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Spotlight On: Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park, traversed by its lifeblood – the Tarangire River, is one of the treasures of Tanzania’s northern safari circuit.

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During the dry season thousands of animals migrate into the park as the retreating river continues to provide one of the few drinkable water sources for local wildlife.

The park’s striking landscapes are full of diversity, and unique to Tarangire. The gently undulating hills are dotted with vast numbers of surreal looking Baobab trees, patches of thick bush, and tall grasses, which seem to shimmer when the sunlight hits their tips.

Bird-watchers will be absolutely delighted by a visit to Tarangire. The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world. Even in the dry season, you can expect to see dozens of unique East African birds.

Disused termite mounds are often frequented by colonies of the endearing dwarf mongoose, and pairs of red-and-yellow barbet, which draw attention to themselves by their loud, rhythmic, duets.

Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards, lounging in the branches where the fruit of the sausage tree disguises the twitch of a tail.

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Tarangire features the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem, and the start attractions are the elephants, huge mobs of which are easily encountered, wet or dry season.

African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth. You’ll see a lot of ear flapping going on, and one of the main reasons for this is to assist with heat loss. An elephant’s trunk is actually a long nose used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things—especially a potential meal. The trunk alone contains about 100,000 different muscles.

African elephant societies are arranged around family units. Each family unit is made up of around ten closely related females and their calves and is led by an older female.

Tarangire’s elephants love water! They enjoy showering by sucking water into their trunks and spraying it all over themselves. Afterwards, they often take a dust bath, covering their skin with a protective coating, which explains the dried mud that is often caked onto their skins.

Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark, and they eat a lot of these things. An adult elephant can consume up to 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of food in a single day. This is hardly surprising given that a male elephant can weigh more than 6,000 kg (13,340 lb).

Both male and female African elephants have tusks they use to dig for food and water and strip bark from trees. Males use the tusks to battle one another, but the ivory has also attracted violence of a far more dangerous sort.

Because ivory is so valuable to some humans, many elephants have been killed for their tusks. This trade is illegal today, but it has not been completely eliminated, and some African elephant populations remain endangered.

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Elephant slaughter in Tanzania declined sharply after 1987 when the government launched a major anti-poaching operation. But the poaching has revived in recent years, driven by fast-rising demand for ivory in Asia. Organised and intricate poaching networks in and outside of Tanzania sustain this illegal trade, making it difficult for Tanzania alone to win this battle. Much of it takes place in the reserves of Southern Tanzania, where there has been a massive decline in elephant numbers over the last ten years. The elephants of Tarangire, while still under constant threat of slaughter, have not been affected as greatly as their cousins in the South.

As the premier safari destination, new strategies are being developed to stem elephant poaching in Tanzania. Some estimates suggest that if these efforts are not successful, the population of elephants in Tanzania could be wiped out within 10 years.

Wildlife hunting is big business – a recent 2013 estimate valued the illegal poaching trade in Africa as being worth $17 billion dollars a year and growing.

Poverty is the primary driver of poaching in Africa. But increasingly, poaching is being carried out by heavily armed criminals who operate like gangs. Crime networks in both Africa and China are behind much of the poaching activity.

In China such a tusk sells for more than $2000, its value increasing tenfold by the time it is shipped out of Africa and arrives in Asia. There is also a market for illegal ivory in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, where it is carved into religious items, such as rosaries and crucifixes. Some researchers estimate that as much as 90 percent of the ivory for sale in Asia is illegal.

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Tanzania’s elephants draw tourists from around the world, providing a legal, sustainable source of income for people living in communities where elephants range. Tourism not only provides an important source of alternative income to local people, it also demonstrates the international value attached to elephants and other wildlife, and ensures that someone is always keeping an eye on what is going on. And the money the government earns from tourism fees and taxes helps fund anti-poaching operations. So your visit to Tanzania will have many benefits beyond great experiences, lasting memories, and stunning photos.

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