Have you ever had the desire to see exotic birds and wildlife up close, in their natural habitat? I was fortunate enough to do just that last year when we took a nine-day safari through Tanzania. We visited several of Tanzania’s national parks, and I’ll write about many of them over time. In this post, I’ll focus on the experience we had in Tarangire National Park.
My first impression of Tarangire was how rustic and remote it was, with very few signs of the intrusion of modern life and infrastructure. The preservation of natural habitat is an essential part of TANAPA‘s (Tanzania National Parks) mission:
The primary role of Tanzania National Parks is conservation. The 16 national parks…have been set aside to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage and to provide secure breeding grounds where its fauna and flora can thrive, safe from the conflicting interests of a growing human population.
At first it was hard for me to shake the idea that I was in a zoo – I really couldn’t wrap my brain around the wide open expanses and the free rein that the animals had in the park. But I got over that feeling fairly quickly, and was really taken in by the beauty of the wildlife in their natural setting.
Land and Roads
The park is roughly teardrop-shaped and covers 1,100 square miles in total. The northern part of the park consists mostly of flat scrub land and large stands of baobab and acacia trees. As you progress south into the park, the land becomes more hilly and is filled with rivers, streams and seasonal swamps.
Nearly all the roads through the park are for 4WD vehicles only. This is definitely not a place where I’d feel comfortable driving myself. Fortunately, we had a good guide who drove a modified Toyota Land Cruiser and who had extensive knowledge of the park itself as well as the wildlife and plant life we encountered. The roads were rough and were often waterlogged, but I had complete confidence in our driver. As an added bonus we visited the park late in the season, so we were the only two people he was escorting. This was great – because we got to stop wherever we wanted to for as long as we wanted.
Wildlife Up Close
Tarangire NP is noted not only for its baobab and acacia trees, but also for its large population of elephant. In addition to the elephant, the park is inhabited by waterbuck, giraffe, dik dik, impala, Grant’s gazelle, vervet monkey, banded mongoose, olive baboon, African lion, leopard, cheetah and many more. The park also contains approximately 500 different species of birds, and is one of the premiere spots for birding in Tanzania – and, indeed, all of east Africa.
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At the time we were there, there were relatively few tourists – we rarely saw another vehicle during the time we were there. Even in the high season, park rangers control the number of visitors allowed in the park at any one time. As a result of the low amount of traffic and the natural habitat, the animals appear to be extremely relaxed and at ease. Far from being afraid of our Land Cruiser, many of them were more curious than anything. In some cases, animals were just a few feet away from our vehicle. Of course, the animals are wild and so we were told to exercise common sense – hands, feet and bodies inside the vehicle at all times, no loud noises or shouting, and no throwing objects out of the vehicle. These warnings were given to avoid injury to us, as well as to keep the animals safe and friendly.
Tips for Photographers
I found Tarangire to be a real photographer’s paradise, and I was really happy with some of the shots I brought back. I also brought back a few simple tips to help others improve their experience:
- Go light on equipment. You most likely won’t need a tripod while out on safari. In fact, trying to use one may just slow you down. I also found that a long (70-300mm) and short (28-80mm) lens were sufficient for me to capture everything.
- Your guide will likely know this, but most animals in Africa are crepuscular and are most active in the morning and the afternoon. These are the times of day when you can catch animals feeding, hunting, playing, and generally being active. During mid-days the animals generally seek out shade and water, which gives you some great opportunities to photograph animals at rest.
- If your camera allows you this option, consider using aperture preferred mode for most of your shooting. This allows you to use depth of field to draw attention to specific animals, or specific parts of their face or body.
- Shutter preferred mode will allow you to capture action shots while animals are on the move. Consider setting your shutter speed to 1/500 to 1/250. This will allow you to pan your camera while animals are moving quickly, which will provide a blurred background and give your photo a sense of motion.
- While animals will likely be the primary subject of a lot of your photos, don’t neglect the landscape. Baobab and acacia trees have interesting shapes and textures, and can make for great photos by themselves. Because of its position near the equator, most of the national parks in Tanzania have extremely colorful sunrises and sunsets. These can provide you the perfect photo to begin or end a photo essay.