Vintage Safari Romance at Ruaha National Park

Vintage Safari Romance at Ruaha National Park

Written by Shellina Ebrahim

One might imagine that the most important driving forces of life are smarter or larger. But, it is love amongst all living species that actually runs the vast machinery of life. No better place is this more obvious than in the largest and wildest national park in Tanzania, Ruaha.

“Welcome to Ruaha,” says our guide Hassan with a big smile. “Our game drive will take about four hours before we reach Mdonya Old River Camp just in time for dinner. We will be stopping for a lunch picnic on the way.” My partner and I had just come out of a Coastal Aviation flight from Zanzibar via Dar-es-salaam to Jogomero Airstrip. We were about to experience our first Safari getaway together. Relieved that our flights with an award winning domestic airline were part of the Safari package we got from Essential Destinations.


Stretching at aprox. 20,300 square km in southern Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is filled with magnificent wildlife and over 571 species of birds.  It is the perfect place to see a range of techniques used by animals and birds to attract mates and how these traits are more like our own. Hassan spots a pride of 2 lionesses and 3 lions taking shade under a tree and the car comes to a quick stop. The alpha male lion is everything to delight about. With a majestic mane, royal presence and luring eyes to charm his partners. He is the only male who can mate with the 2 lionesses in this pride.

In life, survival is only part of the game. A weak male rarely gets the girl and dirty tricks can be done to compete for love. The alpha lion lives to protect his territory and pass on his genes. When another dominant male lion approaches and is able to battle Alpha to death, he then kills the cubs. This makes sure the lionesses can mate with him and pass on his genes.

We reach an extraordinary picnic point where elephants are caressing each other’s trunks affectionately and drinking water by a stream crossing the Great Ruaha River. I have never seen more butterflies than here and they are everywhere around us. Under a stem, a pupa is about to emerge as a female butterfly. As soon as she emerges, her scent attracts males and they find her. When found and mated, she can never mate again in her life. The male inserts a plug in her which prevents her from mating with any other male buttefly.

We continue our game drive through a landscape that I would describe as a combination of the Selous Game Reserve and Serengeti National Park. A mixture of palm trees and thousands of years old baobab trees standing big and strong in volcanic soil mixed with pink quartz. The sky is clear blue, making it a perfect day for bird watching.  A male lilac breasted roller with a green head and greenish yellow legs flaps its violet wings in an acrobatic display of flights and dances on a branch to attract a female lilac. If the female accepts him, they mate for life, usually monogamously.

We arrive at Mdonya Old River Camp just before sunset. An eco friendly and intimate tented camp by a dry river bed where monkeys are running around and you can spot leopard foot prints on the ground. Some evoke the success of this incredible camp to it’s ability to offer adventure without compromising comfort and style. I unzip and walk into our simple yet elegant Meru style tent. I wash up with water heated by solar power as night begins to fall and I see stars shining in the sky through the open roofed shower room. This is the kind of accommodation that brings you so close to nature yet protecting it as well.

Others will tell you the incredible success of this camp is how it blends in so much with the environment. Giving visitors a place to get up and close with some of the world’s most beautiful animals. An elephant patrolled the camp as we enjoyed our dinner under the stars that evening. Three young lions passed by our tent as we drifted to sleep to the sound of crickets and calling animals.

Just as we drove from camp the next morning, two Dik-Dik antelopes were grazing close to a herd of Maasai giraffes. These antelopes are usually found in two and similar to birds, they usually mate for life. Unlike Dik-Dik antelopes and birds, Impala antelope males dominate a territory and all females in that territory belong to him. The dominant male usually has bigger horns with nicer rings – a sign of power and females want the best partner for procreation and protection.

Our day was spent in a combination of animal viewing and historical site seeing. We visited Kimilamatonge Hill. A place where chief Mkwawa from the Hehe tribe exercised guerrilla style combats on German colonial troops in the 13000s.   Learning about Chief Mkwawa’s contribution to Tanzanian history in elementary school was very interesting and even more exciting to be at a place where the action actually took place. Not to miss our sundowner, we drove to a spot with an exquisite landscape and watched the sun setting gloriously in between the hills.

The sun is rising, it’s a chilly morning, and our last day in Mdonya Old River Camp. In our tent, it’s complete rest and warmth. The curtain will soon rise on the grand scene of Ruaha National Park. The beginning of a show replayed every day by animals and human species to ensure their survival through various mating rituals to love. Love drives evolution and evolution drives love. In nature, love is really the most important driving force of life.