Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara’s tree-climbing lions are only the most famous part of what may be the greatest biomass density (weight per area) of mammals in the world, in this relatively small national park which some feel is the most beautiful in Africa.

Massive elephants and buffalo contribute hugely to this mass but there are also 7,000-pound (3,200-kg) hippos, each consuming 132 pounds (60 kg) of sedge daily along the Simba River,impressive wildebeest herds, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and over 380 bird species including 44 diurnal raptors—and, still, some endangered black rhinoceros.

Thousands, sometimes millions of colorful water-based birds—flamingos, white pelicans, and others—come to feed and rest on the lake that makes up two-thirds of this 125-square-mile (325- km2) park. Immense nesting colonies sometimes can seem to cover tops of lakeshore fever trees.

Behind all this the Great Rift escarpment rises 1,000 feet (300+ m), dissected by deep gorges from which rivers flow constantly into the lake. In a golden afternoon light with the water reflecting intense colors of the evening sky, the vista is unforgettable.

Birdsong rings out early and late in verdant lowland forest. Vervet and blue monkeys swing through the canopy of mahogany and sausage trees. Olive baboons scream to alert all to a leopard’s presence. Aardvarks root about for termites, listening for ants’ faint rustlings as they cut and carry off dried grass. Scaly armored pangolins hunt for them too, lapping them up with sticky 27.5-inch (40-cm) tongues.

Elephants feeding on fallen figs are followed by troops of banded mongeese which inspect their dung for edible insects.

No one is sure why lions here climb trees. They apparently do it in Ruwenzori to see over the tall grass. Perhaps here they are adapting to get away from the elephants and buffalo, or else to avoid biting flies, of which there are many.

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