“The true depth and wisdom of this ancient ecosystem is beyond comprehension.”
Sue Stolberger, 2012 (Ruaha National Park – An Intimate View)
The Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem covers approximately 50,000 km2 and, like the Selous, is one of the few true wilderness areas for large mammals left in the world. Its wide range of habitats including grassland, swamps, bushed grassland, woodlands and evergreen forests, support more than 1,700 plant species, more than 570 birds and nearly 200 species of mammal. Zoologically and botanically, the area is intermediate between eastern and southern Africa zones, so that for example, Ruaha is one of the few places where both greater and lesser kudu are found.
Ruaha National Park, having been extended in 2008 to include the Usangu wetlands, covers 20,226 km2. The rest of the ecosystem comprises three Game Reserves (Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi) and three community-owned Wildlife Management Areas.
Across all these areas you find elephants, though in greatly varying density, depending on availability of water in the dry season, habitat type, and levels of poaching (amongst other factors). In the 1970s elephants probably exceeded 50,000, and there were calls for culling due to “destruction” of trees. However drought and widespread poaching reduced numbers drastically, until Operation Uhai and the ivory trade ban in 1989 allowed the population to begin recovering.
The current poaching crisis has hit Ruaha-Rungwa’s elephants hard again. While there were an estimated 32,000 elephants in 2009, the latest census in October 2013 estimated 20,090 – with an especially high density of recent carcasses in Rungwa Game Reserve. The poaching threat continues today, all over the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem.
However, because of the even more disastrous poaching in the Selous, Ruaha-Rungwa has now become, for the first time since records began, the largest remaining elephant population in East Africa.
Also, against the odds, the photographic tourist area of Ruaha NP remains one of the best places in Africa to spend time with a lot of relaxed elephants. This is especially true in 2014, due to the exceptionally high rainfall from January to April which has temporarily swelled the troubled Great Ruaha River to its highest level for 13 years – bringing much joy to the water-loving giants.
Our Current Programmes in Ruaha National Park
- Aerial support and surveillance
- Assessment of elephant demographic trends
- Long-term elephant monitoring programme
- Building Ruaha Elephant ID Database
- Camera-trapping grids to explore interactions between habitat use and poaching