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Ruaha National Park: Tanzania's Land of Giants

On my first ever visit to Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park I had an inkling of what to expect after reading the reports from people who live and work in Ruaha and watching Owen Prumm’s amazing film about the lion and buffalo conflicts that occur at the end of the dry season. I had three days to see as much of it as time allowed and was thrilled to come across so many incredible vistas and encounters with wildlife.

I wanted to photograph Ruaha’s vast and rugged landscape and its inhabitants the best way I could, but I understand the limits of being a visitor for a short time and expectations being set too high on what you hope to achieve.

So loaded with cameras and gear, I stepped off the plane into the searing heat of Msembe airstrip, where the dry air of late October made shimmering mirages over the landscape. This is the best time for game viewing. Animals congregate close to the dwindling sources of water in the Great Ruaha, Mwagusi and Madonya Rivers.

The uncomfortable heat is a trade off with the excellent wildlife viewing you can expect in this iconic park.

With only a fraction of the park’s 20,000-odd square kilometres being utilised for game drives, the reserve still feels wild, remote and untouched.

The images below capture magical days of a truly unique and special place that will stay with me for a long time.

A young elephant drinks from a hole dug in the riverbed

The river may appear dry, but the elephants know that there is water just below the surface. They dig down to it, and then slurp away. After the elephants leave, other animals are then able to use these holes to access the water.

young elephants drink from the holes

giraffe, zebra & baboons drink from the holes the elephants have made in the riverbed.

Giraffe, zebra and baboons utilising the water holes dug by elephants on the Madonya Sand River.

Ruaha sunset, featuring a trio of the park’s iconic trees: Acacia Tortilis, Hyphenae Petersiana Palms, and the ubiquitous Baobab.

Ruaha is known for its Baobabs, but I had no idea there were so many. I think I saw more of these incredible trees in one day than I have ever seen before. They spend 8-9 months of the year completely bare and then at the end of the dry season put out large white flowers that bloom at night, and only last a day. At the same time, they begin to produce leaves that will eventually grow into a thick canopy.

Some trees just budding out with leaves, the others still bare.

A male lion rests in the shadow of a massive baobab.

A large herd of buffalo rest in the shade of a grove of Tortilis trees. Close by, a pride of lions doze below a Rain Tree, keeping a wary eye on the herd.

A little further on, four females and a cub pant and gasp in the incessant heat, resting off what must have been a big meal.

Ruaha has one of Africa’s largest concentrations of lions. This male wears the scars of a recent territorial battle with another male.

Another pride lies in wait for the unwary, scanning the white-hot glare of the dry riverbed.

A large and colourful Agama Lizard.

A baboon feeding on the fruit of a Sausage Tree (Kigelia Africana).

Monochrome zebras.

Bat-Eared Foxes are normally very shy, so it was a real treat to discover a den close to camp with very relaxed adults and puppies. The three puppies played outside of the den in the cooler temperatures of predawn or evening.

The pups venturing out from their den.

A tiny Dik-Dik antelope.

A magnificent herd of Eland, the largest of the antelopes, with an endless Ruaha vista behind them.

A baboon mother and baby basking in the early morning sun.

Giants of Ruaha: the park has Tanzania’s largest population of elephants, estimated at 15 000 animals.

Baobabs have the ability to heal and grow over the scars created by elephants.

The landscape seems to go on forever…

And changes dramatically from place to place.

a leopard named Joy

On my last night, I saw Joy, a female leopard with her kill in a tree.

leopard in a tree

Ruaha vista
giants of Ruaha

This is a land of giants, and of a scale so great that one visit will never do it justice.

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