A Quick Walkthrough – Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is a preserved zone in Tanzania’s Manyara and Arusha regions, located amidst the Great Rift Valley and Lake

Southern ground hornbill
Southern ground hornbill

Manyara. National Parks Authority of Tanzania (TANAPA) manages this park covering 325 kilometres squared (125 square miles) leaving out around 230 kilometres squared (89 square miles) lake surface. Above 350 species of birds have been spotted by the lake.

Lake Manyara National Park Background

From the 1920s, the area of Lake Manyara was for sports hunting. By 1957, a game sanctuary was created. By 1960, the sanctuary was made a National Park and by 1974, the southern end was added around 550 hectares (1,400 acre). The biggest area of the Lake Manyara National Park is a tight strip in the middle of Lake Manyara, a soda lake, in the east and the Gregory Rift wall in the west.

The Lake Manyara National Park only includes the lake’s northwestern part, around 200 kilometres squared (77 square miles). It belongs to a larger Biosphere Reserve of Lake Manyara, created by UNESCO in 1981 to be part of its programme about Man and the Biosphere.

Climate Around Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara Climate
Lake Manyara Climate

The rainy seasons are two- the “long rains” between March and May and “short rains” between November and December. April is the wettest month having the most rainfall at 161 milimetres (6.3 inches) and also with more 19 days with rain. July, August plus September are the driest months receiving the least rainfall at 1 milimetres (0.039 inches).

September at the Lake Manyara National Park also records the least average number of 2 days with rain. January, February and March are the warmest months having the most average peak temperature, measuring 30 °Celsius or86 °Fahrenheit. June and July have the least average peak temperature are, measuring 25 °Celsius or 77 °Fahrenheit. The nearby highlands seem to be cooler with additional rainfall.

Lake Manyara National Park Location

Lake Manyara National Park is found 126 kilometres (78 miles) southwestern Arusha and is accessible in 1 ½ hour by car. The park is also reachable from Babati, Manyara Region’s capital. Lake Manyara Airport is close. In the south is the 35,399-hectare Marang Forest Reserve located on the escarpment beyond the park. In the east is Kwa Kuchinja Wildlife Migration passage, which allows wildlife migration from the adjacent Tarangire National Park in the southeast, Lake Manyara in the west, and the Engaruka Basin in the north. In the Kwa Kuchinja passage are various villages.

Away from the lake and beyond village land is Manyara Ranch, a 45,000-acre former livestock ranch, under the management of the Tanzania Land Conservation Trust from 2001 and an essential portion of the corridor supporting wildlife movement between Lake Manyara and Tarangire game parks. Lake Manyara National Park belongs to the lake’s Biosphere Reserve. The lake with parts in and out of the park

Greenery as you are approaching to Lake Manyara National Park
Greenery as you are approaching to Lake Manyara National Park

together with Marang Forest Reserve in the nearby highlands, are part of the Lake Manyara essential aviary area.

Topography of the Lake Manyara National Park and Surrounding Areas

Lake Manyara is a surface alkaline lake at an elevation of 960 metres (3,150 feet), created in a Rift Valley depression. The lake has a maximum depth of 10 feet (3.0 metres) when full and forms two-thirds of the park. Water doesn’t flow from the lake but comes from underground springs including various permanent streams draining nearby Ngorongoro Highlands. The depth of the lake and the coverage area fluctuate significantly.

During the driest periods, the lake’s surface area shrinks since the water evaporates and sometimes the lake dries up completely. In 2010, the lake was discovered to be 0.81 metres (2 feet 8 inches deep by a bathymetry survey, with a maximum depth at around 1.18 metres (3 feet 10 inches). During its peak in the rainy season, the width of the lake is 40 kilometres (25 miles) by 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) with the utmost deepness at 3.7 miles (12 feet).

Apart from the lake are saline flats (that extend during the dry season when the lake’s surface area shrinks), a floodplain filled with grass and expansive marshlands. A tall forest exists close to the park gate, maintained by groundwater, filled with mahogany and evergreen fig trees. By Lake Manyara National Park’s west side, rises steeply on the rift valley wall’s rocky escarpment from 1,219–1,829 metre (3,999–6,001 feet). Huge African baobab (Adansonia digitata) trees are dispersed on the slopes. Dense acacia woodland grows in a narrow zone at the rift wall base, on materials eroded down the face.

Additional features found in the surroundings of the Lake Manyara National Park include a hippo pool at the lake’s north end including two hot springs, with one around the middle of the park and another around the southern edge. There’s a hot spring on Lake Manyara’s western shores known as Maji Moto. This 60 °C geothermal feature resulted from underground water which passes through the rift valleys’ hot volcanic rocks.

Lake Manyara National Park Wildlife

Flora

Lake Manyara National Park has diverse vegetation, with more than 670 flowering plants and species of fern documented. Many are common species; a few species are rare or indigenous.

Lake Manyara National Park African Baobab Tree
Lake Manyara National Park African Baobab Tree

The Lake Manyara National Park has a varied diversity of habitats. Streams flowing from the escarpment plus perennial springs below the rift wall maintain tall, evergreen underground water forests filled by Trichilia roka with sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus), forest toadtree (Tabernaemontana ventricosa), broadleaved Croton (Croton macrostachyus), and quinine tree (Rauvolfia caffra). Gorges have denser forests, alongside the edge of streams including in zones where springs come from. Thick stands of palm Phoenix reclinata and yellow fever trees (Acacia xanthophloea) grow at the groundwater forest edge.

The lake’s western shore has woodlands filled with Commiphora and Acacia species also sustained by underground water. Trees have irregular spacing; seepage zones are denser and beside drainage channels. Acacia tortilis is the dominating tree that grows to around 10 metre tall having a flat-top canopy. Understory shrub layer is diverse and patchy.

Extensive swamps have developed where the Simba River with its tributaries flow to Lake Manyara’s northern end and tiny swamps have developed elsewhere, related with the small rivers flowing from the rift valley walls. Some aquatic species have been recorded, including extensive mats of water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) and two water lily (Nymphaea caerulea and N.lotus) species.

Cattails (Typha sp.) developed pure stands north of the swamps plus various species of Cyperus found near the swamps’ edges. Cyperus immensus develops dense clumps in locations flooded by freshwater. Cyperus laevigatus is popular alongside the lakeshore in locations with a high salty water table, in locations of shallow lagoons encircled behind sand ridges plus bordering river deltas.

Grass plains are filled with Cynodon dactylon in dry situations, or by Sporobolus spicatus, usually in relation with Sporobolus consimilis on the salty lake flats. Dominant on the exposed lakebed is Sporobolus spicatus and can be extremely extensive when lake levels become low, getting confined to a tight zone over the high water mark during high lake levels. Outside the Lake Manyara National Park are expansive locations of Psilolemma jaegeri plains side, alongside the lake’s eastern shore. Flora on the ridge is defined by African baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) and Ruellia megachlamys.

Birds at Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is famous for multitudes of flamingos which feed by the lake edge during the wet season. By 1991, there were about 1,900,000 vagrant Flamingoes (Phoeniconaias minor) that don’t breed plus 40,000 larger Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus). The white pelican or Pelecanus onocrotalus can also be seen in huge numbers (approximated to be 200,000 by 1991) plus in total there has been approximately 1,000,000 to 2,499,999 water birds, although, just 78,320 were estimated by 1994.

Lilac-breasted roller resting on a tree at the Lake Manyara National Park
Lilac-breasted roller resting on a tree at the Lake Manyara National Park

The underground water forest in the lake’s northern part, and with the biggest part at Lake Manyara National Park having a popular breeding ground for multitudes of yellowbilled stork or Mycteria ibis, pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) including a few grey heron (Ardea cinerea) and marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus).  More than 40 preying bird species are recorded, such as Ayre’s hawk eagle (Hieraaetus ayresii) and palmnut vulture or Gypohierax angolensis. Altogether, above 390 bird species have been recorded in the park, however, flamingos plus more water birds often in a few numbers during the dry season.

Lake Manyara National Park Mammals

Herds of large migrant mammals which are concentrated mainly in Tarangire Game Park, however, move through Lake Manyara National Park include zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, wildebeest, Grant’s gazelle and zebra. Large populations of wildebeest including more animals in the plains from Mto wa Mbu wildlife managed area come into the park northwards for short sessions.

Exclusively, wildebeests feed on alkaline grasslands surrounding the lake, while figures sour during a dry season, reducing to a few resident groups during the wet period. Herbivores of Lake Manyara National Park include bushbuck, zebra, waterbuck, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, Cape buffalo, giraffe, hippopotamus, elephant, warthog, and baboon.

Research during the 1980s, found the area to be among those with Africa’s biggest wildlife biomass, however elephant figures had reduced by 75% from 1985 to 1991 resulting from poaching, with figures growing again to about 200 by 1996. The lake was also popular for its big population of black rhinos, however, there were none by 1996.

Likewise, reedbuck were around by 1984, however, none were discovered during a census in 1996. Predators of Lake Manyara National Park include African wildcat, lion, bateared fox, leopard, spotted hyena, honey badger, black-backed jackal, serval, African civet, various mongoose species and genet (Genetta) species. African golden cat and Cheetah are observed sometimes.

Lake Manyara National Park Fish

Oreochromis amphimelas, an endangered fish species from the cichlid family is native to Lake Manyara. It is indigenous to Tanzania but also inhabits a few additional saline lakes having closed basins. There’s no exploitation in the Lake Manyara areas, in the Lake Manyara National Park as well as the preserved park areas offer essential seed stock for replenishing fished populations.

Lake Manyara National Park Butterflies

More than 180 butterfly species have been recorded in the Lake Manyara National Park.

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