Created in 2019, Tanzania’s Ugalla River National Park is “a good news story that has been almost completely overlooked in the fallout from Covid-19”, says Sophy Roberts in the FT. At 3,865 square kilometres, this little-visited wetland area is more than twice the size of the Masai Mara. It had previously been leased to big-game hunting companies, but now only photographic safaris will be allowed. Some hunting enthusiasts point out that the area’s appeal is only seasonal (it turns into a floodplain for part of each year), and argue that its many tsetse flies will put off tourists, and that the new arrangement will make less money for wildlife authorities. But naturalists say it’s “a definite win for conservation”, strengthening the protection of a little-studied wilderness rich in rare species.
The nearest town is Tabora, a place of busy souks and elegant minarets. Spend a night at its old railway hotel and visit the house where David Livingstone stayed in the 1870s (now a museum) before leaving for Ugalla. As yet, there is no visitor accommodation in the park, so it is best to explore in a four-wheel drive and pitch tents in a different place each night. There’s a “bewitching abundance” of wildlife, and “a deep sense of privilege” in having such a “vast” wilderness to yourself. Even so, photography can be tough – years of hunting has left wildlife “skittish”, and experts say it will take a few years for the animals to relax in the presence of humans again.
In a landscape this empty of people, even common animals such as giraffes and impala take on an “Edenic” air. But chances are you’ll also see creatures that you’d never spot on “the usual east African safari circuit”, such as Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and black sable antelopes, while the park’s swampy areas are home to Cape clawless otters and many rare water birds.
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