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Mkomazi Wildlife Park turns into rhino tourism sanctuary

Mkomazi Wildlife Park turns into rhino tourism sanctuary
Mkomazi Wildlife Park

Overlooking Mount Kilimanjaro to the north and Tsavo West National Park in Kenya in the east, the lesser-known Mkomazi National Park in Northern Tanzania is set to become the first wildlife park in Africa specialized for black rhino tourism.

When planning their African safari, tourists from Europe, America, and Asia would add to their visiting itineraries, a few days’ tour of Mkomazi National Park to see the rare African black rhino, now on the verge of disappearing from Earth.

Looking to diversification of tourism and wildlife safaris in Tanzania, Mkomazi National Park will introduce rhino tourism in July this year as a new attraction to attract tourists who are interested to see and learn more about the African black rhino

Under the management of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Mkomazi is expected to be the only wildlife park in East Africa and the rest of Africa where visitors may see the black rhino.

TANAPA Conservation Commissioner Dr. Allan Kijazi said that the leser-known Mkomazi will introduce rhino tourism within its wildlife ecosystem.

He said that a special program has been launched to conserve then protect and breed rhinos in Mkomazi aiming to make this Tanzanian park special for tourists who are interested to see the black rhino which is now counted as an endangered species on the verge of extinction.

“For the past 20 years, Mkomazi Wildlife Park has been running [a] rhino conservation project which had attracted breeding of rhinos,” Kijazi said.

TANAPA is expecting to gain over US$200,000 from about 7,680 visitors per year.

About US$1.6 million will be spent for the rhino conservation project in Mkomazi. Rhinos are protected in a fence where tourists can view them more easily than in the wild plains.

Foreign tourists are charged park fees at just US$30 a day and East African Community (EAC) residents are charged US$4.50 per each day spent in the park.

Covering an area of 3,245 kilometers, Mkomazi National Park is one of Tanzania’s newly-established wildlife parks where wild dogs are protected together with the black rhinos. Tourists visiting this park may see wild dogs which are counted among endangered species in Africa.

In past decades, black rhinos used to roam freely between the Mkomazi and Tsavo wildlife ecosystem, extending from Tsavo West National Park in Kenya to the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

More than half of northern frontier is a step away from Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park allowing Mkomazi a share in the rich wildlife pickings of Tsavo ecosystem including some 12,000 elephants as well as migratory herds of Oryx and zebra.

Together with Tsavo, Mkomazi forms one of the largest and most important protected ecosystems on Earth where big African mammals including lions roam freely.

Through the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, the black rhino was reintroduced into a heavily-protected and fenced area within the Mkomazi National Park under the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary which is now conserving and breeding more than 12 black rhinos. Relocation of rhinos took place about 20 years ago.

Black rhinos were translocated to Mkomazi from other parks in Africa and Europe. Three black rhinos were from the Czech Republic with others from South Africa and other African parks.

Rhinos are bred in a fenced 55-square kilomters of an enclosed grazing land enclosed within a 40-kilometer-long fence inside the park.

Black rhinos in Africa have over the years been hunted nearly to their extinction due to a high demand in the Far East. Although rhino horns are also sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Save the Rhino, an international organization for the protection and conservation of rhinos, estimates that 500,000 rhinos lived across Africa and Asia 100 years ago. Today, Save the Rhino says less than 29,000 rhinos exist in the world, mostly in Africa.

The black rhino in particular is classified as critically endangered with at least 3 sub-species declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) over the past 9 years.

Black rhinos are native to Eastern and Southern Africa including Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The little or leser-known Mkomazi National Park boasts an array of wildlife including more than 20 species of mammals and some 450 species of birds.

Some 78 species of mammals have been recorded, including elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah, black-backed jackal, hyena, warthog, aardwolf, giraffe, Oryx, gerenuk, hartebeest, lesser kudu, eland, impala. and Grant’s gazelle.

Birdlife includes hornbills, weavers, martial eagles, and violet wood hoopoes.

Mkomazi is located some 112 kilometers east of Moshi town in the Kilimanjaro region between the northern and southern safari circuits of Tanzania. Visits here are also easily combined with hiking in the Usambara or Pare mountains and a few days relaxing on the Indian Ocean beaches of Zanzibar.

Rhino conservation is a key target which the conservationists are looking to ensure their survival in Africa after serious poaching which had decimated their numbers in past decades.

Black rhinos are among the most poached and endangered animals in East Africa with their population decreasing at an alarming rate.

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About the author

Apolinari Tairo - eTN Tanzania