Mkomazi's success story great for wildlife

Sunday June 07 2020

'Red' elephant headed from Tsavo West National Park in Kenya to Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT


At Same, an unpretentious town on the Moshi-Dar road, the sign for Mkomazi National Park pops up. It’s not on our itinerary but the sign points six kilometres to the gate at Zange.

The gates of Zange at Mkomazi that has one of the smartest gates to any national park … flanked by a Fringe-eared oryx and a Black rhino. Young Amina Omari was assigned to be our guide.

With the many hills of the Pare and Usambara mountains on the southern side, the park was so green after the rains that it defined its name. Mkomazi is from the Pare language — Mko for the traditional small spoon and mazi for water — meaning that there is little water in the park.

The 3,245-square kilometre national park was by 1989 overrun by poachers, hunters and cattle, and was left without a single rhino and only a few elephants. It was left desolate.

In today's lush paradise, a herd of red elephants graze, ignoring us. It’s in contrast to 1989 when only 11 elephants survived from 4,000.

Now, there are up to 500 during the rainy season migrating from Tsavo West in Kenya following the path of most grass. In an iconic shot by famous photographer Peter Beard in 1974 shot from a low flying plane, there’s not enough space in the frame for one herd of elephants in Mkomazi.


They appear like ants, something that no generation may ever witness again. Sadly.


“That’s a Grey hornbill,” pointed our guide. On the ground, flocks of Yellow-necked spurfowls tried to outdistance us. A herd of Eland ran across and soon we were watching giraffes by the dam coming for an evening drink.

The first l heard of Mkomazi was from Tony Fitzjohn. He had arrived there on the brink of despair from Kora National Reserve in 1989 after his ‘boss’ George Adamson aka the famous Bwana Simba was killed by bandits.

He found a home in Mkomazi, invited by the Tanzanian government. At the time, Mkomazi was a poacher’s paradise and overrun by cattle barons just like Kora.

When Fitzjohn arrived in 1989, giraffes had been slaughtered using high snares to strangle their ten-foot long necks for their meat, skin and tail for fly whisks leaving the petrified giants hiding in the bushes at the whiff of a human.

Now, we are following a female and her foal leisurely strolling on the road because the sides are water-filled. And there are giraffes everywhere, the Maasai kind which is the largest subspecies.

When Fitzjohn arrived there were no roads, airstrips or lodges in the reserve. “Wild dogs are common,” our young guide tells us. In the 1950s, the first warden of Mkomazi wrote in his diary that there were African wild dogs everywhere. By the 1980s, there were none.

Using much-needed donor cash to operate such a vast paradise, Fitzjohn worked tirelessly to bring back the planet’s most endangered canine and rhinos. Mkomazi became Tanzania’s first rhino sanctuary in a country that had lost 90 per cent of its herd to poachers.

In 2006, Mkomazi was elevated from reserve to national park status.



Nairobi to Mkomazi is 544 km. The Tarakea border is quiet and scenic along the shoulder of Mt Kilimanjaro.

In Same town, we stayed at the charming Elephant Motel near Mkomazi.

Kenyans don’t need a visa to enter Tanzania, but you must have your passport stamped at the border and your car log book deposited for collection on return. That’s a hassle forcing you to return via the same border. Entry into the national parks is very affordable as the East African rate applies.

Check out TANAPA for rates.