Tanzania Big Five Safaris
Tanzania national parks and game reserves rate among the best in Africa. Obviously, the tremendous variety of birds and mammals is the main attraction, and the more popular parks such as Serengeti national park and Ngorongoro Crater see huge numbers of visitors — from the budget campers to the hundreds-of-dollars-a-day. In the peak season (from June to October) on a game drive, you can observe at close quarters the daily habits of the famous Tanzania Big Five animals. Other smaller parks, such as Tarangire and Lake Manyara national park in the country’s northern circuit, would be lucky to see a handful of visitors a day at low season time of the year as well as the Big four animals.
What probably helps to make Tanzanian parks such a drawcard for the budget as well as the luxury travellers is that the game viewing among safaris is incredible and offer wide varieties of wildlife to see. If you have the time it is possible to witness all the Tanzania Big five animals by visiting different national parks. Below are the Big five animals with explanation and photos.
The buffalo is another animal which appears in great numbers in all the major parks in Tanzania. The massive animal is said to be the most dangerous (to humans) of all African animals and should be treated with caution, although for the most part, they will stay out of your way. Females protecting young calves, and solitary rogue bulls, are the most aggressive, and having 800 kg of angry animal thundering towards you is no joke.
Both sexes have the distinctive curving horns which broaden and almost meet over the forehead, although those in the female are usually smaller. The buffalo’s colour varies from dark reddish brown to black.
Buffalo are often found in herds of 100 or more and never stray too far from water, especially in the dry season. When food and water are plentiful the herds often disperse. They are territorial in that they have a home range of about 50 km outside of which they don’t stray.
One of Africa’s most sought-after species by poachers, the numbers of black rhino in Tanzania have fallen dramatically in the past though are now once again on the increase, thanks to some determined conservation efforts. They are now thought to number around 500, compared
Rhinos are one of the more difficult animals to sight, simply because they’re so few in numbers compared to other wildlife. They are seen in Ngorongoro crater quite often, and also in North Serengeti. Rhinos usually feed in the very early morning or late afternoon; at other times they tend to keep out of sight.
The eyesight of the rhino is extremely poor and it relies more on its keen senses of smell and hearing. Usually, when alarmed it will flee from perceived danger, but if it decides to charge it needs to be given a wide berth, though with its poor eyesight chances are it’ll miss its target anyway. Rhinos have been known to charge trains and even the carcasses of dead elephants!
A rhino’s territory depends on the type of country and the availability of food, and so can be as little as a couple of hectares or as much as 50 sq km. The diet consists mainly of leaves, shoots and buds of a large variety of bushes and trees.
Rhinos reach sexual maturity by five years but females do not usually become pregnant for the first time until around seven years of age. Calves weigh around 40 kg at birth and by three months of age weigh around 140 kg. Adult animals weigh in at anything from 1000 kg to 1600 kg! They are solitary animals, only coming together for some days during mating. Calves stay with the mother for anything up to three years, although suckling generally stops after the first year.
Everyone knows what an elephant looks like so a description of them is unnecessary except perhaps to mention that African elephants are much larger than their Asian counterparts and that their ears are wider and flatter. A fully grown bull can weigh up to 6 1/2 tonnes and sometimes more. In Tanzania, they are found in all the major game parks.
The tusks on an old bull can weigh as much as 50 kg each, although 15 kg to 25 kg is more usual. The longest tusks ever found on an elephant in Tanzania measured 3 metres! Both the males and females grow tusks, although in the female they are usually smaller. An elephant’s sight is poorly developed but its senses of smell and hearing are excellent.
Elephants are gregarious animals and are usually found in herds of between 10 and 20 individuals consisting of one mature bull, a couple of younger bulls, cows and calves, though herds of up to 50 individuals are sometimes encountered. Old bulls appear to lose the herding instinct and often lead a solitary’ existence, only rejoining the herd for mating. Herds are often very noisy since elephants communicate with each other by a variety of sounds, the most usual ones being various rumbles produced through the trunk or mouth. The most well-known elephant sound, however, is the high-pitched trumpeting which they produce when frightened or in despair and when charging.
Herds are on the move night and day, in order to secure sufficient water and fodder, both of which they consume vast quantities – the average daily food intake of an adult is in the region of 250 kg. They are both grazers and browsers and feed on a wide variety of vegetable matter including grasses, leaves, twigs, bark, roots and fruits and they frequently break quite large trees in order to get at the leaves. Because of this destructive capacity, they can be a serious threat to a fragile environment especially in drought years and are quite capable of turning dense woodland into open grassland over a relatively short gæriod of the. Because of Africa’s rapidly increasing human population and the expansion of cultivated land, they also come into conflict with farmers when they destroy crops such as banana, maize and sugar cane.
The other essential part of an elephant’s diet are various mineral salts which they obtain from ‘salt licks’. These are dug out of the earth with the aid of their tusks and swallowed in considerable quantities.
Elephants breed year-round and the period of gestation is 22 to 24 months. Expectant mothers leave the herd along with one or two other females and select a secluded spot where the birth occurs. They rejoin the herd a few days later. Calves weigh around 130 kg at birth and stand just under a metre high. They’re very playful and guarded carefully and fondly by their mothers until weaned at two years old. After that, they continue to grow for a further 23 years or so, reaching puberty at around 10 to 12 years. An elephant’s life span is normally 60 to 70 years though some individuals reach the ripe old age of 100 and even longer.
Lions are one of the main attractions of the game reserves and are found in all the main ones. They spend most of the day lying under bushes or in other attractive places and when you see a pride stretched out in the sun then they seem incredibly docile. It is possible to drive up very close to them in a vehicle – they either don’t sense humans or realise that humans in vehicles are not a threat. Whatever the case, don’t be tempted to get out of a vehicle at any time in the vicinity of a lion. Loud noises and sudden movement also disturb them. They’re at their most active for around four hours in the late afternoon, then spend the rest of the time laying around.
Lions generally hunt in groups, with the males driving the prey towards the concealed females who do most of the actual killing. Although they cooperate well together, lions are not the most efficient hunters – as many as four out of five attacks will be unsuccessful. Their reputation as human-eaters is largely undeserved as in most circumstances they will flee on seeing a human. However, once they have the taste for human flesh, and realise how easy it is to make a meal of one, lions can become habitual killers of people. This mostly occurs among the old lions which no longer have the agility to bring down more fleetfooted animals.
Lions are territorial beasts and pride of one to three males and accompanying females (up to 15) and young will defend an area of anything from 20 to 400 sq km, depending on the type of country and the amount of game food available.
Lion cubs are born in litters averaging two or three. They become sexually mature by 1 1/2 years and males are driven from the family group shortly after this. Lions reach full maturity at around six years of age. Unguarded cubs are preyed on by hyenas, leopards, pythons and hunting dogs.
The leopard is one of the big five which is perhaps the most graceful and agile of the large cats. A powerfully built animal which uses cunning to catch its prey, it is present in all the major game reserves but is difficult to find as it is nocturnal and spends the day resting on branches of trees, often up to five metres above the ground It is as agile as a domestic cat in climbing such trees and this is also where it carries its prey so that it’s out of the way of other scavengers which might contest the kill.
The leopard’s coat is usually short and dense with numerous black spots on a yellowish background. The underparts are white and less densely spotted. In addition, the coats of leopards found in open country are generally lighter than those in wooded country.
Leopards are solitary animals except during the mating season when the male and female live together. The gestation period is three months and a litter usually consists of up to three cubs. They prey on a variety of birds, reptiles and mammals including large rodents, rock hyrax, warthogs, smaller antelopes and monkeys (especially baboon), though they occasionally take domestic animals such as goats, sheep, poultry and dogs. This wide range of prey explains why they are still able to survive even in areas of dense human settlement long after other large predators have disappeared. But their presence is generally unwelcome since they do occasionally turn human-eater. It also explains why they are found in very varied habitats ranging from semi-desert to dense forest and as high as the snow line on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Going on an organised safari is the way most travellers visit Tanzania’s national parks. Safari to Arusha National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park and Tarangire National Park are best arranged in Arusha, where Shizi Safaris can plan a trip for you and you can witness all the Big 5 animals. Contact us for more details. Kilimanjaro National Park is the exception here, with climbs best arranged in Moshi.