Saadani National Park Official Website

Nature in Saadani NP

Lion crossing the road near the guesthouse
Confiscated fisher boats
Ground Hornbill


The terrestrial fauna of Saadani National Park is not entirely indigenous due to the species imported between 1968 and 1974 to stock a zoological garden. The latter was established as an additional attraction when the Game reserve was created. Animals were brought in from as far afield as Arusha and Mbeya. The first 12 animals arrived in 1968 (2 buffalos, 2 wildebeest, 2 oryx, a lioness, 2 eland, a suni, an elephant and a warthog). More animals were brought to Saadani over the years.
All the animals were kept in cages and fenced areas. One area was referred to as the “small zoo” or “small fenced area”. This held several cages and was home to the carnivores. A larger area was used for keeping the herbivores. These were sometimes taken out by game scouts to a feeding ground for grazing.
Non indigenous species introduced to the area were the oryx and the ostrich – neither of which are found in the area today – as well as the wildebeest, eland, zebra and jackals. A couple of impala too are said to have been introduced from Arusha in 1969. There is no evidence to their presence in the area today, though allegedly in the past they used to occur naturally at the coast between Tanga and Pangani.
Representatives of 18 species indigenous to the Saadani ecosystem too were brought in, covering a diverse range of species, from duiker to lion, leopard and cheetah.
Lions had always been present in Saadani though they had been few in number. In 1977 the zoo had four lions which had come from different areas.
In 1977, after inspection of the zoo by the Coastal Region Environment Officer, it was realized that at 138 ha for 120 animals the size of the zoo was too small for the number of animals kept. There was a shortage of food, water and shelter for the game. As no funding was available to increase the productivity of the zoo’s land by means of irrigation or to have transport to bring in fodder from outside the decision was taken to close down the zoo and to release the herbivorous animals to prevent their starvation. The carnivores were sold, mainly overseas.

Source: Baldus et al. 2001

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River & ocean

From East to West, the open ocean with coral reefs changes to brackish water ecosystems characterized by mangrove forests, salt pans and bare saline areas. Further inland, the Wami river is the most important fresh water source besides numerous temporary rivers and dams. The marine extension of the park includes the Mafui sandbanks, whose colourful coral reefs are important breeding sites for many fish species. At low tide the sea retreats up to 100 meters and forms a convenient passage for local people and wild animals. These beaches are the only place North of Dar es Salaam where sea turtles still come to lay their eggs. The most common species is the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, kasa uziwa), the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles. Besides nest thieves on the beach, turtles are particularly threatened by commercial fisheries and water pollution.

Evergreen mangrove trees grow in the transitional zone, just above the mean sea water level. These salt tolerant tidal forests provide a resting and feeding place for many bird species, bats, monkeys, hippos and reptiles. Numerous species of fish or prawns also lay their eggs in these protected habitats. The high demand for the resistant mangrove wood leads to overexploitation, making the protection of these forests even more important. In Saadani National Park, large mangrove forests grow along the Wami River. This is also the place where large groups of hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius, Kiboko) can be observed. At night they come ashore and wander inland, grazing up to 40 kg of grass per animal. Nile crocodiles (Crocodilus niloticus, mamba) also live here, some of them reaching 5 meters. The Wami River is also a good place for watching birds such as kingfishers, fish eagles and many species of wading birds.

Forests & shrubs

The poorly known coastal forests are characterized by a high biodiversity with many plants occurring only in these areas (endemics). Forests play an important role in protecting the soil against erosion and thus regulate the water cycle. They are especially vulnerable to illegal logging, charcoal production and farming expansion. Besides the two large forests of Zaraninge and Kwamsisi, many of the smaller patches of forest and shrubs represent important habitats for animals.

In Saadani, elephants (Loxodonta africana, tembo or ndovu) are relatively shy and usually hide during the day in woody parts of the Park. Leopards (Panthera pardus, chui) also occur in dense bush and thickets. Seldom seen, these animals are mainly nocturnal and can live in close proximity to humans. Other showy animals living mostly in woody areas are the Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros, tandala) and smaller antelopes such as Suni (Neotragus moschatus, paa) and Duiker (Cephalophus sp., funo). The crowns of the trees are inhabited by Colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza, mbega) which, unlike most other monkeys, subsist mainly on leaves, strictly nocturnal bush babies (Galagos sp., komba), as well as many fruit-eating bird species, insects and butterflies.


The humid savanna of Saadani National Park can be divided into three easily distinguishable types: tall grass savanna, with herbaceous cover growing up to 2 m and scattered palm trees; short grass grazing lands mostly situated on former sisal plantations; and black cotton plains, where the clayey soil creates particular harsh conditions. Moreover different degrees of tree cover can be distinguished. Typical for Saadani is Acacia zanzibarica with its long spines, which covers large areas of the park.

Fire plays an important role in these habitats in keeping them open. A careful fire management is therefore indispensable, which means controlled burning of selected areas. The other important factor regulating vegetation development in savannas are the herbivores. They can roughly be separated into two main groups depending on their feeding habits: browsers (leaf eaters) and grazers (grass eaters).

Typical inhabitants of the tall grass savannas are the buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer, nyati or mbogo), which weigh up to 850 kg. Several herds of Liechtenstein’s hartebeests (Alcelaphus lichtensteinii, kongoni) can be observed grazing in Saadani National Park. The common waterbucks (Kobus ellipsiprymnus, kuro) occur all over the Park area. Weighting up to 270 kg these grazers can be easily recognised by the white ring around their tails. The density of Bohor reedbucks (Redunca redunca, tohe) is especially high in Saadani National Park, although this medium-sized antelope (45 kg) might be difficult to spot in tall grass where they lay down for shelter. Warthogs (Phacochoerus aethiopicus, ngiri) are also omnipresent and even come into Saadani village. As most of the villagers are Muslim and avoid pork, they have learned that they will not be harmed.

Saadani National Park is also known for its numerous giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis, twiga), the national symbol of Tanzania and tallest animal in the world. Their tongues have special callus plates which make them particularly well adapted to browse on spiny acacia trees.

Large herds of White-bearded wildebeests (Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus, nyumbu) also graze in the short grass savannas. They were released in the area in the 1970’s when the Game reserve’s zoo, for which they were initially imported from northern Tanzania, was closed. Other introduced species are Plains zebra (Equus burchelli, punda milia) and Eland (Tragelaphus oryx, pofu).

The Lion (Panthera leo, simba), the largest of the African carnivores, is also found in Saadani, although it is rarely seen. At night you may also hear the hyenas (Crocuta crocuta, fisi) and encounter genets (Genetta sp., kanu), porcupines (Hystrix cristata, nnungu) and civets (Civetticis civetta, fungo). Other species which can be observed within the perimeter of the Park are Bushbucks (Tragelaphus scriptus, pongo), Bushpigs (Potamochoerus porcus, nguruwe), Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus, nyani) or Vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiopicus, tumbili).

Further reading

  • U. Bloesch & F. Klötzli (2004). Coastal Forests of the Saadani National Park. Conservation values and Management Strategies. GTZ, Dar Es Salaam.
  • Ph. Johnson, H. McCullum, J. Boyd & D. Martin (2002). Saadani and Bagamoyo. Tanzania National Parks.