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Times and tides of Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara National Park is among the first conserved areas in the country. Established in 1960 a year before the country’s independence it is the second oldest after Serengeti. An ecologist in the area, Ms Yustina Kiwango, explains that the Park started out as a centre for botanical and zoological research in the ‘60s. Lake Manyara Park is the most researched Park after Serengeti and started out with wildlife experts conducting research on elephants and buffaloes when the jumbos were considered very aggressive, destroying farms and households.

Early studies focused on addressing challenges arising from problems of large herds of buffaloes and elephants that had become a menace to the surrounding communities. Coincidentally, during harvest times in local farms it was also the period that the elephants and buffaloes would be come out of the Park passing through farms and causing damage. Studies were done to find ways of solving animal-human conflicts caused by elephants and to see whether their escalating numbers would cause adverse effects to other animals in the rather small Park.

In the seventies scientific studies around Manyara took on a different turn as the number of elephants fell gradually and another problem cropped up. The number of people living around the Park increased. Over time animal corridors were invaded by people especially through farming and these important natural wildlife strips were disappearing. The worst affected areas where wildlife passages that crossed through the Mbulu- Mbulu and Mto-wa-Mbu in Karatu and Monduli districts respectively. As a result elephants and buffaloes were pushed beyond the official park borderlines. Marang’ forest was finally annexed in 2009 and it included Lake Manyara Park. The original wildlife passages were restored and laws formulated to protect the animals from human invasions.

Flooding was another headache affecting both people and wildlife as the Lake Manyara submerged most parts of the Park as well as surrounding farms and residential areas. Flooding was a recurring phenomenon at Lake Manyara and happened every two or three years since the 1960s and escalated in the ‘80s. Researchers advised that in order to make use of the excess water, an irrigation scheme had to be started.

Agricultural plots were established around Mto-wa-Mbu and residents took advantage by tapping the water en-route. Another challenge faced by the Lake was its disappearing water. Over the last 200 years, the Lake’s depth dropped from six metres to just above 0.3 metres, which is over 200 times shallower than the original depth. The decreasing depth corresponds with its fast shrinking water surface area. Lake Manyara has underground water streams and rivers that feed the Lake.

New research shows that the Lake keeps drying with regular occurrences. So far early results show that the Lake’s basin is filled with mud and debris deposits. With increased water flow and more floods in the future will cause much more damage than in the past. Lake Manyara National Park with an area of not more than 330 square kilometres, with two thirds of that being the Lake itself, adds up to the list of Tanzania’s small parks.

The National Park and its corresponding water body lie within the Great Rift Valley, which stretches all the way from Jordan to Mozambique, via Kenya and Tanzania. The Park is home to 380 registered bird species and at most times of the year, thousands of flamingoes feed on algae along the Lake’s shores. In addition to the wide variety of wildlife, Lake Manyara Park is especially famous for the rare, tree climbing lions.

These rare lions are found only at Lake Manyara Park and Ruwenzori Park in Uganda. Zoologists attribute the tree climbing habit as an escape from flies and heat. Underground boiling streams where you can boil an egg in the geysers are found in parts of Park and the heat drives lions up the trees. The Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Director General, Mr Allan Kijazi, says Lake Manyara is among the three National Parks after Serengeti and Tarangire that generate good revenue. “We have 15 National parks and a 16th in the making but the majority are yet to break even as regards to operational costs,” he said.

THE first day I came into close proximity ...

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Author: MARC NKWAME in Arusha

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