Of hippo herds, Katabi spirit and tree-climbing lions of Katavi park

30Dec 2018
Gerald Kitabu
Guardian On Sunday
Of hippo herds, Katabi spirit and tree-climbing lions of Katavi park

TALES of a thunderous wheezing sound from a herd of hippos cooling off in Katuma River near Sitalike village as one enters Katavi National Park from Mpanda town will entice you to make a call at the park.

There are also local stories about the Katabi spirit that lives within the park said to be having a spiritual wife living in the park.

Park Warden Anthony Shirima says the communities around the park believe that the Katabi spirit appears in the form of an abnormally huge animal, bird or human being.

These stories are hard to believe, especially for first timers at the park. However, the locals do believe the myths and they have been doing so for ages.

Tourists with long vocations in the park believe the Katabi spirit of the Wabende tribe is married to an equally strong spirit called Wamweru, which stays on the other side of the lake.

Communities of the Bende and Pimbwe tribes around the park believe that the Katabi spirit dispenses fortunes, magical protection and reveals curative traditional medicines.

So, such stories interest many tourists visiting the park, besides other tales and the famous tree-climbing lions which in recent years have attracted a lot of tourists, white giraffes and the gender-sensitive Jacana birds.

To date local communities still use the site of the Katabi spirit as a worshipping place, leopards too can be sighted from this Katabi tree.

Huge but rare Jacana birds can also be spotted in the park, especially in Lake Katavi.

Chief Park Warden Stephano Msumi says unlike other parks, at Katavi giraffes are not scared of tourists. According to him, both local and foreign tourists are welcome because the park has a lot to offer.

He says there is a high habitat and species diversity with high concentrations of large mammals, extensive wetlands and important water catchment areas.

The park is also home to some endangered and unusual species including wild dogs, roan and sable antelopes in Ilumbi forest, as well as eland, often seen at Lake Katavi, Kaselami Mbuga, the northern Chada plain, Kataukasi, Katsunga and Kakonje Mbugas, among other wild animals.

The park with a scenic diversity with escarpments, rugged hills, flat alluvial plains, marshes, lakes and rivers is also said to have been a passage route of slave trade caravans in the 19th century.

There are also in the park hot springs at Majimoto outside the park, waterfalls at Ndido, Chorangwa and Lukima and beautiful views and many other attractions.

A local tourist, Bishop Charles Gadi of the Good News for All Ministry, said while visiting the park that religious leaders also had a role to play to make sure that animals and the entire ecosystem are well protected.

“If we preach environmental and wildlife conservation in our churches, poaching and similar crimes and environmental degradation will stop and animals’ welfare will change,” he said.

According to him, the media should also report poaching incidents and influence rural communities and their leaders to push for better environmental and wildlife management in all areas surrounding the park.

He called on adjacent communities to ensure they work out plans that will stop degradation of potential water sources in the park.
Hamad Mohamed, a local tourist, said he was impressed by the huge flocks of animals found in the park which were incomparable to other parks and the hospitality the park officials offer to tourists.

Former director of forestry and beekeeping division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Dr Felician Kilahama called for the need to ensure that the park is promoted both locally and internationally.

He suggested the entrance fee to be lowered to accommodate low income local tourists.

Park Warden Anthony Shirima said the park has been facing poaching incidents from refugee camps located in various places in the region.

“However, we have managed to control the situation by ensuring maximum security,” he said, adding that the park was also facing climate change and encroachment of the potential routes caused by increased human activities such as agriculture.

To address the problem, he said the park has embarked on awareness campaigns which aim at the conservation of the park’s surrounding environment, the land and forests.

For his part, Chief Park Warden Stephano Msumi said currently they were conducting regular patrols and had strengthened security in the park’s protected areas.

“We have launched awareness programmes through a neighbourhood unit to educate the surrounding communities about the importance of conservation of the park and its forests,” he said.

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