9 nights in Katavi National Park

September 2009

We had enjoyed a wonderful few days along the Lake Rukwa Rift Valley escarpment but we were ‘peopled out’!
Now it was time for some big mammal experiences and what better place in September than Katavi?

It was very dry and as we drove from a village named Maji Moto to the park we bumped into a scientist friend I have known since my early Oliver’s camp days. Dr Tim Caro is that reclusive ‘boffin’ type we all love to talk to, and he and his students have been looking at the greater Katavi-Rukwa ecosystem for decades now. Tim stated-“It’s really dry Paul, and wildlife is not easy to see- the herds are way out on the Katisunga flood plain and I’ve never seen it like this in September!” “And where are the many lions and elephants?” I enquired. “Oh yes there are loads of them near the river!” Tim said dismissively. On asking questions of these types of scientist one must remember that the first answers will always be regarding their study species for that time period! Tim was looking at zebra and Topi and trying to decide if more regular vocalizations (as in zebra) meant for less predation. Well I think that is what he said!

He has also been walking in various pyjama type outfits, some with no stripes, others with broad or narrow stripes; to see if more or less teste flies are attracted to one or the other outfit. I can image the scene and I’m sure Tim carried out these pyjama clad experiments away from the visitor viewing tracks, the same time every morning, the same cloud cover or lack there off, the same measured 100 meters and the same counting of the flies attracted! ‘Carry on researching’ perhaps! Got to love these guys! So I asked if it made any difference. “Oh no I was always covered in flies – still we have no idea why zebra are striped!” Tim just stared at me and said. “I’m leaving soon, back to Dar and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” It does seem that long term studies have suffered less funding this past 12 months. We waved goodbye and promised to chat again in Katavi before he departed. Tim had also said that the so called ‘Paradise’ swamp system part of Katavi was now packed with wildlife so I decided that that area was to be our main focus.

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Katavi is full of interest - A large termite mound in a tree - an elephant track stops a slow moving grass fire and reedbuck courtship and a giraffe’s bent neck!
It is also packed with large predators in September which around Katisunga and Chada are quite easy to photograph.

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But for me the joys of Katavi are the spaces and nervous wildlife herds and wilderness feel of the areas away from the most visited parts. We camped at Katisunga plain for two nights to recover from our journeys and then moved on for 4 wild nights at the Paradise Mbuga – a hippo supporting wet land surrounded by palms and sand ridges at the very heart of Katavi. Here the wildlife is scared of a vehicle, here the herds move off, the lions hide and the elephants are feeding at night. Why? Well Katavi has developed sections and other areas where very few people linger or spend time. I wanted my guests to experience both and as I knew our following three nights at Chada camp would be spent viewing ‘habituated’ wildlife I wanted them to experience the non-habituated wildlife for our last 4 nights in our private mobile, Paradise? I think so!

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The breakfast table at Paradise Mbuga and the view from it, which was a real joy every morning with a fresh cup of coffee,
500 meters from camp 200 vultures rest after eating a dead hippo that had died from its wounds the noisy night before.

The Paradise Mbuga is a wonderful place and as we said our farewells to our mobile crew we looked forward to the ease of staying at Chada camp. First of all I wouldn’t be driving! And secondly after many nights in a mobile tent we were all looking forward to the comfort of bigger tents and social aspects of a 12 bedded camp! Yes we wanted someone else to talk to and we had stories to tell. From the frosty morning at Kitulo to the descent of the Rukwa escarpment and the amazing people we met at the lake shore to the beauty of Paradise Mbuga! As luck would have it our fellow Chada camp guest were delightful people as were the managers! I parked my car, advised Ombeni to take some time out and we slid very easily into life at Chada. As I’ve said before – Chada camp reminds me most of my original Oliver’s Camp all those years ago, My Brazilian guests had stayed at Oliver’s camp with me in 1994! So they loved Chada at once.

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The Chada breakfast table at dawn, the sitting and library tent and the dining tent

Our wildlife viewing over the next three days was nothing short of exceptional – we caught up with Tim Caro and had wonderfully social meals with the other camp guests.

And that desire to get up close to big wildlife was more than satisfied! In fact every night at camp was full of incident; even walking to the dining tent needed care.

Elephants and hippos were everywhere, so many thanks to all at Chada for a wonderful stay.

We were now moving on to somewhere completely different, no lions, elephants or buffalo, no cars only boats, staying on a beach, on foot every day hiking up hills? Where could that be?

Part 3 - Our 4 nights at Greystoke Mahale National Park - what a way to end such a safari!