Our experience in Tarangire with elephants was nothing short of fantastic. But Tarangire is morphing: there’s much more, now, than just ele.
Our two days with the Cleveland Zoo safari in Tarangire probably encountered as many as 800 elephants. On our second day alone we counted upwards of 500, and it was extremely exciting. Ele in the northern end of the park are more accustomed to visitors, and so we were able to get quite close. But those we found in the center to the south, especially around the Silale swamp, have seen many fewer visitors, and they were very wild. Several times we left the track to give wide reign to these wild, southern ele in the road.
It used to be that Tarangire was just an “elephant park.” But as we would learn on the second day that the Cleveland Zoo spent in Tarangire from the eminent researcher, Charles Foley, the 6% elephant population growth over the last decade or so is transforming its landscape.
We saw thousands of zebra. The number of zebra rivaled some of the congregations I’ve seen during the Serengeti migration. And they, too, were healthy, enjoying the mostly dead but considerable grass that was found throughout the area.
And… yes, hundreds maybe a thousand, wildebeest. So Tarangire is morphing: from what I remember as a dense forest to a mixed ecosystem. And for us that means the excitement of the world’s best elephant sanctuary is being complemented by a growing diversity of plains game.
Zoo director, Steve Taylor, had arranged a visit during our time in Tarangire with the eminent elephant researcher, Charles Foley, at his research camp in the park. Foley explained that the forests are being leveled by an increasing elephant population, and that has opened up large areas of savannah grasslands for other animals like zebra and wildebeest.
I’ve heard Foley explain this before, and although he expresses a noninterventionist conservation policy, I’m not sure whether he thinks this is good or bad. But for us in tourism, and at least for now, it seems to be good.
True to our expectations, by the way, Tarangire was dry but not in a drought. In fact, as we left, there were raindrops on our windshield. The park was a quilt of some very dry areas with some green areas, and the swamp was much dryer than in year’s past, but the river was running well and the animals were mostly healthy. Only once or twice did we encounter elephant families that were physically stressed. And even the buffalo populations – which are often the first to show food deprivation – were grand and healthy.