Ruaha National Park was created in 1949 but in 2008, the Usangu Game reserve merged its borders with Ruaha. This transformed it into Tanzania’s largest national park.
Ruaha National Park now covers more than 20,000km². Despite the size of this Tanzania National Park there are still only a handful of camps found here.
This has built Ruaha’s reputation as Tanzania’s best kept game viewing secret. Ruaha’s wild and untrammeled feel is what sets it apart from other reserves, making it a popular choice for regular east African safari goers.
History of Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park does not have an extensive history like other areas in Tanzania. It is thought that early permanent settlers were dissuaded by the semi-arid climate and the high concentrations of tsetse fly.
The transformation of this vast area into a national park was first proposed by George Rushby who was Senior Game Ranger in 1949.
Two years later all the residents were forced out of this protected area and in 1964 Britain elevated Ruaha to full national park status. In 2008 the Usangu Wildlife Management Area was incorporated into the park creating the 20,000Km² Ruaha National Park that we know today.
African Wildlife in Ruaha National Park
In some ways ecosystems in the Ruaha National Park represent a transition zone between the miombo woodlands common in Zambia, and the more open savannah biomes, typical of northern Tanzania and Kenya.
This is evident in the park’s vegetation, which is thick in some areas and yet wide open in others. The floral variety of Ruaha is mirrored by the variety of wildlife likely to be seen over the course of a few days on safari here.
Animals in Ruaha National Park
Ruaha’s prolific game reflects this transition. There is a real mix between species more commonly associated with southern areas of Africa, and species which are widespread in the south such as; buffalo, zebra, Defassa waterbuck, impala, bushbuck, giraffe, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, greater kudu also the more elusive roan and sable antelope.
Grant’s gazelle and lesser kudu are also found here and are good examples of game that is more typically associated with areas further north.
Ruaha National Park is also home to the largest elephant population found in of any Tanzanian national parks, with some 12,000 elephants migrating through the greater Ruaha ecosystem each year.
It is also an excellent park for predators. Lions are not only numerous and much habituated to vehicles, but the prides tend to be unusually large, often numbering more than 20 individuals.
Cheetah can often be seen hunting on the open plains; and the park has a particularly good reputation for leopard sightings.
It is one of the last major strongholds for African wild dog populations with more than 100 found here. Black-backed jackal and spotted hyena are both very common and easily seen, and the rarer striped hyena, though seldom observed, also lives here.
The Birdlife of Ruaha National park
Ruaha’s birdlife is extraordinary, with over 580 species sighted in the park once again with an interesting mix of southern and northern species.
Of particular note are substantial and visible populations of black-collared lovebird and ashy starlings, this is perhaps the only savanna reserve in East Africa where the crested barbet replaces the red-and-yellow barbet.
Along the rivers expect to find water birds like goliath herons, saddle-billed storks, white-headed plovers and the white-backed night heron. There are six species of both vultures and hornbills including the recently described Tanzanian red-billed hornbill.
Raptors are also well represented; with bateleur and fish eagle probably the most visible large birds of prey, and the localised Eleanora’s falcon quite common in December and January.
Keen bird-watchers visit Ruaha National Park from mid-November to March, when migrant birds swell the numbers. Then a variety of waders appear along the riverbanks, together with flocks of white and Abdim’s storks. The sooty falcon arrives from the Sahara Desert, and the rare Eleonora’s falcon from the Mediterranean.
Game Drive in Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park is well known for its varied dramatic scenery, which includes rolling hills; large open plains; groves of skeletal baobabs and along its southern border, the Great Ruaha River, from which the park gets its name.
This is by far the most dominant geographical feature of the national park and, for the wildlife it is the most important. Ruaha has a hot, dry climate which means the animals don’t tend to stray too far from dependable water sources. This makes predicating game movements far easier particularly in the dry season.
The best game viewing in this national park is generally from May to November, but the bush is greener and prettier from January to June, and birding peaks during the European winter months of December to April.