A popular first port of call on any northern Tanzania safari, Lake Manyara National Park is named after its dominant geographic feather, a shallow, alkaline lake set at the base of the tall wooded cliffs of the estern Rift Valley Escarpment. This scenic sanctuary protects the lake's northwestern shore, along with diversity of terrestrial habitats that seems truly remarkable considering that water comprised up to two thirds of the park's surface area 330 km2 (prior to the recent incorporation of the largely inaccessible 250 km2 Marang Fotest Reserve). Lake Manyara National Park has long been touted as the best place in Tanzania to see the tree-climbing lions, an accolade that now more accurately belongs to Serengeti, but more reliable highlights include the large habituated nanoon troops, often accompanied by the blu monkeys, that inhabit the groundwater forest close to the entrance gate, and a hippo pool that also offers some great aquatic birdwatching. Only one permanent lodge stands within the park boundaries, but several decent upmarket lodges run along the escarpment overlooking the lake, while a selection of cheaper lodging and campsites is centred on the village of Mto wa Mbu near the entrance gate. Although Manyara and its well-defined game-viewing circuit kick off a high proportion of safaris through northern Tanzania, it gets mixed feedback: some find it rather low-key and boring compared with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, while others relish the oportunity to see several species that are less common or syler elsewhere in the region. Certainly, those with strong time or budgetary restrictions might want to consider passing over Manyara in favour of spending more time in other reserves.
FAUNA AND FLORA
The accessible trrrestrial portion of Lake Manyara National Park is dominated by open glassland on the lake floodplain and denser acacia woodland towards the rocky escarpment that runs along its western boundary. An important feature of the park is the dense groundwater forest, dominated by shady ficus trees, that extends for about 5km south of the entrance gate. There is also some impressive forest in the far south, while a 250 km2 tract of escarpment forest overlooking the lake was annexed to the as a of the incorporation of the former Marang Forest Reserve in 2012. This habitat diversity is reflected in Manyara's varried mammalian fauna. Amaong the more commonly seen large mammals are buffalo, giraffe, hippo, olive baboon, blue monkey and various antelope, all of which are likely to be sighted in the course of any game drive. Large predators include a dense but skittish leopard population, while the lions of Manyara are renowne for their conspicous tree-climbing ways and might bee seen in arboreal action from time to time, though these days this behaviour is actually more likely to be seen in parts of the Serengeti. The elephants of Manyara were immortalised by lain Douflas-Hamilton, author of “Amongest the Elephant”, in the 1970s, and while the population suffered a slight decline in the 1980s due to poaching, this was not as severe as in many large parks in southern Tanzania. By the 1990s, the Manyara population had recovered fully, and its elephants were generally well endowed on the tusk front, and very relaxed around vehicle, making for graet viewing. Sadly, this situation has changed in recent years following a fresh spate of proaching indeed, on recent research trips, we were struck by how skittish and bad-tempered Manyara’s elephants have become, and how few large tuskers we observed. Manyara, despite its small size, is a great birding reserve, with around 400 species recorded. As Duncan Butchart, writing in the and Beyond Ecological journey, has noted, ‘If a first-time birdwatcer to Africa had the time to visit only single reserve in Tanzania, then Manyara must surely be it’, it is perfectly feasible for a casual birder to see 100 species here in a day, ranging from variety of colourful bee-eaters, barbets, kingfishers, and rollers t the gigantic ground hornbill and white-backed perican. Substantial flocks of flamingo are also present when the water lever is suitable. In rainy year, the trees around the entrance gate often suport large and pungent breeding colonies of the handsome yellow-billed stork and pink-backed perican between Febuary and June. A remarkable 51 diurmal raptor species are known from the park, of which 28 are resident or regular. Two unsual species worth looking out for are crowned eagle, which is commonly observed in the forest close to the entrance gate, and African hawk-eagle, which often rests up on rocks and stumos immediately south of the hot springs. Also common is the African fish eagle and superficially similar palmnut vulture, the latter often associated with with doum palms. In addition, six species of owl are regulary recorded. The recent annexation of Marang Forest Reserve has not only expanded Lake Manyara National Park’s area by almost 80%, but it also helped secure an ancient elephant migration corridor connecting the lake to the highlands ot its west. Marang, though relatively unexlored, hosts a selection of highland forest birds similar to those associated with the Crater Highlands, so in time it will greatly increase the already impressive bird checklist for this small national park.