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Weekend in Tarangire / Manyara Ranch


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With friend's visiting we like a little safari. For two nights on your first visit, or preferred option is a night in Tarangire and a night at Manyara Ranch, most of our visitors are not too flush, so we usually opt for a night at Tarangire Safari Lodge and then at Manyara Ranch. TSL is relatively cheap but has the best view in the park and it's always good to chat to Jon and Annette (plus the kids like the pool!). Manyara Ranch would be very expensive, but we get an exceptionally good deal for friends there as I do bits and pieces of work for them. We used my car, booked with friends and all the rest, so it's not too helpful for those details. Wildlife though - spectacular!


Arriving TGI friday evening we went for a short drive around the Small Serengeti - always a good place in the evening because (1) everyone else is down by the river (though to be fair, most of the crowds are back at camp before 6pm and even there you can be in peace - the park is open until 7), and (2) lots of wildlife tends to head out of the woodlands onto the northern plains for the night, which is fantastic if there's a mega sunset behind them all.


For a 2 hour drive of no more than 10kms it was pretty spectacular, with just 2 other cars encountered briefly and there are huge numbers of yellow-throated sandgrouse in the area there at the moment. Mammal highlights: 8 lion cubs with a female in the tree above, another young male nearby, then coming back to camp we were treated to the sight of two male cheetahs chasing wildebeest on the plains. (little bit distant, but quite spectacular!). Soon after the monkeys were shouting 'leopard' all around us, but we couldn't find it and had to get back before curfew... With the usual elephants and assorted plains game it made for a spectacular evening drive, my only gripe being the lack of a decent sunset!


Next morning I did my usual dawn walk along the lodge site looking for birds (I usually get up to 60 species in the 1/2 hour before breakfast with the rest of the family), and whilst nothing spectacular was playing, we had a nice time, a brief breakfast and piled on down to Silale. Approaching the river we found the lions from last night being very obliging by the main road (and now attracting a typical Northern Tarangire crowd!).


Not too busy we couldn't stop on the bridge to photograph some obliging painted snipe though - stunning birds and rather erratic at this end of Tarangire.


I pulled through the first two river loops, finding a nice female lion with a newly killed impala lamb (and a crowd of admirers) in the riverbed, before leaving the crowds and heading south - visitors also being birders, Siliale needed a good look! Highlight of the drive down was a couple of huge buffalo herds, including this extraordinary beast bringing up the rear: looks like the sun got too hot! Not in particularly good condition either, but obviously survived a number of years.


Siliale had over 500 elephants visible from the picnic site, but the birds weren't quite as good as a couple fo weeks ago - we missed rufous-bellied heron and wooly-necked stork - but was still heaving with life. The highlight was probably the three pythons I found in trees nearby - never guaranteed to find even one, but Silale's the place!


The resident African Marsh Harrier also put on a show, which was kind. (Sorry, I've given up taking unexciting elephant photos!) I headed back along the north of the swamp, via boundary hill, stopping first to admire yet more lions under the trees, and then a rather nice leopard in a tree. Being the middle of the day there' wasn't much to be seen coming over the kopjes near boundary hill, but it's nice to see the woodlands there looking good. And then when we hit the river again we immediately found a cheetah sitting in the cool shade, being the highlight of the trip back.


Leaving the park 5mins before our 24hr permit expired, we headed straight onto Manyara Ranch (the property beging just 4kms up the main road from Tarangire). Stragely, the clouds had come down and the wind got up, making this rather a dusty drip, but I foudna new bird for the ranch (short-tailed lark), which was rather nice and we got to camp in time to pick up drinks and head off for a last drive. With noisy children in the car we opted against joining the other client at the hide by the dam and took ourselves to the far side of the (dry) river, passing a beautiful group of lesser kudu en route (MRC is easily the most reliable place I know of for sightings of these). Parking up near the river, we hopped out and enjoyed some birds (black bishop always being reliable) and 7 big bull eles nearby, with the kids enjoying their drink on top of my landrover... A short drive back in the dark with the spotlight found a nice family of lesser galago and a few hares, but nothing too spectacular. Kids in bed, we had a civilsed meal before heading out again with the spotlight. Highlights of this drive were one (possibly 2) Aardwolves (again, very reliable here), Bat-eared Foxes and many Spring Hares.


The others went for a good walk in the morning, tracking very recent lion spoor, but not quite catching up, whilst the kids and I explored around the camp, nearling walking into Aldo the rather large, but fairly friendly bull elephant that seems to have taken up residence in the camp area this season. I also found some white-tailed larks displaying, which was rather nice, and the camp birdbath pulled in a single Fischer's Lovebird among the large flock of Yellow-collared, another new one for the ranch list. More birding followed second breakasts (friend catching up with the rosy-patched shrike I'd heard from my bed in the morning...), before we headed back to Arusha mid-afternoon. A nice weekend by anyone's standards...


Edited by Game Warden
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At first glance I thought that Buffalo was some kind of weird goat: thanks for this report, I'd like to know a lot more about Manyara Ranch and have invited them to participate here, but nothing so far...

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That weekend would do me just fine.


No wonder the buffalo is thin, how hard would it be to get your mouth down to graze. Probably survives on browsing shrubs.

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I can see myself doing that weekend too :)


About Manyara Ranch, been hearing quite a lot about it through AWF newsletters etc. and it really does sound from your report that they have been quite successful in establishing the wildlife corridor they wanted to establish. Is that your assessment as well, TzBirder? Also, when would be the best time of year to visit Manyara Ranch? Plus, are there enough conservation minded people to keep it booked most of the time and is the local community seeing tangible benefits from it?

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Two things here (probably not the best place for either of them, so feel free to move any information to a more suitable place if it is clear where it should be!). Firstly, Tarangire wildlife - yes, the declines in migrants since 1960 have been huge (resident wildlife has probably increased (elephants certainly, and massively) - except rhino, of course). There's not been a whole park census for several years so the exact numbers aren't known to any reasonable degree of accuracy. However, most people are of the opinion that the declines in wildebeest and zebra have stopped in the last four or five years. There's also been an increase in the oryx population recently (I counted over 20 a few weeks ago - and was told there were about 40 in the area there - in the herd by old Oliver's, if anyone remembers that area from a few years ago, it was down to 12ish at one point.). We know little about the movements of zebra and oryx, but thank's to Tom Morrison's neat work (I summarised some of it here a while ago) we now know a lot more of the movements of the wildebeest, and we know that the two main movements these days - east to Simanjiro, and north-west towards Natron are the same animals, chosing directions with little predictability between years. (He also confirmed what most had always believed that the Manyara NP animals are mostly resident with almost no connection to Tarangire and Natron movements.) So, I think the main reason the declines have stopped (even been reversed?) are thanks to the efforts of the Dorobo fund out on Simanjiro described here using short-term (annual) agreements [that most NGOs (like AWF) won't work with] with the locals to protect land for wildlife and reduce poaching in return for direct payments (of tiny sums) collected from tourism operators in the park and surrounding area. It's possible that the work of AWF at Manyara Ranch has contributed to this a bit too (certainly they've reduced poaching pressure locally), but rather less so I suspect, because until recently most migrants going north passed through MRC rather quickly and they're still at risk up in the Natron area. Now, this last year has been dry and for the first time I'm aware of a significant chunk of the northern moving animals decided to stop on Manyara Ranch and calve there, rather than head on further - I'm told about 1000 animals calved there. I don't know if this change is because of the weather this year, or the relatively safety of the ranch, or both - either way the provision of a safe calving area on this migration route is good news too and will hopefully make a long-term difference.


So, the second thing, what do I think about Manyara Ranch? Well, let me start by coming clearn and saying that although I'm completely independent of both AWF and the company with the tourism concession, I have been providing information and advice, in return (and to facilitate) which I've stayed many times at the ranch, so I'm not an entirely disinterested observer. That said, what's my view? Well, I think they have some serious issues on the ranch management side (not the tourism operation), I don't need to go into details, but there's politics and there's there's personalities and all the rest. As a consequence, they're struggling to find a ranch manager, and it really needs it. My personal opinion is that it TLCT (the owners - an organisation set up by AWF to hold the land in trust) don't sort the land management issues (mostly overgrazing) in the next 5 years there's going to be serious problems with the habitat - the early warnings are clear. On the positive side it's 17,800ha of land where poaching has been reduced and there is at least some management of cattle. To answer the direct question about whether the money is getting to the community, I'd say yes. And the signs in recent weeks have been very encouraging - the community itself have decided that the fine for having cattle where you shouldn't has gone up from 60,000TSh (I think) to 300,000TSh now (c. $200), with the biggest bull empounded until payment is made. If payment isn't made in the required time the bull is sold and 1/2 the money goes to the owner, the rest taken as the fine. (The problem is getting the TLCT board to agree to who can have cattle where, when and how many.) That's all ranch management side, however the incentive is coming from the direct agreement with the tourism operators for significant payments per capita and flat rate, funds get handed over directly (with no strings) each quater. So far they're busy building a hospital and various other initiatives with this money (and the portion of the fines that get's allocated back to the community too). Personally, I think the potential is great, but there's a real issue on the ranch management side of things and unless that is solved soon and well I'll keep worrying about it. It needs someone with some serious vision for using cattle as a management resource and with a sound understanding of the wildlife needs, who doesn't mind some initial fights with those with vested interests. The job's vacant, if it's for you, please apply! (I'll happily advise, but I hate politics!)


Should you visit? Yes, absolutely! The politics don't matter to visitors and even now in the core areas the cattle are mostly absent or fairly few and far between. It's much less seasonal than Tarangire, though does get very dry into October (this year I think they'll be down to only one water-source before the rains come, last year there were three). As usual, dry season wildlife is concentrated around the waterholes, greener times are more dispersed - but there are more animals there at those times anyway. April/May they closed last year, I'm told not this coming year. For a day or two after very heavy rain it's impossible to ford the river (dry at this time of year), but during those times there's plenty of wildlife camp side anyway. The camp has been fairly busy this year, often reaching capacity (6 tents), which is impressive in only it's second season. There are some nice walks to do (and, if you're into that sort of thing, you can ride horses past lions too...) and Chris and Jo are great camp managers / guides. As I said above, the night drives are the best I've enjoyed, anywhere - if you want aardwolf, this is the place for you, and aardvark is findable too if you give it some effort (I saw three one night). You can also access the shore of Lake Manyara from the ranch, which is great if you're birders! It's a relatively dry area, so grass never gets too tall. I'd visit any time, to be honest - and the birds are great in the greener times, of course... (I'm well over 300 species for the ranch now, including one or two rather nice ones.) The landscape isn't quite as impressive as Southern Tarangire - much flatter - but the freedom to play is a huge plus for me (also great to go fossil hunting, and lots of hominid tools lying around in some places - neat!).

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Weirdest buffalo ever! Mutations. Fascinating.

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Still, thinking that wildebeest were 43,000 in 1990 and between 2500 and 5000 now, makes you cringe.


Yes, though speak to some at TANAPA and they'll say what's the problem? You want wildebeest, you go to Serengeti...



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Thank you indeed for that very comprehensive reply, TzBirder. All very interesting and a much broader perspective than the stuff I get to read in my AWF newsletter.


Your aardvark and aardwolf sightings alone are very good reasons to visit MRC. Thanks again.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Darn, I missed you TZBirder in Tarangire and I missed that odd looking buffalo too. Thanks for the info and the review of Manyara Ranch.

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