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Ruaha National Park

Ruaha National Park

Ruaha national park is one of the few Tanzania’s  famous wilderness area where one can have a rare experience of game viewing  spiced up by the fascinating landscape. The park is rich of plants and animals  such as Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus   strepsiceros) which can not be found in any other national park. The  park boasts of her almost untouched and unexplored ecosystem, making visitors’  safari experience very unique.

The Great   Ruaha River  as other rivers like Mwagusi, Jongomero and Mzombe save as the life line of the  park. During dry season, these rivers become mostly the main source of water  for wildlife. There are few natural springs saving the same purpose.

In the pick of dry season, elephants obtain water from dry  sand rivers using their front feet and trunks. The remaining water falls along the  Great Ruaha River  are also important habitat for hippopotamus, fish and crocodiles.

Park History

The park history dates back to 1910 when it was gazetted Saba  Game Reserve by the Germany then the name was changed by British to Rungwa Game  reseve in 1946. In 1964 the southern portion of the Game was gazetted as Ruaha  national park and in 1974 a small section of South Eastern part of the Great Ruaha   River was incorporated  into the park. The name “Ruaha” originates from the Hehe word “Ruvaha”, which  means “river”. Ruaha   National Park is part of  Rungwa-Kizigo –Muhesi ecosystem which covers more than 45000km2. In  2008 Usangu game Reserve and other important wetlands in Usangu basin have been  annexed into the park, making it the largest park in Tanzania  and East Africa with an area of about 20226km2.

Historical and cultural  sites

There are several historical and cultural sites in the park  which offer a visitor a chance to explore the Southern Tanzanian tribes. The  early trade routes used by the Arab caravan crossed here. In 1830 these coastal  traders expanded their routes northward, and in year 1857 to 1858 other  European explorers such as Burton  and Speke used these routes too. Chief Mkwawa used the same routes to visit his  chiefdom’s in Sangu and Gogo.

The park area often hailed as the land of the brave Chief  Mkwawa, the Chief of the hehe people who resisted against the German attack in  the late 19th century. The fierce and successful battle tactics  against the German invasion made the Hehe tribe famous in the Southern highland  of the then Tanganyika (Tanzania).  The Hehe tribe under the leadership of chief Mkwawa was dominant around the  Ruaha area. Some of the outcrops in the area are known as hiding places of  chief Mkwawa who went into hiding after the fall of his empire (kalenga) to the  German in 1894.       In brief, it is believed that, this ancient land (Ruaha National    Park) holds many secrets of chief Mkwawa.

Some of the cultural sites that were used for rituals are “Ganga la Mafunyo”, Nyanywa and Chahe, Painting rock at  Nyanywa, the “Gogo”  chief “Mapenza”  grave at Mpululu and “Mkwawa” spring area believed to be used by Chief Mkwawa.  Other historical sites near the park include Isimila pillars near Iringa town,  Kalenga, Mlambalasi, Lugalo and God’s bridge just to mention a few.


Ruaha National Park has a bimodal pattern of rain forest;  the short rainfall season begins November to February, while the long season is  between March and April. The annual mean rainfall ranges between 500mm-800mm  with the average annual temperature of about 280c. The park  experiences its dry season between June and October when the temperature at  Msembe headquarter reaches 350c.

Parks Significance

Ruaha National Park has a high diversity of plants and  animals including elephants, buffalos, antelopes and some of rare and  endangered species like wild dogs. The park serves as water shade both for  wildlife and human being. This makes it to be economically significant as it  supports agricultural activities down stream and contributes to hydro- electric  power (HEP) for the country at Mtera and Kidatu dams.

Tourism Attractions


The park is one of the Tanzania  birds’ paradise with more than 571species and some of them are known to be  migrants from within and outside Africa.  Migrating species from Europe, Asia, Australian rim and Madagascar have been recorded in  the park. Species of interest in the park include Ruaha red-billed hornbill  (Tokus ruahae) which is dominant in the area. The recently annexed wetland, the  Usangu basin is one of the country’s important bird area (IBA) as recognized by  Birdlife International. Though birds can be seen all the year around, the best  time for bird watching is during the wet season.


Ruaha is believed to have high concentration of elephants  than any national park in East Africa. It is  also a place where, magnificent mammals like Kudu (both Greater and Lesser), Sable  and Roan antelopes can easily be spotted in Miombo woodland. The male Kudu have  beautiful spiraled horns while male Sable antelope have impressive curved  horns. The park is also a habitat for endangered wild dogs. Other animals in  the park include lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, zebras, elands, impala,  bat eared foxes and Jackals.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Apart from large animals, the park also harbors a number of  reptiles and amphibians such as crocodiles, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes,  monitor lizards, agama lizards and frogs. The Great Ruaha and Mzombe rivers are  presumably the most preferred habitat for crocodiles.


The park is characterized by semi-arid type of vegetation,  baobab trees, Acacia and other species. There are over 1650 plant species that  have been identified. The park is the transitional point of two vegetation  zones, the Zambezian (characterized by Miombo vegetation) and Sudanian  (characterized by Acacia vegetation).

Physical feature

Ruaha National   Park has a wide range of physical features from the Great Rift Valley, river systems, natural springs,  wetlands, hot water springs, and kopjes to the beautiful rolling hills and  mountains.


The river systems and watershed are of economical, social and  ecological significance for the park itself and country at large. Main rivers  include the Great Ruaha, Mzombe, Mdonya, Mwagusi and Jongomero.

Rift valley

The Great Rift Valley  crosses the park. The escarpment wall along the western valley side is about  50-100m high in the north-eastern parts, increasing in height to the southwest.  It is considered that, the valley of the Great  Ruaha River  is an extension of the Great Rift Valley. The Great Ruaha   River flows for 160km  long along the entire eastern boundary through rugged gorges and open plains.

Natural springs

They occur throughout the park and they are associated with  the base of the Western Rift Valley escarpment, most notably Mkwawa, Mwayembe,  Makinde and Majimoto springs. These are dry season refugees for wildlife and  when most of the rivers get dry.

Undulating Landscape

The park has undulating land and hills including  kilimamatonge, Nyamasombe, Nyanywa, Chariwindwi, Igawira, Mwayiui, Kibiriti,  Magangwe, Ndetamburwa and Isukanvyiola. These act as kopjes creating good  habitat for animals such as klipspringer which normally can be seen in some of  these hills.

Tourism Activities

Tourism activities in the park include Game viewing, long and  short wilderness walking safari, bird watching, picnic, bush meals (break-fast,  lunch, dinner) in the untouched bushes.

Best Time To See The  Wildlife

Best time to see predators and large mammals is during the dry  season (mid May-December).

The wet season (January –April) is best for bird watching, lush  scenery and wildflowers. The male Greater kudu is most visible in June which is  their breeding season.

How to get there

By air

There are both scheduled and chartered flights into the park  mainly from Arusha, Dodoma,  Kigoma and Dar-es-salaam. Park’s airstrips are located at Msembe and Jongomero

By road

It is about 130km drive from Iringa town and 625km from  Dar-es-salaam city.       The road into the park is passable throughout the year.


There are park and privately owned facilities

Park facilities

  • Are as follows
  • Self catering tourist bandas
  • Special  camping sites
  • Public  camping sites
  • Rest  house
  • Hostel  for school groups
  • Park  cottages
  • Family cottage
  • Single room with sitting room
  • Single room without sitting room

Private facilities

Inside the park

There are several luxury tented camps operating in the park such  as Jongomero, Kigelia, Mwagusi safari, Old Mdonya River, Kwihala and Flycatcher  and one lodge namely Ruaha River lodge. These are privately owned.

Outside the park

There are several accommodation facilities just outside the  park: these are hill top lodge, Sunset lodge, Tandala tented camp to mention a  few.


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