Whilst the lion population is in decline in the rest of East and Central Africa, Ruaha maintains 10% of the entire lion population on the African continent! And this is backed up by the fact that whilst in Ruaha, one is seeing a plethora of different lion groups on a daily basis and often witnessing kills due to the lion density.
This is seriously good news for anyone interested in wildlife.
Ruaha is also an incredibly beautiful park, dotted with baobab trees everywhere! The elephant populations are excellent here too, which is even better news as 90% of the elephant population in the Selous has been wiped out due to poaching.
This region has one of the strongest wild dog populations too. The birdlife is excellent here, heralding a mix of northern and southern species and around 65 different raptors.
But there is a serious side to maintaining healthy lion populations which is where the Ruaha Carnivore Project prevails. In collaboration with Panthera.org and Lion Guardians, the Ruaha Carnivore Project spends time collating information via satellite tracking and camera traps to establish patterns and territories of lion groups.
They then spend time with the local communities, educating them about the preservation of lions and how best to protect their livestock. They have erected predator proof enclosures and guard dogs to alert against lion activity.
In addition, there is an age old tradition amongst the local people. Young warriors from Ruaha, emanating from the Maasai and Barabaig tribes, feel that it is an important part of their warrior role to kill lions in order to protect their livestock, to protect their communities and to gain status.
These cultural lion hunts are often triggered by a carnivore attack on livestock but sometimes these young men will go on a lion hunt which is entirely unprovoked by any attack. Dozens of lions each year are killed in this manner and this is causing a substantial impact on not only the wildlife numbers but also the ecological balance.
After spending much time with the Maasai pastoralists I found out that each lion speared is rewarded with 20 cattle, worth several thousands of dollars. The warriors explained that this was one of the few ways that the men could get cattle as well as achieve status in the community.
The Ruaha Carnivore Project worked on a solution which was equitable for all. The warriors would be employed by the project to patrol large zones of village land. They look for signs of lion and chase them away from the villages. They help to retrieve lost livestock and herders. They build traditional livestock bomas.
This work is seen as fulfilling their traditional warrior role by protecting the community and offering a direct conservation benefit.
Being employed allows them to purchase cattle and they are taught skills by the Lion Guardians such as telemetry, GPS satellite tracking and literacy which gains them status in the community. Living amongst the Maasai pastoralists means they hear of any planned lion hunts and can intervene, thereby saving the lions.
The Carnivore Project also educates the community about conservation and has a ‘Community Camera Programme’ whereby the community is ‘rewarded’ with essential items such as health medical supplies, education and other items that are useful for the villages such as building materials.
The substantial rewards are agreed upon with the villagers and are based on a points system, where the villages receive points for the presence of wildlife of their village land. This critical programme helps communities to see conservation directly benefiting them.
The joy is there is something for everyone! Our favourite pick is Kichaka. Kichaka is a walking camp, where one can have exclusive use. Owned by the finest walking guide in Tanzania, Moli, one can spend time here, away from any other camp, and explore this magnificent, wildlife rich region.
With just four beautiful, luxury tents with views over the river, the days are spent game viewing by open vehicle and on foot.
Moli also has a fly camp where you can undertake a walking safari for several days – a journey – walking from camp to camp, just like the original safaris were conducted in the 1920s and 30s! We would recommend from five to seven nights here – with a combination of the main camp and walking to the fly camps.
One learns so much more on foot! It not only offers a more immersive experience, but there is no sound or diesel pollution and allows one to be in tune with nature.
We sent Lucia Van Der Post from the Financial Times newspaper to Ruaha National Park where she spent time at several properties. You can read her article here.
Contact me if you would like to hear more about the wonderful Ruaha National Park.
Images provided courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project and Kichaka Expeditions.
Images of the Ruaha Carnivore Project's Community Camera Programme copyright to Ana Grau.