Saadani National Park Official Website

Nature in Saadani NP

Leopard near Madete gate
Salt pan

Caravan Trade

A rising international demand for ivory and slaves and an increasing need for slaves on Zanzibar in the nineteenth century stimulated the growth of Swahili towns. New settlements too sprang up. Boom towns like Bagamoyo, Pangani and Saadani emerged as new trading centres with long-distance trade routes leading to Tabora and later to Lake Tanganyika and Zaire.
Around 1800 the Wanyamwezi from Central and North-central Tanzania were the first to penetrate to the coast on direct trade routes which they had developed out of regional trade networks. In the 1820s, when prices for ivory and slaves were high, Arab and Swahili caravans followed the routes pioneered by the Wanyamwezi inland for ivory and slaves. With them Islam and the Swahili language spread.
In the nineteenth century Saadani became a serious trading competitor of Bagamoyo as both towns were termini of the central trade routes to Tabora. The Wanyamwezi, who were either supplying ivory or slaves themselves or simply imposing heavy tolls on trading caravans, competed with the Wazigua on the Saadani caravan routes until the 1880s. The Wazigua, who lived along these routes, raided for slaves which they sold besides foodstuff to the caravan traders for firearms and other manufactured products. In this way they achieved considerable power and dominated the whole region West of Bagamoyo and Pangani.
The trade boom of the last third of the nineteenth century attracted the community of Khoja Indian merchants to Saadani. They disappeared however soon after the German conquest.

Source: Baldus et al. 2001

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History and Culture

Saadani village once was an important harbour-town and slave trading centre in East Africa. Now it is a small fishing village with about 800 inhabitants whose livelihood is mostly fishing – specializing in particular in prawns. In the other coastal villages adjacent to the park, coconut growing is another important source of revenue. Villages of the mainland mostly live from agriculture and livestock farming. Outside of the Southern park boundaries, there are also larger salt and pineapple production areas.

Since the 9th century the Saadani area was visited by merchants of Persian and Oman origin. They founded Mkwaja village and used it as a trading post. After periods of Portuguese and Arab domination, the region gained importance in the 18th and 19th century following a rising international demand for ivory and slaves. The actual Saadani village emerged, together with towns like Bagamoyo and Pangani, as new trading centres connecting long-distance trade routes from Tabora with Zanzibar. At the end of the 19th century, Bwana Heri bin Juma was ruling Saadani. In the oral tradition he is considered a mythological founder-hero because he resisted all Zanzibari attempts to occupy the town and defeated the Sultan’s troops in 1882. Bwana Heri was initially not opposed to European traders until the arrival of the German colonialists. In 1886 the German protectorate’s borders were established. Two years later, the coastal people organized resistance against the Germans under the joint leadership of Abushiri bin Salim al Harth and Bwana Heri. On 6th June 1889 Saadani was bombarded and taken by the Germans. Bwana Heri being considered by the Germans as an honourable enemy, he was told to rebuild Saadani.

Saadani’s and Bagamoyo’s caravan trade went into decline at the end of the 19th century while Dar es Salaam rose to be the most important trading centre of the coastal region. Commercial production along the coast, such as rice, sugar and copra, which were exported to Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean, disappeared after the German invasion. They were replaced by cash crops such as coffee, cotton and sisal for the European market. Following the passing over of the protectorate to the British after the First World War sisal, kapok, cashew estates and cattle ranches were established in the Saadani area. Ruins of stone houses still bear testimony to the former flourishing conditions. An old german boma (government house) and several graves can still be found in Saadani.

History of Saadani National Park

Saadani Game Reserve

Saadani Game Reserve was conceived by Mr Mahinda the Director of Wildlife in 1966. It was officially gazetted in on the 24th January 1969 after he had consulted the Saadani village elders. These agreed hoping to gain some revenue from the Reserve. Compensation was awarded for the loss of cultivated land taken away for the protected area. Former Saadani game reserve was the only coast based wildlife conservation area in Tanzania. About 30 species of larger mammals are present as well as reptiles and birds, and marine species in the adjacent sea.

When the Reserve was established, a zoological garden was opened as an additional attraction. Further some houses were built by the sea. These were for the use of dignitaries wishing to enjoy a break from Dar es Salaam and who came to hunt by special privilege. One of these, the Saadani rest house is still there and in use by the former Reserve’s management.

The circa 2000 km2 of relatively intact continuous ecosystem around the former Reserve includes Mkwaja North (now included in Saadani National Park) as well as the Zaraninge Forest Reserve. The ecosystem falls into the three districts of Bagamoyo in Pwani Region and Handeni and Pangani in Tanga Region. Saadani Game Reserve was initially roughly 200 km2 large until Mkwaja South, an area of 217 km2 bordering the north of the game reserve, was acquired by the Wildlife Division with financial assistance from the European Union in 1996 and annexed to the Reserve.

Since the establishment of Saadani Game Reserve conflicts have occured between men and wildlife. Crop damage occurs when game feeds in the cultivated areas. Bushpigs and baboons especially cause a lot of damage eating whole fruit, pulling up plants for their delicious roots and breaking off their shoots. Elephants too cause problems: Though relatively few in number it takes them no time at all to destroy a farmers’s long-term investment such as a coconut plantation.

Small boys are often given the responsibility of guarding the fields. Perched on a tree stump or other vantage point they chase away smaller intruders such as baboons with stones. Larger mammals may require the assistance of the Reserve’s scouts. Further conflicts arise over illegal cutting and burning of trees by villagers for building materials, fire wood and charcoal. Conflicts over land are also an issue as people living in adjacent areas feel more and more land is being taken away to be incorporated into the Game Reserve.

Way back in 1969, Saadani game reserve was the first project area of the Game Division which sought to find a way of achieving development within the bordering villages through the utilization of wildlife and the areas other natural resources. Game ranching and the domestication of wild animals formed part of the projects vision. In 1998 the Saadani Conservation and Development Programme (SCDP) was started by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania, in collaboration with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), in order to rehabilitate the Reserve and integrate directly adjacent villages into the conservation effort. Since then poaching has decreased and wildlife numbers have increased. Eventually, in 2005, the Saadani game reserve was upgraded to National Park status under the Tanzania National Parks authority (TANAPA) in order to afford the area the highest level of legal protection. Both the current and the future management of the area have recognized the need for increased communication and co-operation with the surrounding villages.


History of Mkwaja Ranch

Mkwaja Ranch was started in 1954 by the Swiss company Amboni Ltd. in the Tanga/Pwani region, and cattle were mainly raised to supply the workers of sisal plantations with meat. The ranch increased significantly over the years, and up to 13,000 cattle grazed on the coastal savanna ground. The impact they had onto the vegetation was soon obvious: the bushy vegetation increased which resulted in decreasing grazing ground, higher tse-tse fly densities and higher efforts and maintenance costs to keep up with business. Part of the ranch, Mkwaja South, was already sold in 1996, and finally, the northern part of the ranch, Mkwaja North, was closed in the year 2000.

One year after abandonment of the cattle raising business, the former ranching area was included into the new Saadani National Park (TANAPA 2002). Adjacent to the ranch in the south the Saadani Game Reserve was situated, an area protected since 1972 and densely populated by wild animals such as Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), Bohor Reedbuck (Redunca redunca), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), several Duiker species, Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) as well as predators such as the Lion (Panthera leo).

Now the former ranch and the Game Reserve are combined and under protection by TANAPA and wildlife species are free to move within the entire area and its buffer zones.

Further reading

  • R.D. Baldus, K. Roettcher & D. Broska (2001). Saadani. An Introduction to Tanzania’s Future 13th National Park. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), Dar Es Salaam.