true wilderness feel...but it's all up to you and your guide to spot whatever it is you're looking for...the itinerary was booked through Nomad Tanzania and went as follows:

 

3 Nights at Ruaha Kigelia

 

4 Nights at Chada Katavi

 

and 3 nights at Greystoke Mahale

 

A few notes of interest perhaps:

 

Ruaha is visually stunning with hills dotted with baobab---more than I'd ever seen elsewhere. Rocky hills and distant mountains. Also sand rivers crisscross the park as well as the Great Ruaha River which from what I was told always has water even in the driest months. Sausage trees, acacia, doum palms...it is a photographers paradise. We saw many lions here. Lions interacting with a huge 1000-head herd of buffalo. While watching the herd drink at the Ruaha, we noticed lions taking position evenly spaced on the back side of the herd. Then, two females took off down a gully and we lost sight of them. Later our guide speculated they may have taken a calf and one female emerged with a bloody nuzzle. As we were trying to figure out what exactly was happening, the buffs started to organize into a formidable united front...they began moving in the direction of the lions. There was some sort of face off and the buffs drove at least two lions from their position. After a short while they returned with a lot of roaring and bellowing between the two groups...exciting stuff and what gets us safari-types adrenaline pumping! We also watched as a couple of bull elephants came up the bank and scattered a pride of lions, and watched as one female stalked an impala (but missed). There was still a significant amount of water around even though I knew it to be the dry season I think it's more toward the beginning of it. The end of the dry season is a couple months down the road: October...we saw lesser kudu which was a new species for me. No leopard or cheetah or wild dogs. They are quite strict about going off road in Ruaha. Lion, elephant, giraffe, buffalo are numerous...hyena are shy here.

 

Katavi was also incredibly beautiful. I could not get over the trees...sausage trees, acacia, (not baobab country as Ruaha) palms, and the terrain was more flat, but the landscape was still quite beautiful. The lion pride that you could always count on seeing in recent times on Chada Plain has been busted up by a coalition of four males and they remain a bit scattered at the moment. We did not see lions in our four days there although we had seen plenty in Ruaha. The lion heiarchy is in flux and will be sorted out--just not on our visit. What we did see were leopards. Four in fact including one on a limb, dangling tail with an elephant unawares feeding right below! We saw loads of crocs and hippos which Katavi is famous for--but it was a little early to see the annual 800-hippo mud pool and croc caves...there was too much water still around although there were about fifty or so hippos staking out their places early. We saw a couple dozen crocs laying in the sun and feeding on a dead hippo carcass. The abundance of food seemed to put the crocs into an amorous mood as we watched the mating behavior which I thought was fascinating! The blowing of bubbles, the dancing water off the scales of their back as they rumble and then the males chasing and mounting the females in the water...occasionally a loud slap on the water by the jaws of a croc...made me think of the documentary I saw about Great Whites and a dead whale carcass---the gorging of food seemed to bring on the mating behavior there as well...at any rate, interesting to see. The camp was old-school Africa and reminded me a bit of Jack's Camp in Botswana in décor. Bush toilets and bucket or bush showers (at both Kigelia and Chada). We saw a herd of more than 100 elephants here and 1000-2000 buffalo on the Chada Plain...we experienced the Fly Camping and did two night drives which I enjoyed a lot. We saw some interesting things at night at Katavi but I was bummed that another vehicle had spotted a serval cat---and while I do not go on safari to check off a list---the serval is one of the few cats I have yet to see in the wild! Oh well, I guess I have to keep going back! :)

 

Mahale is every bit as stunning as I remember. It's remote and incredibly beautiful. The camp when I visited in 2000 was not permanent and was taken down each wet season. Now, there is more permanent bandas. The camp is part Swiss Family Robinson and part Robinson Crusoe. Its a perfect compliment to the other parks on our itinerary as its totally different. Chimps are the stars here but there are other wildlife---including Big Bird, an orphaned Great African Pelican---quite the charismatic fellow! We saw yellow baboons, chimps, red colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys. We also saw a pod of hippos, more crocs than I cared to see further down the lakeshore. Swimming is done off shore a bit and it doesn't take long to reach deep water (over 1000 feet! The lake is a mile deep in some places!) where crocs do not venture...but it's still fine to swim a bit in the shallows at the camp but it's done at your own risk. Hand line fishing resulted in sashimi for the boat and the sunsets are spectacular over the lake and neighboring Congo (DRC) thought this time of year in the haze, I could never tell if I was actually seeing the other side---it's 50k directly across the long and narrow lake...the last time I was here we saw a large group of the habituated chimps grooming, pant hooting, even scouring the trees for colobus...this time the group was much more scattered and we followed an alpha male hopeful Ceasar through the forest and a mother and her baby. We also saw from the boat three wild chimps feeding in a tree---a mother and a small baby and an adolescent. The chimp community ebbs and flows -- that's nature for you...In the night, a group of bush pigs decided to feed on palm nuts outside my banda so I got a good view with my flashlight. The stars were best here although its because we were contending with a full moon at Kigelia and Chada. I'm not a professional photographer by any stretch but I enjoy taking pictures...chimps are extremely difficult to photograph as their black shapes just meld into the surrounding forest and trees---my respect for folks that capture outstanding pics of them is immense! I used some filters on various pictures to try to better see the subjects...some folks/purists don't like it probably but I'm trying to see better what I captured via my camera.

 

I'll attach some albums to the report as I go through my pictures but I hope this is a good start to the wonders of Western and Southern Tanzania!

 

 

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@@gatoratlarge looking forward to your TR when you have time.

 

I'm planning a trip to both Katavi and Ruaha in the next 2-3 years and am very interested in the experiences of other safari travellers.

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@@gatoratlarge. Look forward to the full report. Strange to have no lions in Katavi, for reasons explained, but you got the leopards that avoided you in Ruaha and It's fantastic you were there for the buffalos coming to the river and their interaction with the lions.

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gatoratlarge

It's going to take me a little more time to organize my pics from Katavi but hopefully I can post some videos and give you a good feel---you can increase the resolution on the YouTube video by clicking on the little wheel and hitting HD:

 

Lion Cubs at Play in Ruaha:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dGh77VqezY0

 

Large herd of Elles on the move in Katavi:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8XuzSt-qaPY

 

An elephant family digging for water in a sand river bed:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5z3Ts3SevIs

 

Crocs Mating in Katavi:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QE5qMUqPfsk

 

Wild chimps along the Tanganyika Shore (look at. How she shields her baby from view):

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QE5qMUqPfsk

 

Elephant and lion encounter--we had reason to believe one of the lionesses had made a kill thus we sped off---she was not successful:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xsIYo5OL9Lg

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Lovely images @@gatoratlarge - but esp liked the videos - that is a very large ele herd! You seem to have double posted the mating crocs instead of the chimp one - could you check?

 

Looking forward esp to reading about your impressions of Kigelia and the fly-camping at Chada, so if you could keep those in mind while writing your report... Thanks so much!

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gatoratlarge

@@Sangeeta sorry about that! Here is some footage of the chimps we spotted from the boat. I have more chimp footage I'll post later but I wanted to edit a little first:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HTIBy5OZLVU

 

Here's a young bull that got a little close to our vehicle. I thought the guide did a good job of reading him and responded appropriately :

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uZtDsz3av44

 

Here's some of Ceasar feeding inside a hollowed tree:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t2EHVYRE8Xg

 

Here's some of an elephant feeding right under a leopard up in a tree-- completely unaware I'm thinking:

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uj3v_013RKw

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gatoratlarge

@Sangeeta : Fly Camping at Chada was good fun. We had four nights there and so we thought it would be good to try something different. Typically they do a two or three hour walk to arrive at the Fly Camp and they move the location around---we had booked two night drives as a part of our stay so we continued on from our afternoon drive into the night drive as we were watching one particular leopard as she came down from her perch and followed her for a good while as she began to hunt...Chada Camp itself has a classic bush camp feel so you might ask why go camping when you're already in a camp setting but I think the point is that you're out under the open sky and stars with only a mosquito net between. Our night was interesting in that the moon was full and lit the sky and we remarked how calm it was as we were eating dinner (rather late at 10P or so after the night drive) but as we got to bed, the wind began to pick up and within an hour or so, it seemed like gale force winds were in full effect. So much so, in fact, that one edge of my tent came lose during the night and my "tent" seemed to be closing in on me as the winds howled and roared through the palm fronds---we were of course safe the whole time but it's been a long time since I heard winds like that. And the stopped as suddenly as they started---must be a weather pattern or phenomena I'm not familiar with...they had set up a bush toilet in case you needed to go during the night and had a TANAPA ranger there along with a scout from Chada -- you just flashed your torch in their direction and they'd make sure the coast was clear....when we woke up, the huge buffalo herd 1000-2000 strong had moved about 100 yards from our camp which sat on the edge of the Chada Plain...once we stirred and they realized the proximity they quickly moved off. Left behind was a mother buff that gave birth in the early morning. The afterbirth still hung and the newborn calf wobbled and struggled to get up and walk---seemed a real vulnerable time should there have been any big cats around. Flocks of open billed storks were there to eat the afterbirth and anything else they could find...throughout the morning they tried to catch up to the herd but didn't quite reach it. I assume this is common and it's just a matter of time before they caught up and the calf could keep up---it's always remarkable how quickly they assimilate into the herd. We had a great bush breakfast and did about a two hour walk along the edge of the plain trying to catch up ourselves to the great herd but they moved quickly and when we came across several dugger boys coming out of the bush, we decided not to proceed any farther not knowing how many others might be in the bush. I enjoyed it and it just added to the variety of experience. Sometimes the time in the land rover gets a little long so a different experience is good.

 

Kigelia has been rebuilt and is a nice camp---we had elephant outside the tent at night and the sand river was a favorite path for a rather chilling sounding jackal that called out in the middle of the night at surprising volume a couple of the nights we were there. I think I preferred Chada Camp itself to Kigelia but I think it is in a good location within Ruaha. Ruaha is simply some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in Africa---of course I loved Katavi too.

 

I hope that's helpful :)

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Your passion for Ruaha's landscape is validated by what I see in your pictures (and the pictures of other posters who have been there). Such gorgeous bush and full of some uniquely shaped baobabs.

The video of the elephant chasing away the lion is amusing!

Nice capture of the LBR in flight in your Ruaha album.

 

Some of your Katavi album's pictures seem to be tagged on FB as being taken in Orlando, Florida - surely Animal Kingdom is not so wild! ;)

Edited by Marks
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gatoratlarge

Ha! @@Marks, Facebook does some facial tagging and geographic tagging sometimes and if you don't notice it goes out into cyberland---I've tried to delete the Orlando location (although that's where I live, it's not where the photos were taken! LOL I'm having a little difficulty posting individual pics to this post---I've done it before but for some reason I'm having trouble doing this from the PC...

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gatoratlarge

Posting some individual pictures of Ruaha--baobab country for certain. Every baobab bore the scars of a visit by elephant...

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Posting some individual pictures of Ruaha--baobab country for certain. Every baobab bore the scars of a visit by elephant...

 

post-6239-0-17136100-1440456606.jpg

 

Love this one in particular...absolutely massive.

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gatoratlarge

Lion activity was strong in Ruaha...playful cubs, a face off with a herd of buffalo,interaction with an elephant and a lioness stalking an impala (she didn't get it) you can see the lioness in the grass behind the buffalo herd in my pic

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gatoratlarge

A new species for me was the lesser kudu--two males chasing each other around:

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gatoratlarge

Few more from Ruaha

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gatoratlarge

Next camp was Chada Katavi--we spent four nights here and I think I took more pictures here than the other camps as well...again, I thought the landscapes were stunning...

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gatoratlarge

It was a place for hippos and crocs as we had heard...

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Edited by gatoratlarge
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gatoratlarge

It was also where we saw our leopard quota:

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Love all the hippos! The landscapes are lovely - does look very wild. Oh beautiful leopards!!

Edited by SafariChick
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gatoratlarge

Then we saw a leopard hanging in a tree right above an elephant. I don't think the ele had a clue:

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gatoratlarge

We also saw giraffes galore and a huge herd of buffalo on the Chada Plain:

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gatoratlarge

Fly Camping was fun:

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gatoratlarge

These little guys were always waiting for their opportunity...

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Edited by gatoratlarge
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madaboutcheetah

Gatoratlarge - Thanks for this report. Not sure how I missed it ....... glad I found it, tho!

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