Lake Manyara National Park, really is gorgeous and one of the most enticing parks in Africa. Nestling beautifully at the foot of the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park can simply be referred to as a paradise for flora as well as fauna (including large wildlife). The whole area is sandwiched between the dramatic 300m high rift valley wall and a soda lake tinted pink with masses of shimmering flamingo. At only 320sq.km (of which more than two thirds is taken up by the lake), this is not a huge park, but a masterpiece with its diversified habitats and its five distinct vegetation zones: the rift valley wall with rocky outcrops, the ground water forest, the Acacia woodland, the open grassland and the marshland. This whole area is volcanic with Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God), almost 3,000m high, still active and only about 75km away.Beneath the wooded escarpment, a narrow strip of land combining dense jungle-like forest, palm-filled glades, and acacia woodlands opens up to grassy flats along the shore of the enormous lake. A series of small streams (originating from underground waterfalls) are oases in an otherwise seasonally dry country. They provide permanent water to game and sustain the lush vegetation of Manyara’s groundwater forest.The extraordinary abundance of animals found in the park defies description: The grasslands host numbers of wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, reedbuck, impala and Thomson’s gazelle.The Acacia woodland mainly comprises Acacia xanthophloea, (the yellow fever tree). Hiding within the woodland is the shy bushbuck with ivory-tipped spiral horns and stepping gracefully through the dappled undergrowth is Kirk’s dikdik, Africa’s smallest antelope. The scrubby bush is where you should find the massive and unpredictable African buffalo, standing 1.5 m at the shoulder.The park’s 230sq.km of shallow alkaline lake shimmers with a pink mantle of flamingos. Both greater and lesser flamingos are resident, the lesser in much larger numbers. The alkaline water provides ideal growing conditions for the blue-green algae (Spirulina) on which the lesser flamingo feed by filtering them through fine plates (lamellae) which line the inside of their beaks. The algae contain pigments (carotenes), which give the rich pink colour to the flamingos’ plumage. In contrast, greater flamingo feed on molluscs and small Crustacea, which they filter from the mud on the lake bottom. With different feeding habits the two species do not compete for food. The park is also blessed with over 380 other bird species, making it a birdwatcher’s dream.Lake Manyara derives its name from the plant Euphorbia tirucalli, a thorny bush, which is used by the Maasai people to build a stout hedge to protect their cattle from predators. In the Maasai language “emanyara” means a kraal.As you enter the park you’ll find yourself surrounded by the tall trees of the dense groundwater forest, these massive trees make the safari vehicle feel small by comparison. Your driver and guide will open the roof of the safari car in so you are able to stand up and have a panoramic view while you glide through this natural paradise.We are sure you will love this area as it feels like a true Tarzan jungle, more so than any other area you’ll encounter during your stay here in Africa. This vibrantly tropical woodland with its towering mahogany, giant figs, tamarinds and sausage trees, buttressed roots and snaking lianas lends the park an extra touch of the exotic.The lush green vegetation is lit by shafts of sunlight, cutting through the heavy foliage and a chorus of bird and monkey sounds echoing through the trees. However, as its name suggests, the forest is in fact supported by ground water, not high rainfall. The high water table is fed by seepage from the volcanic rocks of the Rift wall.As you begin to look around, you’ll notice that there are different types of vegetation growing at three main levels. These are the tall trees, the intermediate level shrubs, and the grasses, reeds and other flowering plants at lower levels.Baboons will no doubt be the first to appear on the scene in strong troops of 30 – 100 individuals, rushing through the undergrowth. You’ll watch a few females with their young, some adolescent animals of both sexes and a number of adult males. You can distinguish males from females by their large size, thick mane and large canine teeth. At first, females carry their young on their stomachs, but after a month the young infant rides jockey style on the mother’s back near the tail.Females in oestrus develop large pink swellings on their rears which signal receptivity. Much of their diet consists of grass, roots, fruit and insects but they can and do hunt and kill the young of impala and other antelopes. Baboons form a favourite prey of leopards, which are also found in the park.PLEASE DON’T FEED THE BABOONS – THEY CAN BITE AND INFLUCT VERY SERIOUS WOUNDSWhile you are looking up and admiring the acrobatics of the baboons, you might see another monkey in the forest, the Blue Monkey. When you see it at a distance, especially in the shade, they appear black but are in fact are a dark bluish-grey. The fur on the face is longer and slightly lighter coloured. Blue monkeys live in family troops of about 4-6 individuals. They feed in the higher trees of the forest, descending lower during the heat of the day. Their diet consists mostly of the leaves and fruits of the forest trees. They mark their territory with a sharp cry like “nyah”, and this is mostly heard at sunrise and sunset.In the forest you are also likely to see and hear the silvery cheeked Hornbill again. It is not difficult for you to spot as it is a very large and conspicuous bird with a casque (decorative growths on the upper mandible of the bill) above its beak. When you see it flying overhead, you can hear its creaking wing beats. Quite often you see it sitting on the top of a tree calling with a very distinct raucous voice.You travel over the first bridge of the Marera River and you will see to the left a large grassy plain, strewn with buffalos (Nyati in Swahili). After a short drive past this bridge, a fork to the left leads towards the eastern tip of the lake bounded by large alkaline grassland that provides grazing for herds of impala, zebras and a few wildebeest.Impala are antelope; that you see constantly on the alert as they are a favourite prey for many of the large predators, particularly leopards. Being browsers as well as grazers, you won’t see them far from cover. If your driver has approached them silently and surprised them, they literally explode in all directions in great soaring bounds. As you can imagine, such bounding behaviour makes it hard for a predator to single out a victim.As you drive through the open grassy area you’ll pass through glades of doum palms, wild date palms and Yellow Fever Trees. Then your driver takes a track to his left which will lead you to the hippo pool. This pool is actually part of the “Simba River” which divides the extensive grassland into two parts. This river supports schools of hippos. Beyond the “hippo river”, wildebeests and zebras scatter the plain.The hippos here at Manyara weigh on average two to three tons. They swim very well and dive for periods of about three minutes before coming up to breathe noisily. Females give birth to a single calf either on land or in the water. The calf is suckled on land for the first few weeks and then in the water. Mothers are very protective and teach their young to swim and wallow.As you watch the hippos in front of you, you will most likely hear them grunting and might see them spreading their dung with vigorous wagging movements of their short strong tails. You may notice scars on the backs of the males. These are inflicted by the teeth of other males during territorial and breeding-right fights. It is safe to watch the hippos from the bank as they bask in the water, but avoid getting close if you find them on land. Hippos are usually placid creatures but can become aggressive if an intruder gets between them and the water.The next stream you cross is Mkindu River, flowing from the escarpment to the lake. Mkindu in Swahili means the Wild Date Palms, which are common in this area. For the early years of its life the wild date palm remains in the form of a low-growing mass of fronds but eventually it spurts and grows into an elegant palm. Also here you’ll find the Yellow-barked Fever Trees, which always grow in damp places and were thought by early explorers to cause malaria. The trunks of this species of acacias are often gnarled and knotted a few meters above the ground where elephants have tried to remove the bark.These Fever trees exude a gum which is eaten by Vervet monkeys. It’s a small monkey with a black face, white cheek tufts and grey fur. It is commonly found in wooded areas of the Park. Male vervets are easily identified by their azure blue scrotums. Vervets feed on insects, fruit, leaves and seeds and may also eat young birds and eggs. Their social structure is similar to baboons, although vervet groups are territorial and defend their ranges against nearby groups.As you cross the Mchanga River (meaning Sand River) your driver will pause a bit on the bridge and you may be rewarded by a glimpse of a Monitor Lizard, sunning itself on the bank of the stream. Monitor lizards are found in damp marshy places where they feed on frogs, fish, carrion and eggs as well as fledglings of ground nesting birds. They are up to 2 meters in length and have a very fierce, dinosaur-like look, however for humans they are quite harmless, although they are carnivores and scavengers like their relatives in Indonesia, the Komodo dragons.After the Sand River you will soon leave the cover of the forest and find yourself in a more open space with light bush. There you might see the Ground Hornbill, a large turkey-like bird, completely black with bright red skin around the eyes and neck. Normally you see it feeding on the ground, picking up insects and reptiles. In very rare cases it flies slowly and heavily to perch in a tree. At a distance the call of the ground hornbill sounds very like human voices in conversation.Two other species of hornbills are also common in this area: it is Von der Decken’s Hornbill and the Grey Hornbill. Von der Decken’s Hornbill is black and white with a heavy red and ivory, black tipped bill. You might see him perched on a tree or in undulating flight. The Grey Hornbill is superficially similar to Von der Decken’s Hornbill, but the bill is duller and the plumage more drab. Both species live almost entirely on fruits and berries, but they may eat an occasional grasshopper.
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