Lake Manyara National Park. Loveliest in Africa


Its not just the mother that looks after the baby elephant.. Other female elephants in the herd are care for him and gives him a loving nudge of their trunk in the right direction. The baby elephant needs the help of not just the mother but the others in the herd to be able to survive in the wild. It is only four percent of the adult female elephants weight and only two percent of the weight of an adult male elephant. This baby in the picture look just a few weeks old. (sanjay austa austa)

The calf was barely a few weeks old, Lake Manyara National Park.


(The story first appeared in Mail Today, March 2015) 

It is a long undulating road that leads you to the place Earnest Hemingway called the, “loveliest I had seen in Africa”.  Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania where the pugnacious writer camped in the 1930’s, is however, today one of the most underrated parks on the African safari circuit.

Hemingway had of course come to shoot big game and not the one to conceal his unbridled machismo; he posed proudly with his trophies- dead lions, rhinos, cape buffaloes, kudus and much else.

Thankfully the only shooting allowed today in Manyara is through the camera.  And despite the variety of wildlife available for ‘shooting’ and viewing, Lake Manyara lives under the shadow of its much popular neighbors; Serengeti and Ngorongoro. 

The Safari companies don’t hide the fact that Lake Manyara is just an add-on feature in the Tanzanian safari package. Something to warm you up for the famous parks.

The African Savanna are full of small pools like these where hippos and crocodiles live, and eat and fight. (sanjay austa austa)

The Hippos in the Simba River, Lake Manyara National Park

It was with this level of low expectations that we entered the park and within a few minutes drive, we were pleasantly surprised. Without the burden of spotting the big cats, as one always is, especially in the Indian National Parks, we were relaxed and sat back to enjoy Manyara’s bounties.   Manyara has its lions of course and they are a peculiar set of lions too. The felines here are famous for climbing trees. But their sighting is as rare as of tigers in India but thankfully the safari drivers do not go on a mad chase locating them. Everyone knows the lions would be found   by the dozens in Serengeti, so one takes in leisurely what is on display in Manyara.

In this unhurried observation it is not hard to see Hemingway’s fascination for this overlooked African corner. It is one of the few parks in the world where the lake occupies more surface area than land. The park has an area of  330 square kilometers and the lake occupies 220 square km of it. This large lake attracts over 400 species of birds most notably the pink flamingoes.

The safari jeeps  keep a healthy distance from the lake and from far the flamingos appear as glistening pink dots.    There is a spot, however, at river Simba- one of the three rivers that feed the lake- where one is allowed to get off and get an up-close glimpse of the most dangerous  African animal ; the hippopotamus. They never fail to remind you that more people are killed by hippos than by any other animal in Africa.

Marabou stork takes off, Lake Manyara, Africa, jan-2010. Marabou is one of the largest flying birds. Expect perhaps for the Andean Condor it has the largest wing span. It is called a wading bird for wading in shallows and fishing for toads and fish. But it is also a scavenger and in the Savanna it dominates the vultures over a kill. It likes to wander around human settlements around the park. I found them sneaking around at our camping site on more than one occasion. (sanjay austa austa)

Marabou stork takes off, Lake Manyara, Africa.

For a long time, the hippos remained immersed in the waters with only their   backs showing. From where we stood, their arched backs looked like smooth polished stones in the mid day sun. But soon they emerged breathing heavily and wobbled clumsily towards one another, opening their cavernous mouths in mock attack or display of dominance.

The second most dangerous African animal the cape buffalo made its appearance in pairs of two rather than the marauding herds its usually found in. Ever vigilant for predators, while one bull sat chewing cud, the other  stood guard.

Lake Manyara also has the best sighting of the African elephants in East Africa. The elephants forage in the thick forests that fringe the park. It was  the calving season and we watched the pachyderms chaperone their calves, no older than two weeks,  to a waterhole.

Safari jeeps across Africa have a pop-up roof from under whose safety one can peep at the wild. But our Toyota Land Cruiser  was open to the sky.  What had seemed a concern at first, because its not uncommon for cheetahs to jump on jeep roofs to survey the Savannas, proved a boon as the open-roof accorded us the best views of the monkeys and birds in high branches. Manyara  is rich in different types of trees providing  favorable ecosystem for arboreal creatures to thrive   including a variety of monkey and bird species, most notably the rare blue monkey and the silver cheeked hornbill.

The Baboons love to groom each other and bond. But they are just as aggressive. It takes a small morsel crossing of each other personal space to have flare ups among the baboons. The baboons have deadly fangs and are known to chase even leopards if they dare come too close. (sanjay austa austa)

Grooming Baboons, Lake Manyara

The vervet  monkey is endangered but not a rare sight in Manyara.  Its  shifty anxious eyes makes it stand out from other monkey species. Its bigger cousin the baboon however is a picture of quite confidence. Its the only monkey with a snout.  A tribe sat in the middle of the safari track smugly picking lice off each other. Few strutted fast our jeep, not for a moment breaking their stride. And why not? Baboons have been known to stare down fiercer animals. They chase away leopards and when sufficiently numbered, can intimidate    lions and hyenas.

But from over the Rift Valley escarpment that rings Manyara,  one can see only the dark and light greens of the forests below and the glistening lake.

Framed with the hills in the backdrop and the open plains in the foreground the tall lanky giraffe's indeed look very majestic as they walk across the savanna. (sanjay austa austa)

The Masai Giraffes, Lake Manyara

Zebra watching at Lake Manyara. Overcrowding at the national parks is a big issue in Africa. (sanjay austa austa)

Tourists at Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania, Africa

One Response to “Lake Manyara National Park. Loveliest in Africa”

  1. farah says:

    nice pictures

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