Baobab trees break up the grassy savannah plains before a meandering river turns the ground into swampland. The roar of a lion echoes in the distance, giraffes tower among the trees and elephants toss up sandy earth as their own brand of sunscreen. This is Tarangire National Park. It’s what you unwittingly picture when you think African safari, where animals outnumber people and where you’ll be humbled by the sheer size of our planet and your brief moment of time in it.
A Hidden Gem in Tanzania
Situated in Northern Tanzania, less than three hours from the start of most safaris in Arusha, Tarangire is a hidden gem. The national park isn’t on most people’s safari plans. And those that do make it to Tarangire rarely stay for more than a day, missing out on the majority of the park’s 1100-square miles and the second highest concentration of wildlife in all of Tanzania. Ask anyone who has spent time exploring the country and they’ll tell you that not only is Tarangire the one park not to miss but you should plan on staying a few days. They’ll tell you to get away from the main gate where most of the lodges are and explore the depths of the park home to lions, more zebras than you can count and a rare African elephant success story. So, this past June I did.
With one of the densest populations of elephants in all of Africa, you’ll find the magnificent animals in Tarangire no matter the season. We hadn’t even been in the park for an hour before we saw our first elephants, splashing in the river, roaming seemingly unworried feet from safari vehicles, greeting each other by their trunks. To see the mischievous, playful creatures in their natural habit is reason alone to come, a feat we soon may not be able to do.
Tanzania’s elephant population, formerly the second biggest in Africa, dropped from 110,000 in 2009 to less than 44,000 today. That’s a more than 60 percent loss in seven years. Poaching is the main culprit, although the development of areas around the parks also plays a role. Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed in Africa, 96 a day, 35,000 a year. The poachers leave the carcasses, taking only the tusks to feed the world’s insatiable taste for ivory and using the profits to fund arms-trades, drugs and terrorism.
There are rare exceptions, like Tarangire, where the elephant population has grown since the 1980s. Partnerships that have spanned the globe, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Tarangire park rangers and the local population, are to thank and are an example of a global solution.
The elephants munch on grass, an old bull walks to for a drink, a mother keeps an eye on her young while glancing at our safari vehicle and we stay and watch for as long as we can.