Last year I was trapped inside Tarangire with my group and had to go suffer the logistical and financial horror of chartering two aircraft for a 9-minute flight from the central Tarangire airstrip to the Manyara airstrip.
It began to look like a decision had to be made: the best possible migration experience (which is now) and therefore, no Tarangire. We were trapped because the park’s bridges are not designed to work in the middle of the rainy season, which is when the migration is at its best.
But it kept gnawing at me that here we would be, in northern Tanzania, yes poised to experience the most dramatic wildlife spectacle on earth (the great wildebeest migration), right next door to Africa’s best elephant wilderness.
So I decided to arrange a “tentative day.”
I hired two sets of vehicles for Monday morning. My set went the night before to Tarangire to scope out the situation, to try to cross the problematic river and to let me know the next day if it was safe to come.
The second set took us all to the West Kilimanjaro airstrip near our beautiful Ndarakwai Ranch where we’d begun our trip.
And I would tell the pilot where to fly us!
Tarangire was open, the river was down, and we flew into the center of the park on a short 35-minute flight. The rest of the day we spent exploring the northern half of the park.
Needless to say, we saw elephants. I estimated at least five hundred, but if we included the ones we could see in the distances, it could have been twice that.
There are too many elephant in East Africa, and there are too many elephant in Tarangire. But what a beautiful sight!
The scene and the fundamental problem causing it are as disjunct as any spectacular art work from the value a collector will pay for it.
We knew there were too many elephant as we left the park and saw the pitiful attempts by local farmers to discourage elephant from destroying their land and crops. “Scarecrows” that could hardly keep out an ostrich much less an elephant.
As I’ve often written, the “elephant problem” when seen from the point of view of a Tanzanian is quite different than the poaching problem perceived by the outsider.
While there is a poaching problem, there is also the problem of there being too many elephant, and that to the local Tanzanian, is the main problem. No one wants to discourage tourists and scientists who are helping to save their fragile environment.
But you’ve got to consider the kids walking to school, the farmer who depends year to year on a good crop, and the village counselor trying to connect his borehole to the citizen homes.
So the “scene” is today almost indescribably beautiful. But there is a problem that scene portends, and it’s a very serious one.
We saw much more in Tarangire, of course, than just the spectacular elephant. Hundreds of impala, dozens of giraffe, hundreds of baboon, zebra, wildebeest, mating lion … all in one of East Africa’s most expansive landscapes.