Asilia Africa to Open Usangu Expedition Camp in June

Asilia Africa has announced the launch of Usangu Expedition Camp in the Usangu wetlands of Ruaha National Park in June 2022. The four-tent camp is touted to be the first tourism operation in the area and will offer visitors the chance to be part of a hands-on conservation experience. Working in tandem with local conservation efforts to discourage poaching, uplift local communities and assist in collecting scientific data, the camp will play a vital role in protecting the wetland area.

The Usangu wetlands are an area of critical conservation importance. The wetlands are the source of the Great Ruaha River, the lifeblood of south-eastern Tanzania. The river provides water to Ruaha National Park and then joins the Kilombero River to create the Rufiji Delta, which is at the heart of Nyerere National Park (formerly the Selous Game Reserve). The water is essential to the wilderness and wildlife besides being the source for the communities along its course. Despite its importance, the area was an unprotected hunting reserve for nearly a century until it was incorporated into Ruaha National Park in 2006.

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An artist's impression of the Usangu Expedition Camp's guest tent. (Asilia Africa )

Usangu Expedition Camp sits on the banks of the wetlands at the heart of a 2,317 square mile wilderness—an area the size of Luxembourg. It’s the only camp for almost 39 miles. Guests can explore the wilderness on foot, on game drives and on canoeing and boating safaris. This is an area where herds of roan and sable graze and wild dog hunt along riverbanks. Hundreds of ostrich congregate in a way that is not often seen in other places in Africa. Thousands of migratory bird species pass through the wetland as well as unidentified amphibians, still waiting to be cataloged by scientists. Every booking will receive its own private guide and vehicle, allowing guests to customize their activities.

The four guest tents have en-suite bathrooms with a traditional safari bucket shower. There are private decks and a main area where meals are served. Guests can also embark on a sleep-out experience in the Usangu Star Cubes. These cube tents allow for 270-degree views of the night sky.

This pioneering conservation project is the latest initiative in what is now a six-year partnership between Asilia and British businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of INEOS. The partnership began with the development of Jabali Ridge and Jabali Private House in Ruaha National Park and Roho ya Selous in Nyerere National Park, which opened in 2017. Pre-COVID, the joint venture generated over $250,000 annually in park revenue in Ruaha and over $150,000 in Nyerere and created more than 100 jobs. Together with NORFUND, Ratcliffe has invested over half a million dollars in protecting and researching Usangu.

The first three-way partnership between a tourism company (Asilia), Tanzania National Parks Authority and TAWIRI (the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute), was launched in 2018 to conduct a comprehensive biodiversity audit of the area. Guests at Usangu Expedition Camp can join the resident researchers from the Douglas Bell Eco Research Station and participate in citizen science. Every guest will get a camera trap for the duration of their stay (one per couple/tent). It can be placed in and around camp to check what animals have visited the camp during the night. For an in-depth understanding of the role camera traps play in wildlife audits, guests can help researchers collect camera traps further afield and upload the images to the Predator ID Hub at the research station and then work with the researcher to ID the individual predators recorded or possibly identify a new individual. Equally important is tracking the research subjects fitted with GPS collars such as sable and roan antelope and recording their movements. For an additional donation, there is the opportunity to join the research team on a wildlife collaring expedition as they track, dart and collar lion, leopard, elephant and wild dog and a variety of antelope species.

Asilia Africa
Guests watch as researchers collar a lion. (Asilia Africa )

Uncontrolled hunting is not the only threat to the vast wetland. In 1993, the Great Ruaha River ran dry for the first time. The change was a result of a 3,000-hectare rice farm that was established upstream, adjacent to the Usangu wetland. The enormous demand for water caused the wetland to falter and dry up, and it was unable to feed into the rivers. To this day, unmanaged water trenches allow the rice to thrive throughout the year, leaving the Usangu wetland bare and the rivers parched, beginning a domino effect of events impacting both the ecosystem and local communities. Elephants that dig for water in the dry sand riverbeds cannot always reach the water table during the dry season, causing them to migrate beyond the boundaries of the park, resulting in increased human-wildlife conflict. Local and national communities are impacted as the Mtera Dam hydroelectric plant faces a water shortage and thus reduced electricity for economic development in Tanzania. The area is at a critical point where conservation efforts are essential to the survival of these immense wilderness areas. TAWIRI’s wildlife audit and the implementation of conservation-themed tourism is the first step to understanding what is needed to protect the area and its inhabitants.

Usangu Expedition Camp is open from June to November with a minimum stay of three nights.

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