On the November 25, 2006, a delegation from South African National Parks (Sanparks) consisting of eleven people and one representative from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), embarked on a fact-finding mission to visit Tanzania and the Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA). The group was made up of people from the Savanna Ecological Research Unit of Sanparks' Conservation Services, representing not only the Kruger National Park (KNP) but also some of the other savanna parks.
The main purpose of the visit was to gain insight into the monitoring, research and management of some of the parks under the control of TANAPA. The group was also hoping to achieve some understanding of the dynamics of the different ecosystems visited within the parks and how these were affected by the fact that all Tanzanian parks are unfenced. Presentations on the three subjects - monitoring, research and management - were given in each park by local ecologists.
On the 26th, the group visited TANAPA headquarters in Arusha and was addressed by Mr Lejora, the manager for ecological monitoring. Mr Lejora was also the contact person and made all arrangements in order for the group to visit the various parks.
On the same day, the first park to be visited was Tarangire, where local scientists shared interesting information with the group. The typical problem of isolation and the encroachment of human settlements that faces most conservation areas, not only on the African continent but all over the world, was highlighted by an incident that occurred a week prior to the visit.
Six lions were killed by Maasai people after having lost livestock to the predators. This is a problem which many Sanparks people are familiar with. The nights of the 26th till 28th were spent at Lake Manyara, a natural soda lake situated at the eastern foot of the western escarpment of the East African Rift Valley and close to the ethnically diverse market town Mto wa Mbu.
A relatively small patch of tall tree forest is sustained by groundwater that seeps through to the surface at the bottom of the escarpment. Here in this small park, forest, woodland savanna and a huge water body meet each other, resulting in a rich diversity of habitats.
On the 28th, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a World Heritage Site, was visited, the highlight being the Ngorongoro Crater. This area is not managed by TANAPA but by NCAA (Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority) which is a parastatal organisation with a different status. After a relatively short presentation, the descending road into the crater was used to reach the floor which consists of a large expanse of water, grassland and smaller patches of woodland and marsh. In general, most of the animals occurring in the crater never leave this area.
On the 29th, the longer journey to and through the Serengeti National Park took the group for a brief glimpse of the Olduvai Gorge, one of the cradles of humankind. One of the oldest excavations of humankind was made here early in the previous century.
The afternoon of 29th and the whole of 30th were largely spent on scanning the vast plains of the Serengeti in search of the brindled gnu (wildebeest) which were returning from their dry season overwintering areas in the Maasai Mara woodlands further north. Estimated numbers of these animals are 1.2 million and the group must have seen several thousands of these as they arrived in many larger herds.
The plains were literally getting darker as more and more herds arrived and dispersed. The lecture presented at Seronera Wildlife Lodge gave the group some very good insights into the monitoring work conducted there. The final day, 2nd of December, saw the Sanparks group visiting the scenic Arusha National Park which includes Mount Meru and its footslopes. From a vegetation and topography point of view, this park appears to be very diverse, consisting of tall tree forest, savanna patches, grassland, several smaller lakes and its own crater, Ngurdoto.
The 3rd of December was departure day, leaving from Kilimanjaro International Airport outside Arusha via Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam back to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. As the aircraft took off, the group saw Mount Kilimanjaro with its white snowcap for the first time on this trip, leading to the observation, "What a beautiful sight and what better good-bye than this."
One of the expected outcomes from this visit is that closer links between TANAPA and Sanparks can be established. This will hopefully serve as a basis for further collaboration in future and might benefit both organisations in their endeavour to successfully manage the network of national parks of which they are the custodians.
By Dr Holger Eckhart