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By Matt 23 May 2019

Should You Travel to Tarangire in Green Season?

YZ Tanzania expert Matt went on a safari to Tarangire in April. Here he weighs up the pros and cons of visiting this national park during the green season.

It is late morning in April, during green season, in the little-known Tarangire National Park, the secret gem of northern Tanzania. Our guide is a big Maasai chap called Godwill (also known as Godwin), whose voice has all the effortless volume and carry of an experienced guide, from years of shouting facts into the back of his vehicle. He slows down as a small herd of impala bounds from our path into the thick grass. We do not stop for them; it is only the second day here, but the golden-coloured antelope with their long twirling horns comprise two out of three of all animals we have seen so far. However, moments later, as we drive along the edge of the park’s famous and extensive swamp, I can feel myself being flung forward in my seat as Godwill firmly applies the brakes, a sure sign he has seen something good.

My wildlife sightings in Tarangire in April

‘A juvenile bateleur eagle, and he has a snake!’ he says in a voice like an elephant’s, soft but able to carry from the driver’s seat to the back of the vehicle. The large bird of prey is sitting on the side of the dirt road, his feathers still brown from adolescence with the black yet to come in, and his beak grey instead of the vibrant red and orange of an adult. But, pinched in that beak’s hooked tip, we can see the head of a small snake, its tail thrashing futilely from the bird’s mouth like a long tongue.

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The lovely bird suddenly turns its head from us, beating the air powerfully, and takes flight across the marsh, leaving us to the mercy of a cloud of tsetse flies that has begun to swarm during the seconds while we were watching the bateleur. As we swat the flies away, Godwill indicates to the other side of the track, and he doesn’t need to introduce the silently moving grey giant with her long expressive trunk as she emerges from the foliage. The elephant is joined by her family, including two babies, only a few weeks old and still unsteady on their feet, and they all saunter across and down to the water’s edge. A couple of juveniles rush down to the water, and with a series of splashes they surge into a deeper pool with trumpets of delight, sending up a flurry of waterbirds.

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The elephants are so tender and playful in their behaviour, and the backdrop of lush green vegetation so idyllic, that we would have happily watched them for hours. However, the swarm of tsetses is threatening to become a plague and I am very aware of how many ‘kisses’ I’ve received, as Godwill refers to them. Unlike mosquitoes, which have the decency to come out only at night and the courtesy not to trouble you with their bites until hours later when they start to itch, tsetses can come out during the day and bite you on your game drives.

However, ours is the only vehicle, and all we can hear is the gentle rumbles and exhalations of the elephants. Then, as the smallest of the baby elephants approaches us, his little trunk swinging excitedly, and his mother places a firm trunk on his head to restrain him and gently pull him away from us humans, I consider the irksome flies a small price to pay.

This was Tarangire in green season to me in a microcosm.

So, this all raises an obvious question: is it worth going to Tarangire in green season?

Tarangire is traditionally a ‘dry season park’, with few visitors coming outside the months of July to October. The complaints generally raised against going during the period from January to March are usually that most of the big game has left the park due to the greater availability of water elsewhere; and the increased vegetation makes the game that remains much harder to spot, which also means Tarangire’s famous walking safaris are unavailable.

I will start off by admitting that the tsetse flies are a substantial annoyance! They will not bother you in camp, but on game drives they are very irritating. And now I’ll discuss each of the complaints in turn.

Tarangire’s elephant migration and big game

The famed elephant migration has left by December; however, elephants are still here in abundance. Giant old bulls and herds of females with young are easy to find. And while it is true that the large herds of wildebeest and zebra are absent, the park’s resident game is still here, including rarer animals like fringe-eared oryx. Additionally, most people who go to Tarangire continue on to the Serengeti and the Great Migration afterwards, so if your trip combines these areas you will not miss out on grazers overall.

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What can you see in the green season?

The argument that the game is harder to spot because of the increased vegetation is valid. To spot a leopard, for instance, would require some astronomical luck. Another major bummer, due to the safety precautions with the longer grass, is the lack of walking safaris at this time of year, something for which the park is highly renowned. Having said that, there are two very considerable pay-offs. The first is that the park looks astonishing! The lush green that carpets everything is wondrous and the groves of ancient baobabs that speckle the park are crowned with a rich canopy of leaves. If you are looking for birds, the second benefit is immediately obvious. A myriad of migratory species is now visible, and in the marshy centre of the park vast flocks of waterbirds are easy to find. Saddle-billed stork, African fish eagle, tawny eagle, lilac-breasted roller, Egyptian goose, superb starling, martial eagle, bateleur eagle… both migrants and residents can be seen at this time in impressive numbers.

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A major plus point: low season means more exclusivity

Another important plus point for green season, is that you will essentially have the park to yourself. In most safari parks in Tanzania, if anything of interest is discovered, you will have to jostle with a dozen other vehicles for a good position. In green-season Tarangire, you can park up right next to a herd of elephants or a resting lioness with her cubs. I did both, and not a single vehicle disturbed us. In some camps, if you are the only guests, you will be able to have dinner with lodge managers, and this means wonderful conversation around a candlelit table with exclusive service and the distant trumpeting of elephants into the night.

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So, is it worth going to Tarangire in Green Season? From my experience, my answer would ultimately be a tentative yes. If you want a truly exclusive experience or you are a bird lover, you will not be disappointed. Just bring a good fly swatter.

 If you are look to travel to Tanzania is April or you’d like more information about a safari to Tarangire, feel free to contact our experts here. Alternatively, check out the blogs below for more inspiration: