Mkomazi National Park - Black Rhinos
Black Rhinos in Tanzania's Mkomazi
Black Rhinos in Tanzania's Mkomazi
One of Tanzania’s undiscovered gems is Mkomazi National Park and its sanctuary for rescued rhinos. Mkomazi is pristine and beautiful. It is among the few places where one is virtually guaranteed to see the rare and elusive black rhinoceros. Most importantly, Mkomazi stands as a bulwark against powerful criminal organizations who relentlessly threaten these animals with extinction. The Tanzanian men and women who care for Mkomazi have worked wonders in creating a conservation success story and a world treasure. But due to low visitor numbers, the park does not generate sufficient revenue to fund its operations. Mkomazi needs you. The park has published an beautiful new video with English subtitles for the beautiful Swahili narration.
I first learned about Mkomazi from Hamisi Athuman Sultan, a gifted wildlife guide from the Pare Mountain region south of Kilimanjaro. I was skeptical at first of Sultan’s tale about beauteous scenery, herds of elephants, majestic giraffes and most-of-all black rhinos. Mkomazi wasn’t on the usual tourist itineraries. Most people haven’t heard of it. What few published reviews I could find were tepid at best. Nevertheless, Sultan is an excellent safari guide, one to be taken seriously. It was time to take a look and it turned out that Sultan was right. Mkomazi is a hidden gem.
The lukewarm reviews of Mkomazi are simply wrong and outdated. It is an outstanding wildlife park. Visiting Mkomazi today is nothing short of a peak experience. As for scenic beauty, it rivals even the Ngorongoro Crater. Animal sightings are excellent and it has the five celebrities: elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhinoceros. It is true that in years past, Mkomazi fell upon hard times when animals were scarce and the land was degraded by poaching and illegal grazing. But now it’s back better than ever. In recent years, Tanzania National Parks has invested heavily with all the love, care and attention that the park sorely needed, bolstering security, modernizing facilities and rebuilding infrastructure. The result is a rebirth of flourishing wildlife. The park has many beautiful spaces for mobile camps. There are two permanent lodgings as well, Babu's Camp and African View Camp. Both are comfortable boutiques with all the amenities you might need.
On my recent visit to Mkomazi I was joined by our Tanzania Director Ammy Nnko and three good friends from Colorado: Rob, Kristan and Leyden. We pitched camp in a beautiful grove of Baobab trees. From our camp, we explored on foot and by 4WD. But for a few rangers, we had the entire park to ourselves. With so few visitors, Mkomazi feels extraordinarily peaceful and pristine.
The viewscape is delightful. The green and majestic Pare mountains overlook from the west and to the east the woods and savannahs span for miles to Kenya’s Tsavo National park, adjoining Mkomazi. Abundant baobab trees shelter birds, monkeys and baboons, as well as shading picnic sites for the human visitors. Throughout the park, wooded hillocks make excellent lookouts for sighting wildlife. One such hill overlooks a small lake attracting flocks of wildlife and waterfowl, making this peak an enjoyable perch for drinks at sundown.
Our half-day hike on the lakeside was memorable. We followed animal trails with tracks by the hundreds, the air was cool and pure, sounds were subdued–just bird-calls, all the while with elephants browsing nearby, indifferent to our passing.
Mkomazi’s rhino sanctuary was the highlight of our stay. This newly opened attraction distinguishes Mkomazi from all other parks. The sanctuary is an extra secure area enclosing 20 square miles of prime rhino habitat. Over 30 black rhinos live in the protected area, including a 15 month old orphan named Kasima who was recently rescued from the wild.
At the sanctuary headquarters, we met the rangers who gave us a briefing on the park history and the development of the sanctuary. Then they loaded us into a spanking new open-sided LandRover and drove us into the sanctuary. It wasn’t long before we were viewing the rhinos and snapping pictures. They seemed healthy, content, and right-at-home. Although the area is fenced and heavily patrolled, it looks and feels perfectly natural from within. Twenty square miles is a lot of territory and rhinos are not inclined to roam beyond their territory when food and water is abundant.
Small wonder the rhinos are thriving. Mkomazi is naturally an ideal habitat for black rhinos, with the right food and plenty of dense brushy hiding places. Hundreds of rhinos were once native to this very same area, but by the 1980’s, before Mkomazi was declared a park, all were lost to poaching. Mkomazi became a national park in 2008 and since that time the Republic of Tanzania has poured substantial resources into reintroducing black rhinos. They have brought in rhinos from South Africa as well as from zoos in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.
Even today, rhino horn fetches millions of dollars on the black market and criminal syndicates ceaselessly scheme to kill these animals. Fortunately, the Mkomazi sanctuary, with its dedicated force of Tanzanian rangers, is an especially secure refuge, being a protected area within a protected area. If you are interested we can add Mkomazi to any of Tanzania's Northern Circuit Itineraries. It could pair very well with our Deeper Tanzania or Tanzania with Kids safaris.