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Special for astronomy tourists: Annular solar eclipse observed from Africa

Apolinari Tairo, eTN Tanzania Correspondent  Apr 28, 2016

From the end of August to the first days of September of this year, tourists and holidaymakers visiting Tanzania will get a unique chance to observe and enjoy the annular eclipse of the sun, a natural phenomenon that will cut across the southern parts of Africa.

Katavi National Park, located in southern highlands of Tanzania, will be the most perfect place in the world that tourists and holidaymakers may enjoy viewing the annular solar eclipse in the form of a big ring of fire.

From August 27 to September 3, visitors to Africa will get a unique chance to view and observe this wonder of nature - an annular solar eclipse whose shadow will cut across the African sky, starting from the Atlantic Ocean to the west, moving across Gabon, Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar, and then out into the Indian Ocean.

The eclipse will be at its best and longest position in the southern highlands and western parts of Tanzania, rich in wildlife and other attractions.

Katavi National Park is the best place where visitors can see the eclipse in the form of a ring with total darkness. Ruaha National Park is the other tourist paradise in the southern highlands of Tanzania where holidaymakers can view the eclipse.

“Famous for its ‘big skies’ which are typically perfectly clear, Tanzania already provides the perfect setting,” Rosemary Sloggett, Managing Director of The Independent Traveller, specialists in astronomy tours, is noted for having described it in this way.

“Katavi’s wealth of wildlife and wilderness, with virtually no light pollution, it is an ideal location right on the path of annularity. Observers will be able to combine the eerie moments of darkness as the moon obscures the sun, with seeing and hearing the impact this has on the wildlife in its natural habitat,” Rosemary said.

“Nocturnal creatures such as owls often become active during the eclipse, while daytime animals could fall asleep, confused into thinking it is nighttime. There have also been reports of songbirds being silenced,” she added.

Only parts of Tanzania will be able to view the eclipse in full, but the real magic of the ring of fire, or annular eclipse, will happen on a curving path between the Mlala Hills near Katavi National Park on the east side of Lake Tanganyika, then extend over the Kipengere Ranges on the north of Lake Nyasa.

Tourists visiting Ruaha and Selous wildlife parks, both famous tourist attractions in Africa, and other tourist sites in the southern and western parts of Tanzania will also enjoy viewing the annular eclipse at its very best.

Katavi National Park is one of Tanzania's largest and most remote parks and considered one of Africa's greatest wilderness areas.

Driving across lush green marshland, populated by hippos, flocks of waterfowl, and elephants on abundant foliage, gives a real picture of Katavi National Park, the Eden of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.

Lake Chada which lies on the flood plain that was cut down by the meandering Katuma River is at the heart of what must be termed as East Africa's best game park - Katavi.

Set within the shallow arm of the western rim of the Rift Valley that runs southeast from Lake Tanganyika to terminate in the marshy expanse of Lake Rukwa, Katavi is Tanzania's third largest national park and, according to one recent scientific survey, holds a higher concentration of wildlife than any other park in Africa.

A big part of the park supports a featureless cover of tangled brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localized eland, sable, and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada.

During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for a myriad of water birds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippos and crocodiles.

It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. While visiting the park, visitors can count up to 100 hippos out of the water with a passing of thirsty elephants, buffaloes, lions, hyenas, and various antelope species.

The most impressive mammalian feature of Katavi is its hippos. The Katuma River provides a refuge to a density of hippos that defies belief. Wherever the water is belly deep, groups of up to 200 hippos flop across each other like seals at a breeding colony.

These hippo concentrations are comprised of several different groups that would be dispersed across the saturated flood plain at other times of year.

Watching hippos could be a natural drama full of a high level male rivalry at the crowded pools, with bloody territorial disputes occurring practically on a daily basis.

On one occasion, four male hippos left the main group and clambered up the riverbank, where they growled and chased each other back into the water.

There is a notion that Katavi might harbor a higher concentration of game than other Tanzanian parks, the Serengeti included. It is difficult to verify or to credit entirely, but certainly this lesser-known park does support big herds of elephants to a scale seldom seen elsewhere in modern-day Africa.

An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge at one area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalos, while an abundance of giraffes, zebras, impalas, and reedbucks provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.

Also common on the floodplains are smaller herds of topi, reedbuck, and Defassa waterbuck, while the fringing brachystegia woodland hosts substantial populations of impalas, giraffes, elands, and more elusively, sable and roan antelopes, as well as leopards.

This mammalian wealth is complemented by a diversity of birds. Highlights are the prolific water birds that congregate along the rivers - wattled and blacksmith plovers; yellow-billed, open-billed and saddle-billed storks; and pelicans are common, as well as yellow-throated sand grouse which come chuckling and gargling to drink a couple of hours after sunrise.

The dazzling lilac-breasted roller and elegant grey-backed shrike perch conspicuously on open branches, while taller stands of acacia, such as those around the tented camp, are home to the gorgeous paradise flycatcher, sulphur-breasted bush-shrike, and black cuckoo-shrike.

During the dry season, from May to October, the vegetation is lush with higher animal concentrations. During the wet season, sweltering heat and a proliferation of mosquitoes and tsetse flies feature in the park’s ecosystem.

The park covers an area of 4,471 kilometers or (1,727 square miles), lying east of Lake Tanganyika.

A combined itinerary could allow tourists to visit the Gombe and Mahale Chimpanzee parks on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Gorilla groups have been occasionally spotted to visit the remote areas of the Katavi region, bringing new hopes that this region will host the first gorilla park in Tanzania.

Researchers believe that gorilla communities have been living in Katavi National Park during the past decades but migrated to Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo due to encroachment of land, now under cultivation and timbering.

Lake Tanganyika is the other tourist attraction neighboring Katavi National Park. Scientists estimate Lake Tanganyika age to be between 9 to 12 million years old.

Deeper at more than 4,700 feet, the lake is the second deepest inland water body in the world. Four countries surround Lake Tanganyika, which are Burundi on the northeast, Zambia on the south, and Congo on the west.

Tourists from Burundi, Zambia, Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda are the frequent foreign visitors who visit Katavi National Park and its surrounding ecosystem.

Special for astronomy tourists: Annular solar eclipse observed from Africa

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