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Written by: Juan Proll on 14 December 2022

Is Mkomazi National Park worth visiting?

Mkomazi National Park

Mkomazi national park is a lesser known game reserve between Kilimanjaro and Tanga at the north-eastern border of Tanzania. In today’s blog, we will tell you whether Mkomazi National Park is worth visiting.

Landscape Mkomazi National Park

The Mkomazi National Park is framed by the green slopes of the spectacular Usambara and Pare mountain ranges. Not far from here, the snow-covered summit of Mount Kilimanjaro offers a stunning backdrop. Besides the beautiful landscape, it is especially the fascinating animal world that makes the park special. And it is also not too crowded with visitors.

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Is Mkomazi National Park worth visiting? – Its history

The name Mkomazi comes from the words Mko “wooden spoon/ trowel” and Mazi “water” that originate from the language of the Pare people. It can be translated as “ladle full of water”, and insinuates the lack of water, as it is only enough for one ladle. The area is especially challenging during dry season.

Originally, the area consisted of two game reserves. But before they were integrated in 2006 and 2008, and declared a national park with a surface of 3.245 km², some herding families from the Parakuyo ethnic group were allowed to live there. They brought with them a few thousand cattle, goats, and sheep. The former British colonial government agreed to it, because the Parakuyo had already been living in that area for a long time. The condition was that they don’t threaten the ecological integrity of the reserve.

In the following years, more and more people and their livestock migrated into the area. Maasai, Sambaa, Pare, and other ethnic groups settled here as well. That’s why in the 1980s, the new, independent Tanzanian government faced rapidly changing conditions. From their point of view, the area was too crowded with humans and livestock and the ecosystem out of balance. That’s why the government ordered the evacuation of the two reserves.

Since then, there are permanent legal, and moral endeavours by Maasai and Parakuyo against the forced eviction of people on the basis of tradition and customary law. On the other hand, the government had cemented the decision to relocate by declaring the area a national park, and Mkomazi has since become a wildlife and conservation success story.

The success goes hand in hand with the tireless efforts from Tony Fitzjohn. In 1989, the conservationist was persuaded to “clean up” Mkomazi, rid the area of poachers, and make it a home for wildlife again. His biggest project was the creation of a breeding centre for the endangered black rhino. In 2020, he retired from being the park director, and the Tanzanian national park authority took over Mkomazi. Fitzjohn did not only leave behind a transformed wildlife protectorate, but also a clear statement of how much you can achieve with hope, a vision, and relentless will. He passed away on the 23 of May 2022 as a consequence of being severely ill.

Where is Mkomazi National Park? – Location and Vegetation

Mkomazi national park is surrounded by the Para mountain range on its West and South side and in the East by the Usambara Mountains. In the North of the protected area, there is the Kenyan national park Tsavo West. Together they form the biggest and one of the most important protected ecosystems in East Africa.

Mkomazi Tented Camp

Mkomazi marks the southern tip of the Sahel, which is why the landscape is rather dry and desert-like. Due to the climate, there is a vegetation of Acacia-Commiphora forests in the lower altitudes and dry forests towards the western mountains. Scattered kopjes, hills and African baobabs add variety, as does the Umba River in the south-east. It is the main source of water in the park, but is too far away from the animal-rich north and south-west of the park. Only the construction of a dam and other waterholes has brought some relief.

Which animals can you find in Mkomazi National Park? – Its wildlife

As Kenya’s big Tsavo-West National Park is bordering Mkomazi, there is a natural corridor for migrating animals like elephant, oryx and zebra herds. In the savannah landscape, you can also find lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, buffaloes, impala, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. At the riverbank, you can find sunbathing crocodiles. The park has gained international recognition not only for its black rhino breeding station, but also for its conservation programme for the endangered African wild hunting dog. Unlike the other animals, the rhinos, and wild dogs are currently not roaming freely in the national park. At least the rhinos can be visited in a newly established enclosure not far from the Zange Gate together with a park ranger on a guided tour. This may not be as exciting as seeing them in Serengeti National Park, but unlike there, you can be sure of seeing them in Mkomazi.

Rhinos Mkomazi National Park waterhole

In addition, due to the diversity of the landscape and climatic conditions, over 400 species of resident and migratory birds can be found here, including ostriches, eagles, weavers, and secretary birds.

For whom is Mkomazi National Park worth visiting?

Mkomazi national park is worth visiting …

  • … for people who are interested in bush experiences off the common touristic paths and don’t focus too much on big animal populations.
  • … for people who prefer red sand roads in vast wilderness where there are so few other cars on the road so that wildlife is the main reason for stopping.
  • … for people who are into photography and acknowledge the fascinating landscapes, exciting scenery, and breathtaking panoramas.

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Author: Juan Proll

Traveling has always been Juan Proll's great passion: three years in Latin America, two years in Southeast Asia and Oceania as well as short trips of up to nine months in Europe, Central America, and North Africa. In 2010, he decided to quit his job in Germany as an adult education teacher and head of department for migration issues and to become a ranger in South Africa. Juan has been traveling across Africa since 2011, traveling to southern and eastern Africa and also climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Beforehand, he completed his nature guide training in South Africa and worked in a Big Five game reserve. With further training and intensive self-study to become a cultural guide, Juan has since expanded his field of activity beyond the natural world to include the countries, cultures, and its people. In mid-2013 he joined Africa-Experience and has been guiding travelers through Africa as a safari guide ever since. Juan is a member of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa.

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