And the safari begins…
After a lifetime of dreaming, months of planning and many dollars spent, I was finally on my way.
As we drove through Arusha, the anticipation and excitement ramped up even more as I prepared myself for my first destination: Tarangire National Park (pronounced Taran-geery).
It’s about the water.
The long dry season has left the land parched. The animals, thirsty and needing nourishment from the minerals that are only found here, have migrated back to the place where they know there is always water.
At the height of the rainy season, the animals spread out over 20,000 square kilometers, but when the rains end they always return here, to the Tarangire River, the heart of the migration.
The park is over 2,600 square kilometers, but it’s only the sixth largest national park in Tanzania, where over 30% of the country has been set aside as a park or conservation area.
The landscape changes drastically through the park: there are rolling hills, rocky outcrops, dry open woodlands, thorny Acacia thickets, the river, extensive swamps, and many huge Baobab trees. There are even some of the iconic Acacia Tortillis trees (the flat topped ones that are common symbols of Africa).
Tarangire is known for it’s large elephant population and I saw my first wild elephants when we were barely into the park. I loved watching the behaviour of the elephants, especially the way they protect their babies. A mother with a newborn is always using her trunk to push her baby underneath her.
As they get a bit older, the babies walk in the middle of the family unit surrounded by all the females in the family.
The elephants not only drink the precious water in the park, but they love to have a mud bath too!
During the peak season, the elephant population soars up to 3,000. But once the wet season begins, the elephants and other animals migrate outside the park onto the floor of the Rift Valley and the vast open Maasai Steppe.
Of course, it’s not just the elephants that find refuge here in the dry season, there are also zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, leopard, lion, impala, giraffe, eland, gazelle and countless others. There are also over 550 species of birds.
The need for water drives the migration of over 55,000 wild animals in and out of the park, but the migration corridors outside of the park are the biggest threat to the sustainability of the Tarangire ecosystem. The problem is the increase in agricultural activities in these corridors. Most of the land is owned by the Maasai tribes, who do not traditionally hunt wildlife, but since the wildlife can harm the crops there is an increasing conflict between the animals, particularly the elephants, and the farmers.
In the last few years tour operators have been working with the local tribes to set aside conservation easements. In these areas the tribes have agreed not to use the land for agriculture and instead leave it for livestock and wildlife use. In return, the tribes receive an annual payment from the tour operators. Win – win.
I only got one day in Tarangire due to some … let’s call it “challenges” … related to the tour. I’ll tell you more about that later, but let’s just say I could have stayed and enjoyed the company of the elephants for hours, days even, but instead we screamed through the park at an insane pace. So I was really glad that I had a week after the safari with no plans and I was able to return here and photograph the way I like to photograph.
Photographing in Tarangire:
Overshadowed by the popular Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire has far fewer tourist than the other destinations in Tanzania which makes it a great spot for photographers who want to enjoy a peaceful moment with fewer tourists.
Photography is a little more difficult here than in some of the other areas of Tanzania for the same reason it is so special. The woodland. The animals, even the elephants, are surprisingly difficult to spot and, once spotted, it is much more difficult to get a clean shot without clutter.
• Use a long lens to fill the frame with an animal
• Use a medium lens to make an environmental portrait of an animal being careful to isolate the animal from the trees
• Use a wide lens for landscape shots where the animals are just part of the larger image
• A tripod is not necessary and difficult to use in a safari vehicle (but still handy for landscape shots when you’re allowed outside the vehicle). If you have a particularly heavy lens, use a beanbag to take the weight. It doesn’t have to be fancy, I used a plastic grocery bag filled with some kind of grain.
For gear suggestions, check out my “Gearing Up for my African Photo Safari” post and video.
Three words of caution:
Tse Tse flies. They are only in some areas of the park, but they are fierce, and don’t give a damn about bug repellant.