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Tanzania is, quite simply, a nature lover’s paradise. A third of its landmass falls under formal protection and its national parks alone cover more than 42,000 square kilometres. Whether you want to trek with chimpanzees, take a safari through the Serengeti or simply marvel at wide open skies and sprawling plains, Tanzania is the perfect place for you.
While there are so many national parks to choose from, some are simply unmissable. For those who want to experience Tanzania’s most iconic wildlife, it’s hard to beat the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater Reserves but there are other parks which offer more specialised experiences. For instance, Tarangire is famous for its abundant elephant population, the Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream for their resident chimpanzees and Katavi is known simply for its obscurity – it is one of the most remote and inaccessible parks in the country. No matter which reserve you choose for your safari, you are sure to be rewarded with some of the most unforgettable wildlife experiences in the world. From tawny lions basking in the dust at sunrise, to herds of wildebeest thundering across the Serengeti’s endless plains, Tanzania’s wildlife is as iconic as it is diverse.
One of the most famous natural phenomenons in the world, the Great Migration is widely considered to be Tanzania’s most iconic wildlife spectacle. Although its name may suggest that it is a single event, the Great Migration is actually an ongoing movement which continues in a cyclical nature throughout the year. 1.4 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra begin their journey in January. Having given birth to their young in the Serengeti, they stay on the plains until the rains end in late March before collectively moving towards Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Between April and May they follow the path of the Grumeti River, snaking westwards across the Serengeti, before finally making a treacherous crossing, through crocodile-infested waters, into the Mara. July and August are widely proclaimed as the best months to see river crossings but the migration is notoriously difficult to predict due to its reliance on seasonal changes. Having covered thousands of miles, the herds move in unfathomable numbers towards the promise of resources and security. They spend the summer months in the Mara before returning to the Serengeti; chasing the rains and preparing for the process to begin again.
The migration is, in essence, a year-long search for food, fresh water and safety. This means that there are countless opportunities for visitors to witness the beauty and drama of the herds at various stages in their journey. Whether you want to see them rearing their young, crossing the plains or making their return journey to the Serengeti, the herds spend the majority of the year in Tanzania so all you need to do is choose your season. If you want to get close to the herds, the most obvious way to do so is in a classic safari jeep. While travelling through the Serengeti on game drives, you are likely to encounter large groups of wildebeest and zebra: propelled across the plains by their needs and instincts. If you want to see the migration from a whole new vantage point, take a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the plains. Seeing the beauty of the Serengeti, and the herds below beginning their daily journey, is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Tanzania is home to countless species of mammal, but there are 5 which seem to draw endless attention. The Big 5 – elephants, lion, leopard, rhinoceroses and Cape buffalo – can all be spotted on Tanzania’s rolling savannah plains.
Synonymous with the Serengeti, African elephants are the largest species of land mammal in the world. Tanzania has become a stronghold for the species in the last few years, boasting the second largest population outside of Botswana, meaning that you are virtually guaranteed a sighting. In Tarangire National Park, they roam in herds as large as 300 and the reserve is believed to be home to at least 3,000 in total. The park is also less popular than the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater Reserves, Tanzania’s most famous national parks, meaning that you won’t have to share the safari trails with tourist crowds.
While lion can be spotted in nature reserves across Africa, Tanzania is home to the largest population on the continent. In the Serengeti alone, there are believed to be over 3,000 and they have been seen living in prides as large as 30.
This makes it the ideal place for big game viewing and lovers of the most iconic big cat will not be disappointed. For those who want to get off the beaten track, the more remote Ruaha and Katavi National Parks are also well-known strongholds for lion and, if you head into the parks around sunset, you may even see them lounging in the branches of trees.
Despite being famously difficult to spot on safari, leopards are actually the most common large cat in Tanzania. They are nocturnal and tend to spend their days lounging in the branches of acacia trees before crossing the plains at dusk to hunt. They are most commonly spotted in Serengeti National Park, specifically in the Seronera River Valley which is well known for its populations of big cats.
Although black rhino were once abundant in the Serengeti, continuous poaching and a lack of security measures have brought their numbers to an all time low. Protection efforts have recently increased and ambitious reintegration programmes aim to boost the rhino population over the coming years, but the chances of seeing them in the wild is still correspondingly low. Ngorongoro Crater has the highest population out of all the parks and this is where you are most likely to spot rhino.
Found in both the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater National Parks, the Cape buffalo may look remarkably similar to the domestic cow… but do not be fooled. Buffalo are known to be one of the most ferocious of Africa’s animals and even a pride of lions thinks twice before marking them as prey. Male buffalo can weigh in at up to a tonne(!) while females can easily reach half a tonne, and they behave very much as a herd. Should a predator be targeting one of their own, it is not unheard of for the whole herd to turn and face the opponent in order to save them, a site that makes the hungriest big cats turn tail and run.
Brought to the forefront by Jane Goodall’s pioneering research, the bulk of Tanzania’s chimpanzee population can be found in Gombe Stream National Park and the Mahale Mountains. Whilst there, visitors are able to take part in organised tracking sessions – hiking into the surrounding forests to see the chimps in their natural habitat. They are then able to spend one magical hour with the animals; observing their behaviours and their familial bonds. While it may not be one of Tanzania’s most celebrated wildlife experiences, it is well worth finding time in your itinerary to feature these incredible primates.
The star of the Great Migration, wildebeest herds pouring across the plains of the Serengeti is one of the most iconic and enduring images of Tanzanian wildlife. They can be found throughout the country’s national parks but, of course, it is best to try and see them as they make their journey towards Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Accompanying the wildebeest on the annual Great Migration are thousands of zebras. There are three different varieties of zebra, and those you see on safari in Tanzania are Burchell’s zebra, also known as the plains zebra (perhaps for obvious reasons).
Tanzania is home to over 1,100 species of bird, representing 10% of the world’s avi-fauna, and is a bucket list destination for twitchers the world over. From an illustrious list of avian residents, they chose the crowned crane as their national bird and it’s easy to see why. Their striking yellow crest makes them easy to identify and they are often seen in large groups wandering the plains of the Serengeti. Crowned cranes mate for life and, unlike other crane species, remain with their mate throughout the year, often performing elaborate courtship dances.
Make it happen
If you would like to visit Tanzania and its abundant wildlife, then get in touch with our wonderful local experts, who can plan your perfect tailor-made holiday for you, whether that’s trekking to see the chimpanzees or a safari holiday with all the family. If you would like to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.