We recommend Rubondo Island N.P. to travellers who are considering holidaying in Tanzania and are looking for something a little bit different from the country’s famous attractions. As it has just one camp, the island is able to offer very exclusive experiences. You won’t see the traditional Big Five species here, but there’s animal action enough to satisfy any wildlife enthusiast! And there’s the option of combining a stay here with time in Tanzania’s better-known safari areas.
Rubondo Island N.P. is situated in the south-west of Lake Victoria, Africa’s second-largest lake. The park is the largest island N.P. on the continent! It’s made up of 11 islands and covers approximately 250 square kilometres overall, with a length of 26 km and a width that varies from 3 to 10 km.
Rubondo was populated by a fishing community until 1965, when 400 islanders were resettled on the mainland and other islets, and their former home was named a game reserve. During the next four years, Professor Bernhard Grzimek (of yellow zebra fame!) set to introducing a wealth of wildlife to the island. Rubondo achieved national park status in 1977. Today it is entirely uninhabited by humankind.
Among Bernhard Grzimek’s wildlife introductions from 1966 to 1969 were 16 chimpanzees, all rescued from zoos and circuses throughout Europe. The chimps really embraced their new freedom, and have been happily breeding since their release among the vines and trees. Over 75 per cent of the island is cloaked in beautiful equatorial forest! It’s thought that there are about thirty chimps in residence today, and a chimpanzee habituation programme was launched in 2013.
Other species introduced on Rubondo comprise elephant, giraffe, black rhino, black-and-white colobus monkey, roan and suni antelopes, and 37 grey parrots that had been traded illegally. Unfortunately, the rhinos were poached to extinction and, for unknown reasons, the roan antelopes failed to thrive. But there’s plenty of indigenous wildlife to see here as well as the newcomers, such as bushbuck, sitatunga, civet, genet, spot-necked otter, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, serrated hinged terrapin, an amazing range of butterflies, and over 300 types of bird including marabou stork, pied kingfisher, and impressive concentrations of fish eagles!
The chimpanzee habituation programme involves chimp treks, which are available for travellers aged 15 years and over. Encounters with the furry fellows cannot be guaranteed, due to their numbers relative to the size of the island, but every trek provides exciting opportunities to see lots of other wildlife. Forest walks can consist of anything from an hour-long stroll to a multi-day excursion, and the latter can include staying in a well-equipped treehouse or in a lakeside fly camp! Boat trips are possible too, and catch-and-release fishing can be enjoyed from a boat, from the shores of Lake Victoria, or from Rubondo Island Camp’s site. We also recommend birding, and the children’s activities are fab – they include animal tracking and guided nature rambles.
TIME/S OF YEAR TO TRAVEL
The camp is closed from 1st April to 31st May every year, so the island cannot be visited during April/May. When the camp reopens in June, it’s dry season until October, and this is generally a more comfortable time to visit weather-wise. However, the green season has its rewards, not least the increase in bird numbers due to the influx of migrant species! Birding is at its best from December to February.
As the guest accommodation at Rubondo Island Camp includes a family cottage and a suite for honeymooners, this property is suitable for most types of traveller. For more information, please take a look at our description of the camp and by all means contact a member of the YZ team to discuss holidaying on this idyllic island!