Katavi National Park, Tanzania’s third largest national park (4471 km²), is the heart of one of the biggest and richest wildlife areas in Tanzania. Located along the rift escarpment in western Tanzania, it offers incredible scenery including immense wetlands, roaring waterfalls and original miombo woodlands, where the Sable antelopes often hide. During the dry season, huge herds of buffalo, zebras and impalas gather with elephants, waterbucks and duikers around the drying water reserves of Lake Katavi and Lake Chada.
You can also observe many animals along the remaining pools of the Katuma river which are bursting with hippos and crocodiles. Here, at these remaining water sources, the lions, leopards and wild dogs can be found searching for their prey, watched by patiently waiting vultures which share the trees with fish eagles, storks and vervet monkeys. As soon as the first rains start, Katavi transforms again into a flowering paradise with enormous swamps, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, attracting an incredible diversity of bird life.
Weather and seasons
Seasons define much of the park’s ecohydrology: while Lake Chada and Lake Katavi are grasslands during the dry season, they transform into shallow lakes with the onset of heavy rains during the rainy season (October to April). The average rainfall is approximately 930 mm and follows a bimodal pattern with short rains in slight low in February.
Water & Wetlands
All rivers in Katavi National Park but one drain towards Lake Rukwa, a slightly saline lake without an outlet (“end lake”) in the South of the Rukwa Rift Valley (approximately 2 300 km²). Only the seasonal river Nkamba in the northwest drains towards the west into Lake Tanganyika.
The vital lifeline of the Park is the Katuma river which feeds Lake Katavi in the north and Lake Chada in the center as well as the huge Katisunga floodplain (425 km²). In recent years, this river as well as the Kapapa and Ngolima rivers, which feed lake Chada, tend to dry out earlier due to illegal damming upstream outside the national park. Only a few very small muddy pools remain in the river beds in the dry season. Obviously this is a significant threat to the entire ecosystem.
Most of Katavi National Park lies inside the Rukwa Rift Basin, which is part of the Central African Rift System. This huge tectonic basin (360 km long and 40 to 60 km wide) is a parallel arm of the Tanganyika Rift Valley; Lake Rukwa is its lowest south-eastern point (Delvaux 1998).
Two major landscape units (“land regions”, Rukwa Development Atlas RDA 1984) can be found in the area of Katavi National Park: the rift valley floor and the bordering rift valley shoulders on both sides with the adjacent highlands, mountains and plateaus east and west of the valley. The western “shoulder” is the Llyamba lya Mfipa Escarpment and the eastern “shoulder” is the Mlele Escarpment.
The valley floor consists of flat to slightly undulated wooded terrain which is split by vast floodplains, seasonal lakes, rivers and shallow drainage lines. The altitude in these areas ranges from 820 m to 960 m.
Much of the Mlele Escarpment resembles a continuous cliff, steep and carved by perennial and seasonal streams with many waterfalls (Chorangwa, Lukima and Ndido Falls). In the Kapapa area in the northeastern part of Katavi National Park the escarpment is broken and various outliers are present: Igongwe, Kapimbye, and Kapapa Hills, which might be considered as inselbergs (RDA 1984). The southeast of the Mlele Escarpment is not as distinctly steep and high, because it is split into two steps in the Lukima and Rungwa areas.
- The Llyamba lya Mfipa Escarpment is heavily dissected with various high mountains and steep slopes. Its highest mountain reaches 1560 m
- High habitat and species diversity with high concentrations of large mammals
- Extensive wetlands and important water catchments areas
- Wilderness character: The Katavi-Rukwa-Lukwati protected area complex still retains a distinct wilderness character.
- Interesting vegetation mosaic ranging from wetlands and lakes to riverine vegetation and various types of woodlands and shrublands (e.g. the woodlands of the inselbergs of Kapimbye, Kapapa and Igongwe)
- Home to some endangered and unusual species: wild dog, cheetahs (mostly seen in Mbuga ya Duma) roan and sable antelopes (e.g. in the woods of Ilumbi), eland (often encountered at lake Katavi, Kaselami Mbuga, the northern Chada plain, Kataukasi and Kakonje Mbugas)
- Historical and cultural resources: The Karema-Inyonga-Tabora slave route passed through the protected area complex. Stone age and iron age sites, sites of 19th century towns, Wamweru Hills and Katabi tree (14 km from the airstrip)
- Scenic diversity with escarpments, rugged hills, flat alluvial plains, marshes, lakes and rivers. Scenic spots are: hot springs, waterfalls Ndido, Chorangwa, Lukima, Iloba, and beautiful views from the top of the escarpment down into the Rukwa valley (e.g. the view of the steep Mlele escarpment close to Mpunga Mbuga).
- Large herds of animals at Magogo Pools, Lake Katavi, and Ilyandi sandridge, Katisunga Mbuga and Kasima Springs, Lake Chada.
- Katuma valley, Paradise springs in dry season.
- Hippo schools at Ikuu springs, Ikuu bridge and Sitalike. Crocodiles are found in large numbers in the Katuma riverbed and at the Ikuu bridge in caves as well as in Kapapa River, Rungwa River and Ndido falls.