Manyara Ranch, lying between Lake Manyara National Park and Tarangire National Park, is one of those unexpected and easily overlooked gems – a small, but rich wilderness, empty of tourists (there’s only one place to stay here) but full of game. The ranch is classic east African scenery; soft grasses and light sandy soils, acacia woodland and river lines, all set with the backdrop of the Manyara Escarpment to the west and the Ngorongoro Highlands and Lossimingor Hills to the northwest and north. As a visitor, this is a relaxed and easy going place to spend two or three days exploring on foot, on horseback and of course by vehicle – including visits to Tarangire which is but a short drive from here.
Big game is plentiful, particularly in the dry season, but there are plenty of small details – like the extraordinary coral-like rocks created by the receding soda lake – that make this a many layered experience. But visitor experience aside, there is a more serious side to Manyara Ranch as it performs a critical function as a protected wildlife corridor between Manyara and Tarangire and shines a light on an aspect of conservation that can only become more relevant and critical as time goes on.
Protected areas like national parks are important areas for wildlife, but if the land surrounding them isn’t properly conserved, then game cant disperse in the green season and the risk is that the parks become isolated islands that quickly turn unviable for wildlife. Lake Manyara National Park and Tarangire National Park are 40 kilometers apart. About ten years ago, the migration route that connects them-known as the Kwakuchinja corridor-began to disappear. Habitat fragmentation and degradation such as this have become the greatest threats to conservation in northern Tanzania.
Previously owned by the Tanzanian government, Manyara Ranch occupies a critical central location in the Kwakuchinja wildlife corridor between Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks covers 17,800 hectares. Long-term conservation goals for the two national parks require linking these core protected areas with corridors of undeveloped land across which wildlife can move, and the acquisition of Manyara Ranch is a major step in the right direction.
In addition to its importance as a corridor, Manyara Ranch offers exciting conservation outreach potential for showcasing how communities can benefit from wildlife conservation outside of protected areas. Set in a landscape experiencing rapid habitat degradation, the ranch serves as a laboratory to study the factors driving habitat degradation and human-wildlife conflicts. This research informs innovative and adaptive management approaches aimed at curtailing habitat degradation, conflict mitigation and habitat restoration. Approaches include diverse conservation financing mechanisms, combining both community and private initiatives. The process of identifying, planning, and managing income-generating activities is guided by the goal of developing a sustainable mechanism for both conservation and benefit sharing with local communities.
Today, Manyara Ranch successfully manages cattle in conservation-friendly ways. Rangers patrol the ranch, monitoring wildlife and warding off poachers. And with the help of the Annenberg Foundation and others, a pre-existing boarding school for Maasai children was moved out of the wildlife''s way - relocated to an ultramodern facility completed at the end of 2006. But most important, a huge portion of the Kwakuchinja corridor is secured for the future.